Buying Used Cars - with confidence
Buying used cars is one way to save money. It's also one way to get yourself into trouble unless you know how to do it. I'll try to give you a good healthy set of used car buying tips, including a set of checklists that you can use the next time you're in search for a good bargain on four wheels.
To start out with, let me say that the advantages of purchasing a used car far outweigh the disadvantages, so get good at buying and holding onto a used car, and you'll be saving money on an important asset that you'll likely use on a regular basis. My neighbor asked how best to make out financially with a car. My response was buy it at a low price and then "run the wheels off of it."
Let's look at several things that are important when it comes to buying used cars:
Your intended use - are you getting back and forth to work or school, is it necessary to have good comfort, are you looking for something to use on the job site, do you need great fuel economy for long trips, or are you trying to impress the neighbors with an emblem? Figure out what it is you want, and that will help narrow the field of possibilities.
Maintenance - a well maintained car will likely be much more reliable. At least it shouldn't "lay down" on you in the near term. When buying used cars, don't be afraid to ask for the service records. Anyone who has taken good care of a vehicle, will have some sort of service record for it.
Used or abused - a well used vehicle isn't necessarily a bad vehicle, but one that has been abused or neglected can wind up being quite a headache for you. It's better to get one as a result of an estate sale or a family that is getting a new car. It's probably not a good idea to buy one from a high school or college student who has drained the life out of it. If you're curious, here's my take on used car reliability.
Spare parts and repair costs - a standard American "beater" can be repaired at reasonable cost, and most parts are readily available, even for a car that is 30 years old. My neighbor bought a foreign model with a "sexy" name and complained that it was $100 at a repair shop just to open the hood. Well, what did he expect? High end cars have higher prices for parts and service.
Cost of tires and other consumables - these will be recurring costs every few years, whether you're buying used cars or new ones, so keep that in mind. Large truck tires or special sports car tires can easily be $100 a piece, so know what a good standard car tire is, and try to stay with models that use these reasonably priced tires. Also, a common tire will be available at a garage sale, auction or estate sale at greatly reduced prices, whereas special tires typically won't be available except at retail stores.
If you're narrowed down the possibilities, then it's time to take a look at a car and ask some questions. You'll want to look at the interior, exterior, engine compartment and under carriage. I have some hints and tips about examining a car from many perspectives, and this should help you be less concerned about inadvertently selecting a lemon.
I've built several checklists that you can make use of when buying used cars. I've divided them into specific areas so you don't have to "eat the elephant in one bite," you can do it a little at a time.
Here is a used car inspection checklist and guidance that you can use to examine the parking space and undercarriage of a used car.
For those who would like to get under the hood, here's my version of a buying a used car checklist. Use this to help you identify potential engine and transmission trouble.
If you're interested in taking a good look at the exterior and tires, then make use of this used car checklist. It should help you identify appearance issues and tires that may need to be replaced.
Here is a checklist for used car buying that focuses on the interior. Although less important from a reliability standpoint, since you'll be spending quite a bit of time inside the vehicle, there are elements that are important to check. Also, when buying used cars, there are hints that an interior can provide to you regarding how the car was used.
Last but not least is a set of technical used car buying tips that will help you conduct a comprehensive road test. When buying used cars, the road test will almost always be the best forecaster in terms of reliability. I've sold cars to people who didn't test drive them, but I'd never do it. Neither should you.
When you're test driving the vehicle, you'll want to listen and feel how the car behaves. The road test is perhaps the best way to assess the value and road worthiness when buying used cars. I'll also show you how to pinpoint the source of noise in a vehicle so you can anticipate repairs, or find problems that might make you reject a particular car.
Buying used cars is challenging for women especially. First of all, most women have far less experience with vehicles than men, and most women will feel very uncomfortable having a car that isn't thought to be reliable. My experience shows that women would rather have a new or newer car and not have to worry about reliability, even at much greater expense than what they might have with an older car that doesn't seem to be as road worthy and reliable.
Such concerns about reliability are sometimes a little overstated. Yes, cars today are fuel injected and computer controlled, so there's not much one can do in response to an unforeseen breakdown on the road. Nevertheless, those same mysterious technologies also make our vehicles more reliable.
If you haven't seen it already, here's a peak at one of the good used cars that I bought for $200 and drove for several years. And, here's another story about a cheap used car I owned for more than 15 years. It was a tremendous value for me, and very reliable.
In any event, when buying used cars, if you follow my suggestions and practice some of what I recommend, I think you'll find that much of the fear will go away. Armed with some key insights, buying used cars doesn't have to be such a risky business, and can certainly stay consistent with your plan for frugal living.
Done with Buying Used Cars, take me back Home