Pre-Owned, Used, and Just Plain Junk

Find A New Ride With Less Worry
Everyone is afraid of something. Some people would rather die than give a public speech. Some people are afraid of the dark, or pain, or spiders. And some people are deathly afraid of buying a used car. Some people are so afraid of buying a used car they over extend themselves financially in order to purchase a new one. They tell themselves this is justified because with a new car they have a warranty in case something goes wrong. If they were to buy a used car they likely would not have a warranty to fall back on if repairs are needed. Nevermind the fact that paying for car repairs on a used car is almost always cheaper than making payments on a new car.
Buying a used car does not need to be a frightening proposition and most people can pick out a decent car on their own if they will follow a few simple rules. People become forgetful when they go to buy a car. Part of the reason is buying a car can sometimes be very exciting, fun, or scary (as I said before). If the experience fits into one of these categories then that means emotions will be involved. Our emotions get us into trouble, whether it’s a fit of road rage resulting from being cut off in traffic, or the excitement of test driving an expensive sports car that is not only too expensive, but doesn’t really fit our needs. Emotions don’t often help us make sound decisions.
The first rule when buying a used car: Do your homework. Find out what kind of options you have in selecting a car. Don’t select a car based on looks, or family tradition (my daddy drives a Ford, his daddy drives a Ford, so I have to drive a Ford). Take the time to find out which cars have what options. Should you get a sedan with a four cylinder engine or a sedan with a V6? What in the world is a V6? Figure these things out before you go looking. With the amount of information we have available to us online it is just plain silly to begin searching without checking out some great websites that have great information for used car buyers. Check out
If you are going to buy the car with cash, then congratulations on being so abnormal. If you are a normal person and you will be financing the car, get your finances in order and get you approval upfront. This will help you to determine how much you can spend. Remember that the amount that the bank approves should never be the amount that you spend. You should always spend less. In the long run you will be much happier when trying to make the payments. Usually it's best to get a bank loan rather then arranging the financing through the dealership but this is not always true.  The thing is, if you arrange through a bank or something like that you have more latitude in your shopping. Once again, do your homework, it's not all about monthly payment. Interest rates mean things.
Find out how much your new car will cost to insure, and find out how much the new car will cost to service. Both of these amounts together should figure into the amount that you arrive at when determining what kind of monthly payment you can afford. Not only can you look at routine maintenance costs but there is information out there that will give you an idea of how much the particular car you are after will break down in a given year, and how much it typically costs to make these unscheduled repairs. Even the cost for a year’s worth of fuel can be determined.
The second rule when buying a used car: Do NOT shop model year. Many people will look at their situation, set a dollar limit on how much they can spend, and then set off to get the newest thing that they can buy for $10,000. How new a used car is has nothing to do with whether or not it will be a good car. This may come as a shock to some of you unless you have owned one of these cars, but some cars were junk even when they were brand new. This is not as much of a problem as it used to be because all cars are so much more reliable than they used to be, but machines still break, and sometimes it’s for no reason. Do some research and find out which makes and models have had the most problems during the time that they have been on the market. This is information that you can never get on a brand new car because they are brand new, and nobody has seen any problems yet.
What the car is has more to do with whether or not it’s a good car, than how new it is and this is something that is quite often reflected in the resale value. Honda and Toyota have really high resale values and very low depreciation. This is because they are perceived by the general public as being  reliable cars. Something like a Suzuki usually has a very high depreciation and can be purchased cheaply when it’s only a few years old. For example, if you are comparing a 2005 Ford Fusion to a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu, the Ford may always be more expensive if all other considerations are equal (this may not really be true this is just an example). Some might argue that just because the Ford will go for more money doesn’t mean that it’s a better car. You can make this case if you wish but do some research on known problems with any two similar makes and models and you will find that when comparing apples to apples, the car with the higher resale value is usually more reliable. This means that you have to compare midsize sedan to midsize sedan, and luxury SUV to luxury SUV, and so on. Don’t compare a four door Ford to a four door Mercedes. The luxury car will usually have a higher resale value no matter what.
The trap here lies in the fact that people will shop model year and they will say to themselves, if 10,000 dollars will buy 2005 Ford Fusion or a 2008 Chevy Malibu then the Malibu is the better choice, or the choice that gets you more for your money. Getting a newer car is not getting more for your money; it’s giving you a false sense of security. When buying a used car you want qualitative advantage, model year doesn’t necessarily give you this.
The third rule when buying a used car: Mileage doesn’t mean as much as you think it means. Sometimes a very good car at a very reasonable price might be skipped over because the mileage is too high. Much of this relates to the second rule. A car that is reliable will usually maintain its reliability even into very high mileage ranges. A car that is very old is likely to have high mileage, but if it’s a car that is good to begin with, the risk of major failure at any mileage is lower, this includes failure at high mileage. A good car that is well taken care of can be a reliable car all the way up to 300k miles. Buying a car with over 200k miles might seem crazy but if you only have 3 or 4 thousand to spend, you might need to check out some of these reliable high mileage vehicles.  Note: I have never had a vehicle myself that had less than 150k miles on the odometer. I have had more than a few with well over 200k miles. These cars were all perfectly reliable and I would drive them any distance with confidence. I was very picky when purchasing these cars and bought exactly what I was looking for.
The fourth rule when buying a used car: Open your eyes. Anyone can spot a fluid leak. Anyone can see what a bald tire looks like. Anyone can see when interior upholstery is trashed. If you are the kind of person that knows nothing about cars except for how to put gas in them, and how to drive them, you must still take the time to go over the car with a thorough visual inspection. Get down on your hands and knees and look under the car. Look under the car at the front, the back, the side, look at the tires, look under the hood, look at the oil, look under the radiator cap, look at everything.
Under the engine and under the hood you should not see any fluid messes. Some people think that any engine will have some oily spots or greasy spots because that’s what engines are full of, but this is not true. If there is greasy fluid residue on the outside of the engine then it is the result of a leak. The untrained individual may not be able to tell where it is coming from but they can certainly spot it when it’s there. If any of the warning lights in the instrument cluster are on while the vehicle is driving, this is a problem. Sometimes the person who is selling the car will even tell you that the light is no big deal and doesn’t mean anything. If one of these lights stays on then something on the car is broken.
If the interior of the vehicle is a pig sty, what does that say about the interior of the engine? If a car owner doesn’t take care of the interior of the vehicle then its safe to assume that they might not take care of the vehicle maintenance needs. Scratches, dents, and dings can happen by accident, but old drink cups from two weeks ago still sitting in the cup holder, and French fries in the glove box are not an accident.
Typical underhood label that will be missing if
the car has been in wreck that smashed the hood.

Being able to tell if a car has been in a wreck or in a flood is usually fairly easy as well. To tell if a car has been in a wreck there are certain labels that you can look for. Every body panel on a car has a label with the vehicle identification number on it. Lift up the hood and look at the top of each front fender for this label. If it’s not there then you know that this body panel has been replaced. Look for the emissions labels that are almost always found on the underside of the hood. When a car is in a wreck that is serious enough that the hood requires replacement, the body shops never replace these labels. If the fenders and the hood are not original then this tells you that the wreck may have been serious enough that other problems might be hiding elsewhere. Remember however, that just because a car was in a wreck does not mean that it can’t be a good car; it just means that if it wasn’t restored properly then you might have problems in the future.

To tell if a car has been in a flood look at metal pieces on the interior of the vehicle that should have never been exposed to moisture. Things such as seat tracks under the driver’s seat are good. Check for any hint of rust or corrosion on these parts. If you see any there could be a problem. If you a feeling really adventurous you could look at one of the many electrical connectors under the hood. Disconnect it and have a look at the pins. They should be totally dry and free of corrosion. A car that has been in a flood could still be a good car if it’s repaired properly but there is more risk with this kind of a car because it is hard to tell is all of the corrosion has been taken care of. A tiny bit of corrosion in one connector somewhere on the vehicle can cause all kinds of electrical gremlins to come about, and these problems might not manifest themselves for years after the initial incident.

So is it better to go to a dealership or to buy the car from a private individual? This really is not that important. The important thing is the vehicle itself. Many people have been taken advantage of by both private sellers and used car dealers. Private individuals are more likely to rip you off by selling you something that has had the odometer tampered with or the emissions control equipment messed up, but the used car lot is more likely to sell you something that has been cleaned up on the surface but underneath its got problems. Used car lots are also more likely to sell you something for way too much money.

The advantage of the car dealer is that they are a bit more accountable for what they are doing. They run a business and therefore they must have a license which includes a special dealer’s license in most states. They can give you a temporary license for your car the minute you purchase it and they will get your permanent plates for you so you don’t have to hassle with the DMV. They may have a large inventory, and access to more cars if the one that you want isn’t found in their current inventory. In most states dealerships are not allowed to sell a car on the lot that will not pass local emissions and safety inspections. Many of them may sell a warranty of some kind with the vehicle which may come in handy some day. Used car dealers that are part of a new car dealer also may sell certified used cars, or as they like to call them, pre-owned. These are cars that are sold with extended warranties issued by the vehicle manufacturer. These are the best kind of warranties. In order to certify the used car the dealership service department must go through a check list and inspect and replace anything that needs service or might need service soon. For example, if the battery is still good but is over a certain age than it must automatically be replaced before the car is sold.
The biggest advantage of buying a car from a private seller is that they are not selling the car in an effort to make money; they are usually selling the car in order to just get rid of it. This means that many times you can find the best deals by purchasing a car this way. Many of the other conveniences are lost however, and in some situations these conveniences might be worth paying a little extra.
If all of this is still confusing and you still don’t have confidence about going out and finding some new wheels for yourself then there is one more thing that you can do, and perhaps you should do this regardless of your level of confidence. Take the car to a third party expert and have them check it out from top to bottom. Most shops will do this for less than $100. This is a small price to pay if it means that you can buy with confidence. If they find a problem with the car then you can be glad that you didn’t spend the money on something that was on verge of failure, or you can use the new information as ammunition in the negotiation of a lower sale price for the vehicle. Either way you win.

All of the above rules and tips could be followed perfectly and it’s possible that the buyer might still end up with a piece of junk, but that’s life. Nothing every works out perfectly. However, when a person is confident going into a situation it makes the situation mush less uncomfortable and not so scary. Be confident with the purchase of your next car, and not scared. You can find a good car, and ignore all of the junk.

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