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Buying a Used Car

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When you buy a new car, its value drops tremendously the moment you drive it off the lot . This is perhaps the main reason why people buy used cars. The other major reason is simply the cost. But therein lies the rub. Go about it the wrong way, and that used car costs you more than a new one would have cost.

These ten tips will help you understand some key points about the process. But to ensure you don't get ripped off, buy our Getting a Great Deal on a Used Car course.

  1. Do your homework. Look at Consumer Reports and other reviews of older cars. Hint: Check for recalls. If there was a recall of this model, was this car repaired?
     
  2. Automatic reaction. Don't be taken in by the color, looks, or how clean it seems to be under the hood. Hint: If the upholstery has burns, if the car smells musty/mildewy, if the sticker on the windshield indicates the oil hasn't been changed in over 5,000 miles, you are looking at a car that has not been well maintained.
     
  3. Manual or automatic? A manual transmission will get better gas mileage, be less apt to have transmission problems, and be less expensive to repair. Hint: Anyone can and should be able to drive a stickshift, just in case they have no other choice. Travel outside the USA, and you often don't have a choice (because in other countries, they don't want to waste gasoline the way Americans do with gas-guzzling automatic transmissions).
     
  4. Drink plenty of fluids. And check the all the car's fluids: oil, transmission, brake, steering fluid, and coolant. Look for spots under the car, and identify what fluid is leaking. Hint: oil is a light (nearly clear) blackish/brown, transmission fluid is red, brake fluid is a light (nearly clear) brown, steering fluid is clear or red, coolant is usually green (but may be pink).
     
  5. Under the hood. Check for bulges in hoses, white junk on the battery terminals, and rough edges or cracks in belts. Hint: If a car is good otherwise, worn hoses and belts can be replaced. This isn't necessarily a show stopper.
     
  6.  What a body! Check to make sure that the body is aligned. Look at the doors to see if the spaces around them are even. Same for the hood and trunk. Make sure there are no cracks, mismatched paint, ripples, and other "special effects." Hint: If the car is a unit body and you see it has been welded anywhere, walk away.
     
  7. Have a seat. Make sure all the seats are comfortable and that they move correctly. Make sure all the doors, windows and glove box open and close easily. And latch properly. Check for moisture on floor boards and seats (lift up the carpet mats and feel with your hands). Make sure all the locks work. Hint: Push and pull on locks, buttons, door handles, sun visors, etc.
     
  8. Turn it on. Start the engine, test air conditioner, heater, radio, vents, defrost, blinkers, lights, wipers, and horn. Hint: Listen for unusual sounds in the engine and be aware of unusual smells such as anti-freeze or exhaust and don't listen to the salesman when he insists that the Check Engine light being doesn't mean anything. In fact, any sales person who says this is not to be trusted. A good sales person will say that light could indicate a problem. A good sales person will either promise to have that looked at, or will show you a different car. A good sales person doesn't want you coming back as an unhappy customer.
     
  9. Go for a ride. Gun it to see how much power the car has. Test the brakes to see how firm or soft they are. Check out the turning radius of the car. Hint: The car shouldn't pull to one side or the other. Does the car shake and shimmy? Rattle and roll? Expect some noise and some vibration from a used car. But draw the line pretty low.
     
  10. Last but not least. Make sure the key unlocks the trunk and check it out. Make sure it is dry and has no rust; pull up the mat and look. Hint: Check to see if there is a spare tire and jack.
     

Biggest hint. Before purchasing a used car, take it to a reputable mechanic for a professional analysis. Yeah, you can bring your buddy who "knows cars" to look at the car you're considering. But your buddy isn't going to hook the car up to an analyzer that checks a huge number of metrics. A pro can. Talk to the seller about the mechanic's inspection as part of the final closing of the deal. Typically, this will be at your expense. But it's worth the investment.

Getting a Great Deal on a Used Car Don't get stuck with a lemon!

Buy our How to Get a Great Deal on a Used Car course. We show you how to get a good deal, and how to not end up with a lemon. What to look for, how to work with dealers.

his course pays for itself several times over the first time you use what you've learned. Includes quizzes and inspection checklists. This self-paced course requires no textbook or instructor.

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