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Buying a Used Car

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by Hannah Simpson

With the explosion of new car sales in the U.S. in 2012, what's a used car worth today? Most Americans are going to find out as they enter a used car aftermarket that's adding more inventory from Americans willing to trade in their older cars for new tech-savvy 2013 models.

In general, today's used car shoppers will primarily find low interest rates and solid purchase deals on many certified pre-owned vehicles. A variety of factors goes into pricing and value for today's used cars, including overall vehicle condition and mileage, as well as supply and demand.

You can always get a good sense of the latest good deals around the Web  via US News and World Report's monthly look at used car sales. You can also just ask as you visit local auto dealers.

But what steps can you take to make sure you're getting a solid car? Most dealerships offer or include a pre-purchase inspection for every vehicle. In the past there have been payment options such as buy here pay here at DriveTime or other similar companies. Now, such places are no longer holding their customers to make in-store payments only. To ensure that the vehicle you are purchasing is in the condition stated by the dealer, you may look into having the vehicle inspected by an independent service center. The costs of these inspection are generally $50-$100, but can save you $1,000s if the dealers inspection is a scam.

And, it may be hard to believe, but most used car buyers are pretty content with a simple test drive and a glance under the hood to see if a car works well. But that's a mistake, suggests car ratings bible The site's authors are very clear in mandating that used car buyers absolutely get a mechanic to inspect the used car prior to purchase.

Most consumers, Edmunds suggests, either don't want to spend the extra money for an inspection, or they think that bringing a mechanic along could somehow jinx the deal even before it's finalized. But a mechanic inspection is crucial to the entire car buying process. When buying from a private seller, definitely bring along your own mechanic to check the condition of the engine, brakes, lights. and more.

What a qualified car inspection offers to the buyer is more than just peace of mind. A good used car inspection helps to verify the stated equipment on the car; confirms how well the car has been kept; illuminates any hidden problems with the body, frame or engine, and builds confidence in the value of the used car.

If you're considering buying a used car from a private seller, be upfront and ask directly to the seller these questions:

  • Why are you selling the car?
  • Who was the vehicle bought from? (Perhaps you've already seen a CarFax report, which will track the name of the owner(s))
  • How would you describe the car's overall condition? (An honest answer will likely not be 'excellent!' If the answer is excellent, but the car is not, then it's best to walk away from the deal.
  • Where was this car bought? (The state it was bought from and driving conditions in other states can contribute to the car's overall condition)

After you've done the initial due diligence, then move ahead with these helpful tips that will prevent you from buying a lemon.

Inspection Basics

Probably the most important factor is to give the car a thorough physical check before plunking down your hard-earned cash. This includes a look at the car's exterior, interior, under the hood, under the car, in the trunk, in the vents and fans inside the car and much more.

Level Your Car

Make sure the car is on level ground before starting an inspection. This will be the first check to any indications of outside issues with the car, from underinflated tires, to a dropping exhaust pipe to more.

Check the Paint

Carefully check the paint job of the car, taking note of any rust spots, dents or scratches. Look at the sides of the car from end-on for waviness; that indicates paint work. Run your finger along the edges of the joints between panels; roughness indicates residue left from masking tape.

Odometer Check

A car's odometer can tell much about the car's existence. Has the car been driven regularly? An odometer can indicate a car's age and how the current driver has been using the auto. Average drivers will drive between 10,000 - 15,000 miles a year. And one hopes that with regular driving comes regular maintenance.
Car Service History

Check out the car's service history. Have the private seller offer proof of any repairs, performance issues or other problems with the car. This is important to show that the car owner performed expected maintenance tasks with the car and kept the receipts to prove it.

by Hannah Simpson.

Hannah learned everything she knows about buying cars by hanging out with her father at his small used car lot in the Twin Cities area. She writes advice columns for women to help them shop and negotiate for cars.


If you do need to make repairs, look at these replacement parts.



Need more insight into getting the best possible deal on a used car?

Drop ten few bucks on Mindconnection's Used Car Course. It shows you how to buy a good used car at a low price. You'll learn what to look for and how to work with dealers. This course pays for itself several times over the first time you use what you've learned. Includes quizzes and inspection checklists; self-paced, requires no textbook or instructor.

Each year, about 15 million Americans buy a used car. If you are planning to be one of those people any time soon, this course will help you. In fact, it may save you hundreds of dollars and major headaches.

You can buy a used car without getting ripped off. This course shows you how. Even if you are an experienced car buyer, this course will teach you how to save more money on that next purchase.


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