Used Car Buying Basics

Saleswoman with couple by SUV

Important advice to help you make a smart used car purchase

There are plenty of benefits to buying a used car, from saving thousands of dollars on nearly new makes and models to avoiding a significant depreciation hit the minute you drive off the lot. But if you don't know what you're doing, buying a used car can wreak havoc on your patience ­and your pocket.

The following tips are designed to help you make a smart used car purchase while avoiding common pre-owned pitfalls in the process.

Determine the used car that's right for you

First, determine the type of used car that's right for you — one that fits your lifestyle, your needs and your budget. Consider factors such as the number of people you need to accommodate, the type of driving you'll do, the distance of your work commute, whether you'll be towing or hauling and your overall budget, including a down payment or trade-in allowance, monthly payments and ownership costs for gas, insurance and repairs. If you need a loan, research used car financing programs to determine the loan terms and rates for which you qualify.

Check used car listings

Once you've determined the used car that's right for you, it's time to locate it. Search used car listings for pre-owned vehicles offered by new car dealers, used car dealers and private parties in your area or around the country. If you're struggling to decide from whom you should buy, keep in mind that today's used cars are more reliable than ever before, with many still under factory warranty and others offered as Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) backed by stringent inspections and guarantees.

Check used car prices

Unlike new car pricing that remains relatively constant, used car prices vary widely depending on a variety of factors. Mileage, condition, market demand, model year — even the seller's mindset — all can have a significant impact on the cost of a pre-owned vehicle. Be sure to check used car prices to determine if the seller's asking price is fair and don't forget to factor in options such as alloy wheels, navigation systems and power controls which can increase a vehicle's resale value.

Get a used car inspection

It's always a good idea to have your used car inspected by an independent, certified mechanic prior to purchase, even if it's covered under a warranty. A trained technician will be able to pinpoint mechanical problems that could be unsafe or costly to fix. And don't forget to ask for the car's maintenance records, a valuable piece of information documenting the care the vehicle has received during its ownership lifecycle. Finally, check the validity of the used car's title and mileage, in addition to its accident and damage history, by getting a vehicle history report based on the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

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