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The Eight Least Expensive Cars to Maintain

We all love a deal. But the bottom-line price on your new car shouldn’t be the only thing influencing your decision when it comes time to buy. Gas, maintenance and repair costs add up over the life of your car, so you want to make sure you take these figures into account, too.

U.S. News and other auto press analysts rate vehicles each year in terms of reliability, service cost, price and fuel efficiency. To help you out, the following list features eight of the cheapest cars to maintain (in no particular order), with miles-per-gallon and five-year maintenance numbers shown. Use it as a comparison guide when you’re researching other cars or browsing the lots.

1. Nissan Sentra

Starting price: $18,000
MPG: 25 city, 33 highway
Five-year service cost: $3,400

2. Pontiac G3

Starting price: $14,000
MPG: 27 city, 34 highway
Five-year service cost: $2,300

3. Kia Rio

Starting price: $14,000
MPG: 28 city, 34 highway
Five-year service cost: $3,300

4. Honda Fit

Starting price: $16,000
MPG: 27 city, 33 highway
Five-year service cost: $2,900

5. Toyota Yaris

Starting price: $13,000
MPG: 29 city, 36 highway
Five-year service cost: $3,000

6. Dodge Caliber

Starting price: $17,000
MPG: 23 city, 31 highway
Five-year service cost: $3,600

7. Hyundai Accent

Starting price: $11,000
MPG: 28 city, 34 highway
Five-year service cost: $3,300

8. Kia Sorento

Starting price: $20,000
MPG: 20 city, 27 highway
Five-year service cost: $4,600

Do your homework before you buy your next car. Look up the gas mileage, national five-year repair averages and even the interest details for any particular model. It may take a little extra time, but you’ll avoid a lot of surprises down the road and find one of the least expensive cars to maintain as a payoff.

What that Giant Inflatable Monkey Is Telling You

You know you can’t resist the seductive powers of a giant inflatable monkey flapping in the breeze, calling you to come buy a new car at an outrageous price. You fall for it every time, don’t you?

I didn’t think so.

As ridiculous as they are, these massive blowup animals and other gimmicky attractions are running rampant in car dealership lots, and they must be stopped.

But how?

By knowing how to spot the sales ploy and killing it on first sight. Don’t be fooled into making a bad decision on your next car purchase—or worse, into making an impulse buy—because of a monkey trap. Ignore the gimmick to avoid these tempting situations.

Carnival Cons

Those creepy looking car lot carnivals start popping up everywhere once spring hits. The rides seem rickety (all two of them), and the tents are abandoned. But you still notice them. Just like their cousin, the inflatable monkey, this type of dealership gimmick relies on flash to get people to look. Even if all you do is notice the dealer name above the blinking lights, the carnival has served its purpose.

“Slasher Sale” Stunts

Dealers who “slash” the price of the car over and over again in front of you eyes on a piece of paper should just look foolish to you. Because you know they aren’t really slashing anything but an inflated starting price. The end result isn’t a great deal because it’s what the dealer would have asked for in the first place. Don’t get excited and hurry to make a deal when the slashing starts. You could even end up paying more than the asking price if you jump before the slasher is quite through with the show.

Two-For-One Stunts

Buy one car, get one for free. Sure it sounds great, but this eye-catching offer doesn’t show the fine print. Here’s what else you’ll get along with your “free” second car:

• Higher interest rates or longer interest periods for dealer financing
• Zero incentives or rebates
• Higher pricing on the primary vehicle
• Costly and unwanted add-ons

Plus, you don’t get to choose the second car you get. These giveaways are usually cars the dealer wants off the lot ASAP. Even if you sell the free car, you probably still won’t make enough to cover the MSRP or higher interest payments on the first. Stick with the better deal on the one car you want.

A lot of dealerships use gimmicks like these to get people in the door, but you should only go in for them if you’re truly ready to buy and if you think they’ll get you the best car at the best price.

Share some of your own advice here on car dealership gimmicks to watch out for.

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How To Detect Odometer Fraud

Odometer fraud can be a used car buyer’s worst nightmare. You think that you’ve scored a great deal on the car of your dreams, but when it breaks down on the way home, you’re left wondering where you went wrong. According to a 2002 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate, more than 450,000 vehicles are sold in US every year with false odometer readings. While the digital meters included in most modern vehicles were intended to combat odometer fraud, they turned out to be even easier to corrupt. So how can you be sure that the car of your dreams isn’t the odometer scam of a lifetime?

Consistent Condition

One of the first things you can do to detect odometer fraud is compare the condition of various parts of the car. Are the tires worn? Does the interior look dated and lived-in? If the condition isn’t consistent with the mileage, a red flag should go up in your mind.


Check for Evidence

If you’re suspicious of the mileage, you might be able to find some evidence of fraud under the hood and on the odometer itself. First, check the positioning of the numbers and look for fingerprints on the glass cover. If you test drive, check to see that the numbers change as you go. Next, open the hood and look for service stickers. If the timing belt has been changed, it will tell you the date and mileage of the repair. If this doesn’t line up with the current mileage, you could be looking at a corrupted odometer.

Be Certain

If you’re suspicious of fraud it’s important to be certain before you commit to purchasing. You can use a vehicle history report to find some insight into the true mileage and condition of the vehicle, but it will not be a guarantee. The best way to verify the mileage of a car is to have it inspected by a professional, trustworthy mechanic.

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Five Most Important Vehicle Safety Features of the 21st Century

Driving requires a great deal of faith in both the vehicle and the other drivers on the road. Think about it. Much of the time, you’re driving toward oncoming traffic at a speed that could kill you in a head-on collision, and your only protection is a pair of thin yellow lines on the road. To make matters even more difficult, we often drive in dark, wet, freezing or slippery conditions.

Auto makers are constantly working to keep us safe on the road. From seatbelts to airbags to anti-lock brakes, recent decades have been full of innovations that help us walk away from accidents and even avoid them all together. The following are five of the most impressive vehicle safety innovations we’ve seen so far this century.

Tire Pressure Sensors

Not only can low tire pressure hurt a car’s gas mileage, it can also hinder steering and even lead to a dangerous blowout. To take care of this easily corrected problem, all vehicles built after October 31, 2006 are required to feature a low tire pressure monitoring system. If one of the tires is low, the driver is instantly alerted via a dashboard light.

Emergency Response

Many of today’s vehicles feature an emergency response system that tracks the vehicle via GPS. While GM was the first automaker to offer this service with OnStar, other manufacturers like Volvo, Lexus and BMW have since followed. Emergency response services range from calling local police and fire as soon as an accident occurs to tracking stolen vehicles and providing driving directions.

New Airbags

While air bags have been around since the 1970s, they’ve seen tremendous improvements in the last decade. One of the most important recent airbag innovations has been “smart” airbags that can not only sense whether or not a person is wearing a seatbelt, but also how much that person weights, how severe the crash is and where the collision takes place. These innovations can save the life of a child or a person not wearing a seatbelt. Airbags can also been placed around the entire vehicle, protecting the head as well as passengers in the back seat.

Stabilization

Spinouts and rollovers are two of the most dangerous things that can happen to a car in an accident. To prevent these types of accidents, many modern vehicles come with various stabilization controls. These systems can sense when a driver is trying to steer in an emergency and apply automatic braking to individual wheels. Stabilization is different from anti-lock brakes, which only prevent brakes from locking.

Sensors and Cameras

Some of today’s more sophisticated vehicles feature sensors and cameras to help prevent drivers from hitting objects they can’t see. For example, blind spot sensors can warn drivers of objects in the next lane as soon as they turn on their blinker and tell them that they’re starting to drift out of their lane.  Also, rear sensors and cameras can help drivers of large SUVs and trucks avoid the tragedy of backing into a small child.

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The First Step of Buying Any Vehicle

If you’re ready to buy your next vehicle, your first step needs to be assessing your situation. Before you look at a single car, take an hour or so to write down and prioritize your needs. Because most people skip this step, they make a poor decision when they get to the dealership by purchasing the “sexy” car rather than the one that’s best for them. As a result, they either end up selling the vehicle much too soon or spending far too much money on it.

Use

What will be the primary use of your vehicle? Are you going to be taking the kids to and from school every day? Will you be carrying tools to work? Do you have a long commute? Use is the most important thing to consider when you’re buying a vehicle. While an SUV may be a necessity for a large family or a construction worker, it could be a gas-guzzling headache for a businessman with a long commute. 

When considering the uses for your next car, make sure you also take into consideration future needs. Are you planning on having children in the next several years? If so, you may want to rethink that coupe. Getting married soon? What does your significant other think about your plan to buy a new sports car? Thinking about your vehicle’s present and future uses can save you from making a shortsighted purchase.

Factors to consider that may depend on usage:

  • Size
  • Gas mileage
  • Body type
  • Features

Budget

Your next vehicle purchase can either put you in a great financial position or dig you into a hole that you may not recover from for years to come. Because of this, knowing where you stand financially is crucial to making a wise purchase. You should not only take a hard look at your current income and expenses, but also the stability of your job and future purchases you’ll make. Also remember there are always hidden expenses like taxes and insurance associated with buying a vehicle. Make a realistic decision on how much you can spend and stay firm to that decision, no matter how much you want to buy a car that’s just outside your budget.

Factors to consider that may depend on budget:

  • Sticker price
  • Insurance cost
  • New/Used/Lease
  • Financing

Risk

Because nobody likes to dwell on the worst possible scenario, many people purchase a car destined to fail them when they need it most.  Have you considered how safe you will be if you get into an accident? What are the chances that you’ll be stranded on the side of the road with a mechanical problem? Instead of ignoring risk, face it head on. If you’re buying a car to transport your family every day, you may want to consider only vehicles that rate highly for safety. If, on the other hand, you’re handy under the hood, you may be able to tolerate an older car that has a tendency to break down.

Factors to consider that may depend on risk:

  • Safety features
  • Age
  • Mileage
  • Reliability

Preferences

Let’s face it, part of buying a car is choosing something we actually want to drive. There’s nothing wrong with making personal preferences a part of your decision as long as you know your priorities. Is a sunroof and leather seats important to you? As long as these features fit into your budget, there’s no reason not to choose these luxuries. Where many consumers falter is placing too much of an emphasis on personal preferences that don’t actually matter. Too many people purchase a car that’s wrong for them because it has an iPod connection. Or speakers that light up when music plays. Or eight cup holders. Or blue paint. Make a list of preferences, but know where these preferences fit into your overall decision.

Factors to consider that may depend on preferences:

  • Features
  • Style
  • Color