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Used Car Buying Tips

By: StaffPublished July 7, 2021

Do Not Pay More For a Car than You Can Afford

Ask yourself. How much can I afford?

Determining what you can afford, or what you can't afford, is an essential step in preparing to buy a used car. Most people buy used cars because they want to save money, or because they want a certain make and model of car that they wouldn't be able to afford brand new. But just as you need to prepare to buy a new car, research is essential in the used-car buying process, too.

First, figure out your monthly income. It is wise to use net income so that you know exactly what is coming into and going out of your pocket. Next, calculate your monthly expenditures. Include debts, mortgage or rent payments, insurance, groceries, spending money, clothing, etc. Not only will this help you figure out how much you can afford, but it will also allow you to see where your money is going. Your monthly finance payment on a used car should not exceed fifteen percent of your monthly income.

Knowing all three of these numbers is important. Some other things to consider when estimating the cost of a vehicle are the costs of fuel, license, registration, and insurance. After you've found a few cars that you're interested in, call your insurance company to determine what your monthly insurance cost will be for each car. Insurance, fees, and tags for used cars are usually quite a bit less expensive than they are for new cars if you're looking at the right models. Keep in mind that some insurance companies may give discounts for vehicles with features such as dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, antilock braking system (ABS) and daytime running lights. Conversely, rates can be higher for young, inexperienced drivers or those with poor driving records, or for cars that come without dual front airbags.

Why Buying a Used Car Can Save You Money

More people could certainly afford high-end, brand-new cars, but choose to buy used instead. Why do you suppose they do it? Well, consider that the value of a new car drops a couple of thousand dollars the second it is driven off a dealer's lot. In fact, if a new-car buyer tried to sell or trade his car on the very same day he bought it, he would have a tough time breaking even.

A new vehicle will depreciate to about one-third of its original cost after only three years, but it will probably run for another eight or nine, or more. Taxes, insurance, and other fees also cost less for used cars, making the purchase of a used car an attractive prospect for cost-conscious people in all walks of life.

Cars to Fit Your Lifestyle

The first thing to do is to decide on a class of vehicle that best fits your lifestyle. Choosing a car can be a confusing and time-consuming process. Below are some questions that may help you make your decision easier.

  • Manual or automatic transmission? Cars with manual transmissions usually cost less than those with automatics.
  • Two-door coupe or a four-door sedan, an SUV or a station wagon? What best fits your needs?
  • Do you require two-, four- or all-wheel drive? The location is a prime factor in this decision.
  • How important is safety? Check any prospective vehicle's government-tested safety rating, as well as the availability of driver and passenger airbags.
  • How many passengers do you expect to carry?
  • Do you require a lot of cargo room?
  • Will you be taking many road trips?
  • How long is your daily commute?
  • Do you need antilock brakes or traction control?
  • How big of an engine do you want?
  • Do you tow a boat or camper on a regular basis?
  • Are there certain features that you must have?

How Old or Young Should the Car be?

An ideal used car is less than five years old and has less than 50,000 miles on the odometer. These criteria are important because parts wear out due to age as well as excessive use. Acceptable mileage can be slightly modified for certain vehicles that are known to have excellent reliability. For instance, some cars with 60,000 or 70,000 miles still have a long life ahead of them, if the vehicle has been properly serviced.

When looking for low-mileage vehicles, the general rule of thumb is that an average of 10,000 miles per year indicates a prime vehicle. Some people consider 12,000 miles a year to be still quite low, and 15,000 annual miles is considered average. Any vehicle that has been driven more than 15,000 miles per year should be suspect. Consider 10,000 miles per year your target mileage, but be flexible if the car has been well cared for.

Car Shopping

Now that you’ve located a few cars you’re interested in it's time to go shopping. It is not necessary, but it is a good idea if you bring the following items as you go shopping...

  • A notebook
  • A pen
  • A calculator
  • A watch
  • Valid driver's license
  • Pre-approved financing
  • Insurance cost information

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