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How To: Buy a used car

November 13, 2009

Cox News Service Purchasing a new vehicle is often an exciting experience, especially since buying a car is usually the second largest acquisition one will make in a lifetime, next to buying a house. You can choose exactly what you want, the car is readily available, the warranty is fresh, and obviously the car is new and free of problems.

These are all reasonable points, but the option of buying used has many benefits.

Quite obviously, most consumers opt for used cars for financial reasons. Simply put, the price of a used car may be 50 percent less than the latest model even if the used model year is fairly recent.

Depreciation is the factor behind these savings, as the new vehicle drops in value the moment it is driven off the dealer's lot. In fact, during the first year alone a car will depreciate at least 20 percent, and will continue to drop in decreasing increments every year there after.

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The prospective used-car buyer can take advantage of a vehicle that is only a few years old, but is mechanically and physically sound, still looks terrific, and has a great price tag. With the incredible savings, you can get practically the same vehicle as the latest model and save money, or a higher-end model that one could normally not afford can be purchased for much less.

The latter scenario can often buy a vehicle with more performance, safety, and luxury features that you might need, but would be out of reach if purchased new.

Buying a used car through a dealer has become less of a challenge, although consumers should still educate themselves and arrive at the dealership armed with information. The used car you have in mind should be researched online for consumer reports, manufacturer recalls and blue book price.

Online services such as Kellybluebook.com or upnorthautos.com, will provide quick and easy quotes on vehicles so that you do not overpay for a used vehicle.

Other Web sites such as "CarFax Lemon Check" will provide the vehicle history by running the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through a thorough check.

Using these resources and comparing the information gathered to local dealer Web sites and used-vehicle publications will give you a solid basis for making a reasonable and educated offer on a used vehicle. These guidelines also apply to private sales, although you should be aware that most of these vehicles are sold "as is" and the sale is final. Again, online research will reveal the vehicle's history.

With the progress being made at the dealership level with used vehicles, buying a "nearly new" car has become a practical option.

Combined with the numerous reputable online services providing insider information, much of the uncertainty traditionally associated with used cars has been eliminated. With some patience and thorough research, you can avoid paying too much and will leave a dealer or private sale with an excellent vehicle.

Whether you buy a used car from a dealer, a co-worker, or a neighbor, follow these tips to learn as much as you can about the car: o Examine the car yourself using an inspection list. You can find a checklist in many of the magazine articles, books and Internet sites that deal with buying a used car.

  • Talk to the previous owner if possible, especially if the present owner is unfamiliar with the car's history.
  • Check out the car's repair record, maintenance costs, and safety and mileage ratings in consumer magazines or online.
  • Look up the "Blue Book" value, and be prepared to negotiate the price.
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