Although buying a used car is often a smart financial decision, it's also a transaction full of potential for disaster. We all know someone who paid too much for a used car that fell apart on the way home. To better your chances of getting a reliable car at a good price, follow these pointers. (If you're shopping for a new car, see Nolo's article Buying a New Car.)
Decide on the Car and Price You Want
Before you hit the used car lots and classified ads, get an idea of the make, model, and year of car you want. There are many good sources to help you compare cars. Consumer Reports magazine publishes an annual car buying issue (www.consumserreports.org). Both Motor Trend magazine and Used Cars, by Darrell Parrish (Book Express), also provide useful information. The Internet also has lots of information. Try www.autosite.com, www.carwizard.com, www.edmunds.com, and www.carprices.com.
Next, check the wholesale and retail values of the cars that interest you. The Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) lists wholesale and retail prices for used cars (also available at bookstores and libraries). Lenders and insurance companies can also give you the same information. For a small fee, Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org or 800-258-1169) will tell you how much a particular car is worth, taking into consideration the car's mileage, condition, and additional equipment.
Where to Look
Once youâve made a preliminary decision as to what you want and what you can expect to pay, start looking. Here are some places to start:
- Craigslist (www.craigslist.com). Most major metropolitan areas have a craigslist website with listings for cars sold by private owners and dealers.
- Other websites. Lots of websites list used cars for sale by geographical area. A few to try include www.carfax.com and www.cars.com, but there are many others.
- The newspaper. This is the traditional way to look for cars. Check for promotions or dealer sales. For the most part though, anything listed in the classified ads can also be found through Internet sites.
- Check with new car dealers. Many sell used cars. They usually list used cars on their websites as well.
- Check with trusted mechanics. They may know of reliable used cars for sale.
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