How to by a Cheap (but Good) Used Car

By: Steve Faber

Many of us dream of buying a cheap used car. Well, let's amend that a bit. Many people dream of buying a cheap, good, used car. Unfortunately it's all too easy to get a cheap used car that's, well, cheap. You've probably already got one of those, though. Here is how you can get one of the cheap, good used cars.

There are several things to consider. The first thing to think about when you're looking for a used car is what your requirements are in a vehicle. If you need to drive yourself 40 miles a day to work, a Chevy Suburban is probably not your best choice. Conversely, if you take your family of 7 on trips while towing your boat, a Suburban would be a great vehicle for you. You can save quite a bit of money by getting only what you really need in a vehicle. While that may not be very exciting, the money you save will be.

Once you've decided what type of vehicle suits your needs the best, narrow down which vehicles in that category will be the most desirable. The less picky you are when it comes to things such as colors, brand, and features, the easier it will be to get a great used car, cheap. A few features you shouldn't overlook are safety and reliability. After all you, and possibly your family, will depend on this car, and if you think about it, your lives are at stake every time you ride in it. Check Consumer Reports and MSN autos for reliability figures. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does some very good tests to determine the vehicle safety in a variety of different collision situations. Check them out as well.

Once you've narrowed down the field a bit, it's time to start looking for your new, used car (isn't that an oxymoron?). Look for some of the less popular, but still functional, reliable, and safe brands. You'll save some money for example, by foregoing a Honda for a Nissan, or skipping a Toyota and landing in the driver's seat of a Mazda. One other point to consider is that today's vehicles hold up remarkably well with far beyond 100,000 miles showing on the odometer. In fact, they can still look and run almost new at this figure. So, don't let a few miles scare you. You're buying the car for what it has left, not what it has.

Once you found a car that seems to fit your requirements, there are some things you should check to make sure you are in fact getting a good, cheap car, not just a cheap car. Locating one that has been well taken care of is vital. While today's vehicles are remarkably robust, they do require regular maintenance to ensure they will provide the years of service of which they are capable.

They may run like Swiss watches, with the highly engineered, internal parts spinning about in a fine, choreographed ballet, but that example of modern engineering could turn into a pile of very expensive junk if it doesn't get the care it feels it deserves. The subsystems for modern vehicles are very expensive. It's not uncommon for a transmission to cost between $3,000 and $6,000. An engine may set you back almost $10,000. The moral here is that a bit of careful investigation could save you a big headache later. You need to act like a horse trader in the old west. Look at the old girl to be sure you really want to take her home.

When you're out shopping, you should definitely check the vehicle's history. You may discover all manner of horrors hiding in it's sordid past. Carfax works very well for this. Bring a laptop or mobile device to access the web while you're shopping. You can get unlimited uses for a month for a pretty reasonable price, so you can check out a large number of prospective vehicles as you're shopping.

When you're actually looking at the car, kneel down and sight down the car's body lines. If they are wavy or you can see obvious imperfections in the paint, chances are the car has been damaged and repaired at some point. Another trick is to bring a small magnet with you. If the car has metal body that's been repaired with body filler putty, the magnet will not adhere to the repair as well as it does to the other parts of the body. Crawl under the car and check the frame or unibody members for any signs of bending, corrosion or other damage. See if it looks like the car's underside has been places you wouldn't take a car you loved.

Pop open the hood. Pull out the dipstick to check the oil. See if the oil is between the "add" and "full markers, and if it's black or a nice, golden brown. If it's thick and black, the oil probably has been neglected. Check to see of there's any white substance mixed with the oil. That's usually engine coolant. It's not supposed to be in there with the engine's oil. If it is, there's a blown gasket or an even more serious engine problem. That won't be an inexpensive car, but it may be a cheap one.

Check the tires for uneven wear. If the tires need to be replaced soon, that may not be a trivial expense on many cars. You could spend $350 - $600 on a new set of treads, mounted and balanced. The car's tires are extremely important to vehicle safety, handling, braking and acceleration however, so don't skimp if you do have to put on a new set of tires. Just be sure you use the fact in your negotiations. Uneven tire wear may also be indicative of a greater problem, such as a suspension or alignment issue. It could also mean the car has been wrecked in the past and not repaired correctly.

You need to decide where you want to look for your car. You can choose a private party. You can often get a great deal from a private party. See if you can discover their reason for selling the car. Some insight here may determine if you have a highly motivated seller and give you the upper hand in the negotiation. Another benefit to a private party is that you'll often get the car's service records. These can boost the resale for you later and shed light on any past problems.

You can obviously buy from a dealer. There are hundreds of lots brimming with shiny used cars in most metro areas. You won't get as good a deal from a dealer (?) in most cases, but you won't have to meet 46 different sellers either. In addition, you can possibly get some kind of warranty of the dealer offers one. If you do elect to avail yourself of a warranty, read the entire contract vewy, vewy carewfuwy.

You can buy your cheap, used car from an auction. There are many different kinds of vehicle auctions. Many law enforcement agencies sell off vehicles confiscated according to property forfeiture laws. These laws allow the agencies to keep property of those arrested for a variety of crimes, particularly drug crimes. If the perp had pride in his ride, you can get a very nice vehicle. Other auctions are held to dispose of vehicles seized by customs officials, abandoned at towing yards, or to satisfy tax liens. You can also find fantastic deals at auctions held to liquidate vehicle fleets of large businesses, such as phone and utility companies. It's not uncommon for vehicles to be sold for far lower than they would in any other marketplace, often at only pennies on the dollar..

The downside of auctions is, you guessed it, you know nothing about these cars. In addition you can't drive them in most cases. In the cases where you can drive them, you'll only be permitted to take them for a slow spin around the auction yard. Another downside is inventory selection at many vehicle auctions. The selection available to you can range from outstanding to very limited. You know what, though? Many used cars on dealer lots are found at auctions. The dealers keep this little secret tucked safely away inside their little book of tricks. If you could get your new car at an auction you could pay what the dealer's pay, sometimes less.

Next time you need to buy a cheap, used car, remember there is one for you out there somewhere. You just need to find it. Remember, buy cheap and good!

Top Searches on
Used Car Buyers
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Used Car Buyers