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Women's Support Group

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Karen Bespalov
Karen Bespalov

How To Safely Buy A Used Car


Many financial experts will tell you that buying an inexpensive used car and keeping it for years is one of the savviest things you can do to minimize the cost of car ownership. But if you pick the wrong vehicle or place to buy, that "cheap" car could cost you thousands in repairs or finance costs.




how to safely buy a used car



In 2022, however, there may not be many "cheap" cars to speak of. As of this writing, we're facing a shortage of used cars, which has caused their market value to spike to record highs. This makes choosing the right used-car retailer even more critical, as a mistake has never been costlier. You may also need to expand your search further to find a car online or at a brick-and-mortar car dealer.


Remember that you may find used cars for sale that are under recall and not yet repaired: It's not illegal for sellers to offer such cars. Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recall site so you'll know whether you're about to buy a car that you'll then need to take in for the free recall repair.


Use this list as a quick reference guide to point you toward the best place to buy a used car. Each used-car retailer has advantages and disadvantages, so depending on your priority (price? selection? warranty?), several outlets may fit your needs.


Buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car is a convenient way to find a used car, SUV or truck in excellent condition. CPO vehicles, which are sold from dealerships of the same brand, go through extensive inspections and are reconditioned with factory parts. They also come with the best warranties. General Motors, for example, offers a one-year/12,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty on all of its CPO cars. Our certified program comparison tool can help you see the differences in coverage. But just because they come with warranties doesn't mean they are exactly like new cars. Read "Certified Pre-Owned Cars: A Reality Check" to see what expectations you should have for a CPO car.


The coverage and convenience of a CPO car come at a price. CPO cars are typically the most expensive used-car option. Edmunds data indicates that consumers will pay on average a 6% to 8% premium for a 3-year-old CPO vehicle. One alternative might be to find a car from a private seller that is new enough to still be under warranty.


The remaining used-car inventory falls under this category. These cars don't typically get the same attention that a CPO car would receive but are still given a reasonable inspection. Any major issues are usually fixed before the car is put up for sale. Since dealerships accept trade-ins on a daily basis, you'll have an easy time finding these used cars at a dealer. Most dealership websites should include a link to a free Carfax or AutoCheck report, so make sure to take advantage of that and learn about the vehicle's history.


An independent dealership isn't associated with any particular automaker. The used-car selection can vary wildly, depending on whether you're shopping at a corner lot or a full-size dealership with a service department. Since the quality can also vary from one place to another, we recommend you run Google and Yelp searches and see what kind of reviews that dealer has. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource.


Independent dealerships are useful if you're trying to find a really inexpensive used car. If you have poor credit, you'll have a good chance of getting a vehicle financed at these dealerships. It is worth noting that interest rates at independent dealers may not be as favorable as rates found at larger stores.


Some independent used-car lots may specialize in a certain type of car, which can make your selection process easier if you have that type in mind. For example, one place might focus on European luxury makes, while another might specialize in classic cars.


We'd be remiss if we didn't toot our own horn to say that Edmunds also has used car listings from a wide range of dealerships and in both CPO and non-CPO varieties. Here you can search nationwide, get the price checked to see if it is high or a great deal and even see how long the car has been sitting on the dealer's lot. To be clear, Edmunds isn't selling the vehicles, but we can help you locate and get in touch with the dealership to see the vehicle in person and complete the sale.


CarMax is technically an independent used-car dealer. But with upwards of 200 stores nationwide, it is the largest used-car seller in the country. You'll find a wide array of late-model cars in a variety of body styles.


Carmax also gives the buyer the option to take a 24-hour test drive, which is perfect for driving the vehicle home to see if it fits in your garage or test out its size with the whole family. That said, its prices tend to be higher than other used-car sources. CarMax is serious about its no-haggle policy, so the price will hold firm. But if you hate negotiating, this policy could be an advantage.


Keep in mind that you'll be buying the car "as-is" unless it is still under warranty. Doing so is a riskier move for you as a buyer, but if you bring a mechanic with you or get the car inspected before you buy it, you can offset this risk. With private-party sales, you'll find that the prices are lower across the board. Our pricing analysts calculate that a used vehicle will typically cost about 12% more at a dealership than if it were sold by a private party. You'll need to pay cash or have a car loan already secured in order to close the deal, so make those arrangements beforehand.


There may be good used-car candidates on these sites, but you'll have to sift through a number of listings to find one. This is where you'll likely find the lowest prices, but the condition levels of the cars can vary wildly. Many of the car photos you'll see are just plain bad. Some listings have no photos at all. Information on the cars tends to be limited, and you may have to contact the seller to get a VIN, which is what you need to run a vehicle history report. It's not uncommon to encounter cars that have salvage titles, meaning they've likely been in a serious accident. You'll sometimes run across unlicensed car salespeople pretending to be everyday owners. And then there are ads placed by scammers for cars that don't actually exist.


For used vehicles, start with our recommended used vehicles for teens. This list is good for drivers of any age. Recommended vehicles must offer a certain level of crashworthiness and standard electronic stability control. Only midsize cars or larger are included.


There may be more maintenance required on a used car that's out of warranty, and its financing may be a bit more expensive. But, choosing a vehicle with a good predicted reliability rating and low ownership costs can help you saa tremendous amount of money.


In this guide, we'll take you through the steps you should follow to find the right used car, secure affordable financing, pay a fair price, and minimize the chances that you'll get a vehicle that's unreliable, overpriced, or unsafe.


Fortunately, used car buyers have more resources today than ever to learn about repair costs, frequent problems, and reliability. Information about certified pre-owned warranty coverage, average costs for common repairs, and predicted reliability ratings can be found in our used car reviews. You can see what issues drivers are dealing with by checking out dedicated owners' websites, such as Odyclub.com for the Honda Odyssey minivan. If owners of a particular car are having problems, they're probably talking about them somewhere on the internet. Just search for the car's name and "problems" in any search engine to get an idea of common issues.


An oft-overlooked factor you should consider when shopping for a used car is the cost of auto insurance. Prices can vary substantially based on the model you choose. Our guide to car insurance is the place to find the cheapest insurance with the right coverage for your new-to-you vehicle.


With our used car rankings, shoppers can compare pre-owned vehicles by their overall scores and individual factors car buyers tell us are critical to their buying decisions. These factors include predicted reliability, safety, performance, and interior comfort and features.


When you buy a pre-owned car, you can get options and features at a fraction of the price they'll cost you on a new car. Option packages and higher trim levels don't command nearly the same premiums on used vehicles as they do on brand-new cars.


Not sure if you want to take the leap into a used car with no warranty coverage? There is a used car option that does have factory warranty coverage. Manufacturer-certified pre-owned cars (CPO cars) offer a blend of used-car affordability with manufacturer-backed warranty coverage. They're usually low-mileage cars that are just a few years old, with service records and no history of accidents. They are often cars returned at the end of leases, dealership service loaner vehicles, or vehicles driven by dealer or automaker staff.


Another benefit of automaker-sanctioned CPO programs is access to special used car financing deals. Used car loans typically cost more than new car financing, but a CPO financing deal with a low interest rate can dramatically cut the cost you have to pay on your auto loan.


If you're sitting on a pile of money and plan to pay cash, you can skip this section. If, however, you're like most used car buyers, you'll need a loan to help pay for your used vehicle. It's true that you can have the dealership's finance office arrange your financing. Still, if you want to save money, you need to get a pre-approved financing offer before you get anywhere near a car dealer. A dealer may be able to beat your pre-approved loan, but if you don't have one, they'll have no incentive to do so.


Shopping and applying for used car financing is similar to getting a new car loan, but there are some important differences. Because lenders consider used car loans somewhat more risky than new car loans, you should expect to pay a higher interest rate. Lenders typically consider used car loans riskier for several reasons, including the fact that their values are less predictable. It's the car's value that acts as collateral on the loan. Used car buyers also may face higher repair costs, which can compete with making timely car payments. 041b061a72


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