Finding a Used Car to Buy

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Which Car is Right for You?

The first step to buying a used car is a detailed assessment of your transportation needs. It's a good idea to answer the following questions:

  • How will the car be used? The first thing to do is to decide on a class of vehicle that best fits your lifestyle.
  • Who will be driving the car? And where? If you're concerned about taking your kids to soccer practice, you're probably going to need a car with lots of seating and storage capacity. If you're planning to use the car for commuting, then gas mileage and comfort may be your biggest considerations.
  • What features best suit your needs? If there are features you simply must have--like GPS, lumbar supports or adjustable controls--make a list.
  • What are some vehicle safety features you are looking for? Are you interested in anti-lock brake systems, integrated seat belt systems, head injury protection, or child protection equipment?
  • How much can I afford to spend? Think about how much you're willing to spend, how much of a down payment you can make, and how much you can afford per month, long before you start the process.

Questions About Other Promotions

After you narrow your search to a few makes and models, analyze the pros and cons for each. There are many excellent resources available to help you do your research including websites, dealerships, and your local library. Read Consumer Reports magazine -- online or hard copy -- for reliability and repair ratings as well as for general advice.

Look at individual used vehicles. Gather as much information as you can on the different makes and models. Check out the retail value, available options, performance, and track record for repairs.

For information about car safety features, recalls, crash tests, and other auto safety topics, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) website. You can also call NHTSA's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline at 888-DASH-2-DOT (888 327-4236) and have information sent to you.

Finding the Car of Your Dreams

You can purchase a previously owned car from an independent used car lot, a new-car dealership, an auction, a used car superstore or a private seller. Wherever you decide to buy your car, there are some important things you need to know.

While your heart will play a big role in your decision, don't lose your head. Be willing to walk away from the car if the deal doesn't meet the criteria you laid out earlier. Your ability to negotiate a great deal will increase substantially as a result.

Always know the market value of any car you're considering and make your first offer lower. It's always easy to go up from your initial offer, but you probably won't be able to negotiate down from there. Provident's Online Auto Shopping site offers Kelley Blue Book pricing information on the value of the used car, lets you compare the asking prices of similar cars for sale, and request to be contacted about any particular car that you are interested in buying.

You should always be concerned about buying "someone else's problems." Make sure you get a detailed vehicle history report and service records from the person selling the vehicle. A vehicle history report can identify major problems including past accidents, flood damage, and odometer discrepancies. When you decide to buy a car, make sure you get it checked out by a trusted mechanic before you give the seller any money.