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Buying a Used Car – 7 Tips

Purchasing a previously owned vehicle can be a great way to save some cash while still getting a good car. If you shop smart, you can find a used car that is in good condition and will provide years of service. With a bit of research, shopping around, and patience, buying a used car can be well worth the time. Keep in mind that for the long term, you're looking for the best car for the best price--not simply the lowest price. A cheap car that costs you hundreds or thousands in repairs is not the best deal.

1. Do Your Research Before you head off to a car lot or peruse the paper, do some research. Start by determining the type of vehicle you want, and then narrow the field to a few models. Whether you're looking for a sports car or minivan, if you are educated going into the process, you'll be in a much better position. You'll know the kinds of questions to ask and you'll be able to negotiate smarter. Investigate the car's average fuel mileage, various features, upkeep, and average costs for repairs. Check reviews such as in Consumer Reports, talk with people who own the vehicle you're looking for, and call dealerships.

2.
Comparison shopping Once you know what you're after, start looking. Look up the blue book value ranges and see what the going rates are for the vehicle you're after. Be wary of jumping on the first good deal you see, however. A great price may mean hidden costs elsewhere. If you are buying from an individual, try to get as much information from the person as possible. You may have the opportunity for some type of warranty or repair plan if you go through a dealer.

3.
Lemon Laws and Lemon Checks Whether you're buying from an individual or dealer, have the car checked by a third party. If the seller insists on a deposit before you have this done, say thank you and shop elsewhere. Lemon Laws refer to each state's laws that protect consumers if they've purchased a vehicle that is persistently defective. In many states, lemon laws apply if the vehicle requires multiple repairs within the first thirty to forty days of purchase, but the laws vary. Check your state's laws so you know your rights.

4.
Look Up the VIN Number Having the vehicle looked over isn't enough. That will give you an idea of what shape the vehicle is in now. Researching the history by the vehicle's VIN number will give you an idea of the car's past. The VIN is the Vehicle Identification Number, and it can be found on the title or under the windshield. A VIN report will run about $20 to $25, but it is worth the price. You may learn important things about the car that are not evident otherwise.

5.
How much are you willing to pay? When shopping for a used car, you need to know the price range you can afford. Obviously, if you have a bit more to spend, you can buy a better car. If you're looking for a relatively new car (three to four years old), you'll likely be looking at a range starting at $8,000 for a decent car. If you are in the lower price range, looking for a car five years or older, it may take more time to find a decent car that doesn't have too many miles on it. Again, shop around and avoid the temptation to buy the first low-price car you find.

6.
Don't Discount Dealers You may or may not get a better deal through a private seller, so carefully consider using a dealer. Dealers will often give used cars a thorough check and offer some type of warranty on the cars. They will also ensure there are no outstanding liens against the vehicle, something you'll need to do on your own if you buy from a private party. When it comes time to sign the papers, be sure to read everything carefully, however. Make sure you understand the terms of the agreement and any warranties or service checks offered.

7.
Consider Different Financing Options One benefit to buying from a dealer is that financing is often available for used cars as well as new. However, it pays to shop around when it comes to finance options. A personal loan through a bank may carry a much lower interest rate than the dealer's plan. Take the time to calculate total costs for different types of loans so you can make the best choice.

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