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The Easy Way You Can Avoid Mistakes when Buying a Used Car

Updated on January 26, 2014

Finding the Best Used Cars to Buy

Note to my Fellow Hub Authors: I apologize for not linking out to all the great places to help you make the best used car buying decisions. It would certainly make this article easier to use, but it also gets flagged for too many links... but I have included the URL's to make it easier for those of you who want to go to the websites listed.

How to Make a Great Deal on a Used Car that is Right for You!

We all have perceptions based on Brand Awareness. For example I believe that Chrysler cars are not as high a quality as Toyota cars? Why do I believe this? Because my perception of the Toyota Brand. Toyota has always advertised quality whereas Chrysler has always advertised features. Does my perception hold up? That’s what you have to ask when you are investigating what is the best used car to buy. It’s best to not let your perceptions get in the way of finding the vehicle that is right for you. I've purchased one used car in my life to date, most of the time I buy used because you just get so much more for your money. Cars depreciate in value so fast.

Don’t Over Pay for a Used Car

If you want to know how much to pay for a used car you use the same Automotive Industry Guides the Dealers use.

Nada Guides – ( National Automobile Dealers Association Guide is the Used Car Guide. NADA retail price is based on reports from dealers of transaction prices for cars. What you want to get your hands on if you can is the Industry version “Orange Book” because it lists wholesale as well as retail values. The consumer website works essentially the same as the Kelly Blue Book which I am about to describe.

Kelly Blue Book – ( The Kelly Blue Book bills itself as the Trusted Marketplace and is very easy to use. Kelly Blue Book is the oldest guide (Started in 1926). Simply visit the site and click on “Used Cars”. Now select the type of car you are looking to purchase – Sedan, Coupe, Hatchback, Pickup Truck, etc. and enter your Zip Code. You’ll be presented with a huge lists of brands. Click on the brand that is of interest to you and select your model. Next select the year of manufacturer.

You’ll be presented with 3 Options:

  • Trade in Value
  • Private Party Value
  • Suggested Retail Value

I’d suggest you visit all 3 and compare each to the other. You’ll also want to know available options like power windows, cruise control, air conditioning. Then you enter in the mileage if known and you have a good idea of what the vehicle is worth based on the condition, features, and mileage.

Remember this one simple fact about buying used cars – “The value of the car is determined by what a person is willing to pay”. Ultimately used car prices are completely negotiable. You can make any offer you want and you will either be accepted or denied by the seller. Popular models sell for higher prices, well known brands like Honda and Toyota sell for higher prices. But this does NOT mean they are the best used cars. The best used car is the car that meets you needs, has a proven reliability record, and fits your budget.

Blackbook – ( The BlackBook is better known to the lending industry in determining collateral values for vehicles for which a lending institution will back with a loan. This is a subscription service and not practical for individuals to use in determining used car prices for personal purchase.

Edmunds – ( The Edumunds guide is targeted to consumers and is not typically used by car dealers.

Always get a CarFax Vehicle History Report

A CarFax Vehicle History Report ( can mean the difference between buying a clunker and getting a sweet deal. It’s important that you know how many previous buyers owned the vehicle and where they were located. There are a lot of rebuilt titles in the used automotive business and you don’t want one unless the car is so dirt cheap you don’t care. It’s not uncommon for a car to be totaled as the result of natural disaster (Remember Hurricane Katrina), then be sold, shipped out of state, and have the title rebuilt. You need to know the history so you can see the “Red Flags” before you commit to a purchase.

Always have your Mechanic do an Inspection

This should go without saying, but the few dollars you’ll spend having a trusted professional evaluate an automobile for you is well worth the investment. If you choose to bypass this important step in the used car buying process you could end up with a lemon. A person who will not agree to a professional independent 3rd party inspection is a person you want to avoid.

What to Consider in a Used Car Purchase

Safety – Check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (, Safe Car ( for Crash Test and Rollover Ratings, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (

Reliability – My favorite place to read about reliability rating is MSN Autos ( because they provide both editor’s reviews and reviews from actual automobile owners. Two additional places you might want to consider are Consumer Reports and JD Power and Associates.

Application - Don't buy a car that doesn't suit your purpose just because it's a good deal. If you really need a family sedan then buy a family sedan not the corvette. You'll thank yourself later.

Taxes - In my home state of Nevada if you purchase a used vehicle from a Dealer you pay Sales Tax, if you purchase from a private party you do not. In most states you pay the tax when you register the car based on either the current market value (Which the State Determines) or proof of purchase (This is another reason you want a valid bill of sale).

General Automobile Purchase Considerations:

  • Insurance Costs – Check with your Insurance Agent
  • Mileage – Cars wear out… look past just engine and transmission costs
  • Age – 3 to 5 years is best unless you simply don’t have the budget
  • Bill of Sale – If you buy from a private party it’s best to get a bill of sale
  • Warranty - Get the paperwork for transferable warranties from private parties, and find out your options from Dealers.

Comments Welcome.

Finding the Best Used Car to Buy

Looking for a great used car - do your homework!
Looking for a great used car - do your homework!


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