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Used Car Shopping? (Mileage, Models, and Makes…Oh My!)

Updated on August 8, 2015

Tips On Buying A Car: Do you choose low miles or better model age?

Thinking about buying a used car, here's a sure-fire way to buy smart and fast!

When it's time for used car shopping (and figuring out how to price used cars), don't step onto used car lot yet: Follow my lead and you’ll be stepping into your gently used car in no time. Today's mega-information age has made it mega-easy to find and purchase the perfect car for you.

Reality Check…we’re not living in a commercial.

And don’t be discouraged by those mega beautiful cars skating across your TV, only to find that they cost mega bucks. Did you know that the average age of used cars on the road now stands at 11.4 years. That makes me feel a lot better about my own 2002, but I still want to be ready and set when it comes time to go for my next car.

If you are independently wealthy, or already on that merry-go-round of trading in for a ‘new’ car every couple of years, you can stop reading now. This is for us folk who can’t afford an investment that depreciates as soon as it’s driven off the lot.

From Finding It To Signing It, In 3 Easy Steps

With an ex-husband that was an ex-car rep and buyer/seller extraordinaire, two car-head brothers, and an oh-so-cool hubby that’s been through more hot sports cars than humans should be allowed, I’ve picked up a few car buying tips along the way. Here’s my take on how NOT to get stuck with a lemon…or as my ex and his buddies called it…a sled, while getting the most value you can out of your fastest depreciating asset.

With this little nugget of knowledge under your belt, you should be able to spot a good used car value, recommend it to the hubby, and get a ‘yea, baby!” to boot! Not to say we actually know more about the cars than the guys…it’s just a matter of who’s more willing to do the legwork. ‘Nuf said. Basically this is how it goes, easy as one, two, three.

Judge a Pre-owned Car By It’s Mile-age, not it’s Actual-age
Odometer is king. A 2004 with 20K will almost always be a better investment than a sweet 2010 with 60K miles on it.

Step 1. Get Ready…Choosing A Car To Buy

Consider Your Personal Car Activity.

What type of used car purchase makes sense for you? Does your life style include commuting 60 miles a day to work, lots of road trips, or simply a few trips to the grocery store? Do you have teenagers and their friends to chauffeur, a car-seat to strap in back, or are you riding solo?

Narrow Your Focus: Six Cylinder Or Four Cylinder?

How you use your vehicle should tell whether you want a compact (four cylinder), such as a Honda Fiesta, Toyota Corolla or Mini Cooper; or a six cylinder such as a Dodge Challenger or Ford Taurus. When I was in college, my first car was a little Chevette, (4 cylinder). Later, with three kids in tow, I went with the Taurus (6 cylinder). A few pros and cons regarding engine size.

4 cylinder:

  • Lower gas receipts
  • Ease of parking and maneuverability in tight spaces
  • Sticker price may be less

6 cylinder:

  • More room for people and stuff
  • Nicer freeway driving (feels like you’re driving 45 instead of 65)
  • Usually, the sheer size will make it safer in any accident
  • More power, quicker acceleration from 0 to 10mph on green light

Per Wisegeek: "In a 4-cylinder engine, there are four pistons rising and falling in four chambers. A 6-cylinder engine features six pistons and produces a theoretical 50% more power than the same 4-cylinder engine. While a 4-cylinder engine might hesitate when you press on the gas, a 6-cylinder will tend to be more responsive, with greater get-up-and-go. The 4-cylinder engine is standard in smaller cars, as the relatively light weight of the vehicle makes it an economical choice with plenty of power for average motoring needs. Many models include a 6-cylinder engine upgrade option. The 6-cylinder engine is standard on passenger cars, vans, small trucks and small to midsize sports utility vehicles (SUVs)."

Look Into The Track Records Of Popular Vehicles

Next stop, the library--yes, you have to actually go there; you may save lots of service station trips later with this one research trip now! My favorite place to go for product reviews is still good old Consumer Report. You can only access their actual reviews online for a fee, however, your library probably has all editions in the magazine or reference section. Go to the magazines section and ask for the Index Issue (end of year) of Consumer Report. There you will find the edition of the magazine you need for car reviews. Read up on cars of the type you're interested in (eight or six pack). Now you'll narrow your focus to a few models with good track records, and also note the ones to avoid.

Just for fun, here's a Ford Cobra we saw at Car  Show in West Palm Beach.
Just for fun, here's a Ford Cobra we saw at Car Show in West Palm Beach. | Source

Peek Into The Car Sales Activity In Your Area

Here’s how to gain the perspective of the used car industry and the price of used cars in your area. You want to get a feel for what’s reselling easily, what people are paying for different types of cars; which ones have high-repair reputations, etc. The internet has made this very easy. I especially like two informative car sales sites: http://www.edmunds.com, they also have a What's Hot page, and http://www.autotrader.com, where you’ll find everything from a Research Page where you can look up vehicles by type, such as SUV, and find information on individual models, like gas mileage, options, etc, (At the bottom of that page, a link called Find A (the model) For Sale, will take you to actual cars for sale. Notice how many are available of any given model to get an idea of how well they resell.

When a model has good resell activity, you’ll find better pricing as they compete with each other on the sales pages, and you’ll have more to choose from, color-wise and option-wise. On Autotrader, I found lots of Ford Taurus’. I ended up finding one advertised online, that was for sale at a dealership a couple of blocks from my home. It had less than 30K miles on it, and I bought it for 8K.

Litmus Test For Your Car's Cost: Kelly Blue Book

Now look up the value of your preferred car to purchase on the Kelley Blue Book site, where you'll find a section on car values, wholesale and retail. This is the 'bible' of pricing all parties respect, dealers, buyers and sellers. This reputable site also has pages on Car Reviews and KBB Top Picks.

2. Get Set…Finding The One For You

You Found The Right Model, Now Find Your Car!

Where to look: Just about anywhere—start with the internet, and you’ll probably end up at a lot near you, anyway. You can log into your local car dealerships, like Ford and Chevy, Google Used Cars and your zip code, or you can use Craigslist. Keep in mind, these sites are flooded with cars from dealerships. That means, odds are good that your targeted car is sitting in a lot near you.

Your Window of Opportunity is Spelled Out on the Odometer

0-25K BUY
30K-40K
60k-70K SELL
100K+
Cherry! My local Mini dealer* doesn't sell any used car with more than 25K on it
Many new car warranties expire at this point, also, this is when major repairs tend to happen (sell a 'bought-new' car before 36K)
Sell your 'bought-used' car before it hits 70K, hopefully before major repairs. Tires and breaks may need to be replaced at this point.
Not as bad as it used to be, running-wise, but significant drop in value and aesthetic condition
* Braman BMW, West Palm Beach

Step 3. Go!

Finally, A Trip To The Car Lot!

This is the fun part. Sometimes we call ahead, sometimes we just arrive on the lot. I like to think of it as a trip to meet a new friend. I dress nice, and expect to be offered a cup of coffee or bottle of water. I have left car lots simply because I didn't care for the sales person, probably because they didn't seem to be a 'listener', felt oppositional, or seemed abruptly inflexible. Not a good way to make a large-ticket-item sale.

Don't be distracted by the sticker price. You already know what the car is worth. Do ask for the Carfax, and talk about the car's history, what state it's from (has it been weathering the storms of Wisconsin, or resting in sunny in Albuquerque), how many and who were the pre-owners (a leased vehicle is taken care of exceptionally well, but may have tons of miles) and how many and what kind of repairs did it have. Warning, low mileage, with major repairs may indicate a lemon that shouldn’t have left the production line to begin with.

Do take it for a test drive. If there's a freeway near the lot, all the better. I notice things like how comfortable the arm rest is, while my husband listens to the engine as it accelerates.

You defiantly need to know about any service and repair warrantee the dealership is offering. Listen carefully and ask questions, how long will the car be covered and exactly what's included. When you make your offer, you'll have ample backup for your reasoning, bluebook price, miles on the car, and most importantly, your own budget.

Step Into A Reasonable Contract, Or Step Away

You already know the price you're willing to pay, don't waver. It's time to make the offer, and this is how my husband does it (and it really works!). He states the offer in terms of what he wants the walking-out-the door price to be; or the final monthly payment. Don’t waver, you have bills. This is all you can afford.

If you want to include your current car as a part of the deal, be sure you know it’s “wholesale” value. The easiest way is to go back to the Kelly Blue Book. All the players will be familiar with that quote. I also like to go the extra mile and get two more quotes--accounting for our mercurial economy. Here, in my community, I visited a local Autobuy; we walked in and had a quote of what they would pay us for the car in 20 minutes. The second, the dealership Chariots of Palm Beach, quoted what they would take off in a trade in if we purchased as car from them. Amazingly enough, both quotes were exactly the same. Which tells me, most dealers are working from the same information database. By the way, when we actually traded in the car at my dealership, the quote was 1k less than the above two. However, since we were targeting our 'walk-out-the-door', it really didn't make a difference.

Keep in mind, once you write your offer, you'll find yourself sitting across from a Finance Manager whose job it is, is to upsell you. Be prepared to say 'no' a lot and be careful what you agree to, unless you want your monthly payments doubled. My husband always adds the 'gap' insurance as he's been in some major accidents. This covers any outstanding amount on your car loan that your regular insurance doesn't cover in the event that the car is totaled. (Personally, I would have passed on that one, since I've never been in an accident.)

This purchase was a done deal within one hour of stepping onto the lot!
This purchase was a done deal within one hour of stepping onto the lot! | Source

Make Your Goal Their Goal

The finance department has many ways of looking at numbers, especially in the larger car dealerships. Some of the pieces of the puzzle they’re using include the trade-in price of your old vehicle, the sticker price, and the loan interest rate, and variables there of, if you are financing the car. I let them do the work. That way, I don’t get caught up in working on getting the perfect trade-in margin, only to see it disappear when the list price remains high. Clearly state the walking-out-the-door price you need, again and again, and let them do the rest.

We bought our T-bird at Wayne Acres Ford by making an offer the moment we walked in the door (we had researched it online before we arrived and had determined a fair price). We told him we wanted it for X amount of dollars, walking out the door. The salesman quickly worked it through because he had a sure thing; and we got it at about $3.5K less than the sticker price.

We bought our Mini Clubman at Braman Mini of Palm Beach by quoting what we wanted our monthly car payment to be (which was the same as our old car’s monthly payment). We got the price, although it took two days. Be willing to walk away, and do walk away if you don’t get it. In that case; re-read and repeat. Happy car hunting!

Two days after sitting down with our Mini Coop dealer, they called us at home to tell us they 'crunched' their numbers down to meet what we wanted our monthly payment to be.
Two days after sitting down with our Mini Coop dealer, they called us at home to tell us they 'crunched' their numbers down to meet what we wanted our monthly payment to be. | Source

Do You Watch Elementary?

Now that we have that car thing settled, what are you watching on TV. Click here

for my fav!


How Many Miles Were On The Last Car You Sold?

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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another useful hub, EGamboa! I've been thinking a lot about cars lately. Mine requires expensive repairs right now. It's quite an old car, so I have to decide whether or not I want to keep it.

    • EGamboa profile image
      Author

      Eileen Gamboa 3 years ago from West Palm Beach

      Yep…to repair or replace; that's always the questions with used cars when you want to be as cost efficient as you can. Good luck!

    • Pkittock profile image

      Pkittock 3 years ago from Minnesota

      When looking at mileage, it is also important to look at major maintenance intervals! A lot of cars will need timing belt/water pump at 60k mile intervals, for example. It'd be better to get a car at 65,xxx miles than 55,xxx, all other things equal, if you can verify that the previous owner had taken care of that expensive maintenance item.

    • EGamboa profile image
      Author

      Eileen Gamboa 3 years ago from West Palm Beach

      Thank you Pkittock, good advice. Yes, each case is different and it's good advice to take the types of repairs in consideration against the mileage. There will be exceptions to this, however, this is the place where I, with no mechanical knowledge start. Thanks for reading this!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Very interesting article with a wealth of information. I think this will do better on Google with a different title (one using your main keyword phrase and which accurately describes the content) and a different title for the first text module. Congratulations on your Rising Star nomination!

    • EGamboa profile image
      Author

      Eileen Gamboa 3 years ago from West Palm Beach

      Thank you WF. I've been noticing how those tweaks can make it easier for those who are interested to find it. Oh the dilemma, fun or functionality! Thank you for reading!

    • profile image

      DewayneGerlach 3 years ago

      Before buying any used car keep in mind your driving tracks. I mean for what you’re buying the used car, is it for speed, mileage or to modify. Check all the aspects before buying any used car. Also keep in mind that used cars can cause you big expenses on parts. So in this situation you might need to buy used parts also. Because it’ll help you in future if you face any breakdown with your car. Here at http://buyusedengine.com/inquiry.php you can get all the info about used parts.

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