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Used Car Buying Guide

There are many benefits to buying a used car rather than a new one besides the obviously much lower price. A used car has already taken its greatest hit from depreciation. Its taxes and collision insurance have dropped considerably since it was first driven off the lot. Any major recalls that might have happened to the model have likely already happened. You may buy a used car from a dealer, a friend or an ad in the paper. You may also buy it through a private sale or certified pre-owned rating. Either way, whatever type of used car you buy, however you buy it and from whomever you buy it, the following tips will help you to make sure the transaction is a positive one. Discover how to decide on what type of car to buy, what questions to ask a used car seller, the terminology you need to know to be an educated car consumer and the red flags to watch out for to protect yourself from bad deals. In this guide, you will learn as well how to budget your used car purchase and find helpful suggestions of brands and options recommended for different car types. Finally, you will get the prevailing word on whether to get an extended warranty on a used vehicle or not.

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Deciding on a type of car

Hatchback
On hatchbacks, the rear door opens in an upward direction. Hatchbacks typically have four doors, not including the rear door. There are, however, two door hatchbacks. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Sedan
The word sedan refers to a wide range of cars. Sedans typically have four doors and a boot trunk. Most sedans also have a three-box type of configuration, with one box for the engine, one for the passenger and one for the cargo. Various subclasses of sedans include subcompacts, compacts, fastbacks and notchbacks. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

MPV
An MPV is a multipurpose vehicle, also known as a multi utility vehicle (MUV). These are often commonly referred to as people carriers, with expanded space for enhanced passenger comfort. They contain either three or two rows of seating and boast grand doors. On MPVs with three rows, the third row can often be reconfigured for multi-use purposes. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

SUV
A sport utility vehicle, or SUV, is large car constructed atop a body on frame style chassis. SUVs have greater ground clearance and offer some degree of off roading prowess. Both off roading and soft roading styles of SUVs now exist. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Crossover
A crossover vehicle is one that blends the best of a hatchback and an SUV into one. Crossovers are built more like a car than a MPV, with unibody construction. Crossovers promote soft road driving as opposed to off roading. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Coupe
Coupes feature fixed roofs and a two-door closed design. Sportier than the average sedan, they tend to be two seaters with negligible back seats. The definition of coupes has expanded over the years to include some four door vehicles which have coup style appearances. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Convertible
A convertible vehicle is any car with a roof that can be opened or closed as the driver desires. Many convertibles, are compact, sporty sedans, like roadsters and cabriolets. Either the roof structure is a soft folding top or a hard retractable top. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Questions to ask when buying a used car

What is the vehicle's mileage?
A used vehicle with a high mileage may be prone to more maintenance and repair problems sooner. If you can find out what type of driving the car underwent, you can lessen the extent of the concern. For example, ride sharing or delivery jobs will cause greater wear and tear on a vehicle than lengthy commutes on the highway to and from work each day. At the same time, just because a vehicle has low mileage, it does not mean the car was driven gently or well taken care of. (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/ask-the-right-questions/index.htm)

What is the vehicle's condition?
Start this off as a vague generalization to see where the seller takes the answer. Then, you can drill down into more specifics, such as how the vehicle is equipped. What are its key features, what type of transmission does it have, and does it include air bags, power windows or anti-lock brakes? What is the upholstery made of and is it clean and unmarred? Do the mirrors, seat adjustments, climate and entertainment controls, mirrors and cruise control all work? Is the body solid, lacking scratches or dents, and is the interior clean and free of mold, mildew, smells or stains? You can further confirm a used vehicle's condition by asking to see its service record, if it has one, as well as receipts for any new parts. Has the vehicle been in any accidents? If so, what damage did it sustain and how was that repaired? (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/ask-the-right-questions/index.htm)

Why are you selling it?
Find out why the seller is letting the vehicle go. Does it have anything to do with the quality of the vehicle or is it simply a personal reason having no bearing on the vehicle's value or worth? Was the seller the first and only owner of the vehicle or did it have other owners before the seller? Are you able to access the owner history? (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/ask-the-right-questions/index.htm)

Can I give it a test drive? Take it to my mechanic?
You would not buy an outfit without first trying it on to see how it fit and how it looked on you. Why would you do any less with a vehicle? Not only does test driving a vehicle assure it works and how it handles, but it can reveal hidden problems with the vehicle the seller may not have disclosed, or even been aware of.

You may discover, for example, the check engine light comes on when you hit the brake, or the engine makes a strange rattle in the undercarriage while riding in a certain gear. By asking if you can take a used car for sale for a test drive, you also reveal some sellers who are not trustworthy. If a seller does allow you to take the car for a spin and you are still interested in possibly purchasing it, you can ask the seller if you could bring the vehicle to your mechanic. Only an expert can tell you with confidence if a vehicle is free of serious problems. (https://jalopnik.com/5851239/the-ten-most-important-questions-to-ask-when-buying-a-used-car/)

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Terminology you should know when buying

Carfax
Carfax is the name of a company, but it has also become ubiquitous as shorthand for a vehicle history report. Such a report, whether from Carfax or another agency, will tell you the entire reported history associated with any VIN. While vehicle history reports, like credit reports, do not contain every single relevant item they could, they do contain enough to give prospective buyers a relatively solid and well-rounded picture of where the vehicle has been and what it has undergone. (https://jalopnik.com/5851239/the-ten-most-important-questions-to-ask-when-buying-a-used-car/)

Four Wheel Drive, Front Wheel Drive and Rear Wheel Drive
These three terms refer to where the engine sends the power to propel the vehicle. In a front wheel drive vehicle, the power is sent to the front two wheels, while, in a rear wheel drive vehicle, the power is sent to the rear two wheels. In a four-wheel drive vehicle, all four wheels receive power from the engine, making the vehicle more maneuverable and easier to handle. (https://www.driving-test-success.com/car-terminology.htm)

Fuel Injection System
Cars with a fuel injection system have a computer that controls the mixing of the fuel with air before passing it to the engine to be combusted. Fuel injection systems offer significantly greater efficiency than vehicles that run with standard carburetors. (https://www.driving-test-success.com/car-terminology.htm)

Valves
Engines are described, in part, by how many valves they have. Every cylinder contains valves that perform different functions, such as letting in the air and fuel mixture or letting out exhaust fumes. Each cylinder requires at least one such intake value and exhaust valve, although many cars have more than that. More valves increase the vehicle's power and performance capabilities. If an engine is said to have 16 valves, then it probably has four valves on each of four cylinders, two intakes and two exhausts on each. (https://www.driving-test-success.com/car-terminology.htm)

Red flags to look out for when buying

Add-on Costs
When you purchase a used car from a dealer there can often be a variety of add-on costs that help to increase the dealer's profits but do nothing to provide you any added benefits. Such unnecessary addon costs include paint sealants, undercoating, glass etching and service contracts. If you genuinely want to make use of one of these services, you can always shop around for it after you buy the car and let companies compete for your business. (https://www.consumerreports.org/buying-a-car/used-car-buying-guide/)

Deciding on a price range
When figuring out how much you can afford to spend on a used vehicle, there is more to consider than simply the car's purchase price. You also must consider the taxes and registration fees you will have to pay, possible title transfer or license plate fees and insurance premiums. Many of these costs will be financed into your monthly payments and must be accounted for when calculating how much you can afford to spend for a vehicle payment every month. Other costs to consider are recurring but not regular or fixed, including fuel, maintenance, cleaning and parking costs. (https://www.consumerreports.org/buying-a-car/used-car-buying-guide/)

Recommended brands for different vehicle types
For four door hatchbacks, consider the Hyundai Grand i10, Renault Kwid or Maruti Suzuki Alto 800. For two hatchbacks, look at the MINI Cooper S 3 Door and the Volkswagen Polo GTI. When thinking about sedans, give the Hyundai Elantra or Maruti Suzuki Ciaz a look. Types of MPVs to consider include the Datsun GO+ and Maruti Suzuki Omni and Eeco. For off road SUVs, consider the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mahindra Scorpio or Mahindra Thar. For soft road SUVs, think about the Skoda Yeti, Renault Duster and Honda CR-V. Recommended types of crossovers include the Hyundai i20 Active, Volvo S60 Cross Country and Maruti Suzuki S-Cross. When looking at coupes, be sure to give the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, Audi R8 and Ford Mustang a gander. When considering convertibles, make certain to examine the Ferrari California T, Audi A3 Cabriolet and Mercedes-AMG SLC 43. (https://auto.ndtv.com/news/types-of-cars-1450327)

Which cars are known to last the longest?
When buying a used car, always hone in on models of vehicles known for their reliability. The more a car ages and the closer it comes to falling out of warranty, the more this factor of reliability matters. Among the most reliable cars lasting longest on the road in recent times are the Subaru Forester, Honda Odyssey CR-V and Pilot and Lexus RX Hybrid. The Toyota RAV4, Sienna, Prius and Highlander Hybrid also all considered highly reliable vehicles as well. (https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/most-reliable-cars-cars-that-last-forever)

Which cars are the best for families?
A US News and World Report assessment of over 125 2018 cars, minivans and SUVs named the top cars for families across 11 categories. Among sedans, the top large car for families is the Kia Cadenza, the top midsize car for families is the Toyota Camry and the top luxury car for families is the Audi A6. Among the SUVs, the top two row for families is the Ford Edge, the top three row for families is the Chevrolet Traverse, the top compact for families is the Honda CR-V and the top large SUV for families is the Ford Expedition. Also selected were the top two row, three row and compact luxury SUVs for families, those being, respectively, the Mercedes Benz GLE-Class, the BMW X5 and the Audi Q5. As for the minivans, the winner was the Honda Odyssey.

The features that made these rise to the top included high tech safety features like crash detection, driver warnings and proactive actions. Some vehicles added rear sunshades to increase comfort in back rows, while others simply increased their seating and cargo capacities. Technology features helping parents with monitoring their teen children driving were big hits with families. Also popular in many of these top family vehicles were surround view cameras, which allow drivers to see the entire surroundings of the vehicle for easier and safer parking. Most of the cars in this list have built in WiFi. (https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/best-cars-for-families)

Paperwork you should fill out after buying

After you buy a used car, there are several pieces of paperwork you need to fill out and file. If you purchase your car from a dealership, even though it is used, the dealer will still take care of all the paperwork you need to submit and get the car registered for you. If you purchase the car in a private party sale, you and the seller are responsible for handling this paperwork yourself.

To register yourself as the vehicle's new legal owner, you will need to provide proof of ownership. You will need to obtain the title, frequently referred to as the pink slip, from the vehicle's seller. Otherwise, you must at least have the seller issue you bill of sale. Once you have the proper proof of ownership, you can take them down to your local registry of motor vehicles or DMV. While there, you may need to pay some sales tax on the vehicle before you are issued the new title, registration and license plates. If you conduct the sale transaction in a bank's lobby, you can request a bank worker print photocopies for you of all the necessary documents.

Speaking of banks, if there is a lien on the car, you will need to speak with the bank to find out how to gain clear title to the vehicle. Before the car can officially be transferred into your name, the seller will have to pay the remaining balance due on the taxes. If you close the sale at the same bank holding the vehicle's title, the seller can phone the bank ahead of time to request the title be ready. As soon as the sale concludes, you should make sure the seller signs over the title and records on it the correct odometer readings and other vital information.

In some states, the seller may also need to complete a bill of sale showing how much you paid for the car. If the police pull you over after you buy a used vehicle and before you can register it in your name and get new license plates, you can show them the bill of sale as proof of ownership. The other paperwork you must be sure to fill out as soon as you purchase any used vehicle are any papers necessary to insure the vehicle in your name, whether by updating an existing policy or activating a new one. (https://www.edmunds.com/sell-car/how-to-close-a-used-car-sale.html)

Extended warranty options

If you buy a used car from a certified dealer, you can ask if any warranties are offered for used vehicles, but do not get your hopes up. Warranties on used vehicles in general tend to be limited. Extended warranties are even rarer. You could choose to purchase an extended warranty through a third-party vendor. However, you will likely pay more toward any extended warranty you purchase than you would ever receive in repair costs through the warranty.

A car with a poor record of reliability may be an exception worth taking out an extended warranty, but only if you decide it is okay to purchase an unreliable car to begin with. Avoid inclusion warranties as they only provide coverage for certain parts and are not particularly comprehensive. Exclusion warranties are better options, as they name only the parts not included in coverage. You should consider the company selling the extended warranty as well in your decision of whether to buy it. If the company has a solid national reputation, you may feel more comfortable taking the company up on its extended warranty offer. (https://www.autotrader.com/car-shopping/buying-used-car-should-you-walk-away-extended-warr-227029)

Tips for saving money on auto insurance

According to the Insurance Information Institute, there are many ways you can save money on auto insurance. It starts by shopping around to make sure you get the best deal on car insurance. Automobile insurers are competing for your business. There is no reason you should not benefit from this competition. You should conduct this research into insurance costs and policies prior to purchasing a used car, not afterward. This way, you can even research how the vehicle would affect your insurance costs if you bought it.

Different cars can be charged different insurance rates based on a variety of circumstances. Research the safety rankings of the models of vehicles you are considering buying with the Top Safety Pick tool on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website. The safer the vehicle, the better the insurance rates. (https://www.iii.org/article/how-can-i-save-money-auto-insurance)

You can also lower your overall insurance premium and shrink the size of your monthly payment by increasing the deductible you are willing to pay in case you ever file a claim. You can further lower your insurance costs by simply reducing or eliminating optional insurance coverage like comprehensive and collision still active on the vehicle. Most insurance companies offer several the same discounts on auto insurance.

If you have a good credit history, you can pay a lower insurance rate. If you purchase more than one type of policy with the same insurer, such as also having life, health, renters or disability insurance with the same company holding your car insurance, you can get a discount on each policy's premium. You may also be eligible for what is known as a low mileage discount from your auto insurer if you drive less than a certain number of miles each year. Carpoolers to work may qualify for such a discount. Your company may be eligible for a discount for all its employees who participate in a group plan together.

Other discounts you may be able to receive on car insurance include discounts for having no moving violations or auto accidents within a particular time frame. Student discounts and good driver discounts for those who completed a driver's education course may also be available. (https://www.iii.org/article/how-can-i-save-money-auto-insurance)

The importance of getting a vehicle history report when buying a used car

A vehicle history report can save you an inordinate amount of money and headache by alerting you to any potential problems with a used car you are considering buying. A vehicle history report will tell you the vehicle's title information, history of accidents, service history and confirm accuracy of its odometer reading. Accident history data in vehicle history reports is compiled from law enforcement agencies, insurance agencies, collision repair facilities, motor vehicle departments and more. It reports on recorded airbag deployments as significant damage to the structure or frame. If you see a collision alert on the vehicle history report for a used car you are thinking about buying, investigate the incident further before you commit to making the purchase.

The report will also reveal if a vehicle has experienced any flooding or fires. Both types of incidents can cause hidden damage to vehicles, making them unreliable or unsafe. If you see a used car has been in a fire or flood, you should probably walk away from the possible sale right then and there. If the car had been recovered after being stolen, that too will be indicated on the vehicle history report. Note how much time had elapsed from when the car was taken and when it was recovered. The longer the period, the more possible the car will have a salvage title. (https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/what-do-vehicle-history-reports-say))

Speaking of title, the title information in a vehicle history report will tell you if a vehicle has been rebuilt or classified as junk or salvage. A salvage title indicates the car's owner decided to fix the car and put it back on the road, even though the insurance company did not find it worth fixing. Salvage cars are difficult to finance and insure, can be unsafe and may be costly to keep up. Also boding poorly for a vehicle on its title are marks indicating taxicab use, police use, flood damage, hail damage or fire damage. Title information in vehicle history reports will also indicate whether a vehicle manufacturer bought back the vehicle under the lemon laws of a particular state.

A vehicle history report will tell you how many people owned the car prior to you, according to public records, along with whether each one is a private individual, a company, a rental agency or a fleet operator. If a vehicle had many past owners, it does not look as favorably for the vehicle as a prospective purchase as one with a single previous owner. If there is still a lien on the vehicle from an outstanding loan held by the previous owner, the lien will appear on the report. Be sure you have absolute proof all liens on a used vehicle have been satisfied before you ever consider buying it. (https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/what-do-vehicle-history-reports-say))

The sales history on your vehicle history report will show you the vehicle's history of owners, including where the vehicle was located under each owner. You will similarly find notation of each instance when the vehicle was registered, inspected or renewed. In some states, this inspection may include safety checks, emissions tests and odometer readings.

The service history on a vehicle history report can show you whether the vehicle was well maintained over its life to this point. You may even get to see where and when each service was performed on the vehicle. If there were any recalls on the vehicle, this report will indicate them, allowing you to research any emissions issues or safety concerns.

A lack of detail in a vehicle's service history report could suggest the vehicle was not properly maintained in the past, in which case you should have you own mechanic give it a thorough inspection before you feel safe buying it. There are limitations to a vehicle history report, however, which is why it is also recommended you have an independent mechanic conduct a pre-purchase inspection. (https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/what-do-vehicle-history-reports-say)

Used car maintenance tips

Making your used car last as long as possible is largely a matter of performing the proper regular maintenance. Proper car maintenance starts with preventative duties, like checking the tire pressure, changing the oil and scheduling regular inspections. To find out what maintenance tasks will most benefit your car, review its owner's manual. Inside, you will find a recommended regular maintenance schedule for that car.

Check and change your spark plugs regularly. Have the alignment in your tires periodically changed and have the tires rotated and balanced. Replace your filters regularly, including your cabin air filter and your engine air filter. Whenever your windows look covered in streaks, get new windshield wiper blades. Check your battery every so often and, if it requires it, clean off the contacts. Learn how to check all the fluids in your vehicle as well, including wiper fluid, coolant, power steering fluid and antifreeze. When in doubt about any maintenance your car may need, take it in to a mechanic to get checked out and have your questions answered. (https://lifehacker.com/the-preventative-maintenance-you-need-to-do-on-your-car-1394196018)

How to make a used car look like new

You can work wonders with a used car to make it look like new again. Start by cleaning it from top to bottom, inside and out. Soap the metal. Shampoo the upholstery and carpet. Remove all lingering trash. Pull out the seat cushions and extricate all the trash underneath them. You can even remove the front seats entirely and vacuum beneath them. Slide beneath the car and remove the grime from the engine bay. You can make an old steering wheel look like new with a simple cover.

While making your used car look new again, you may want to get the AC system cleaned out of any bacteria, mildew or mold. You can do it yourself easily, following it up by cleaning or changing the system's air filters and using an AC deodorizer. (https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/g175/10-ways-to-make-your-old-car-feel-new/)

Trading out a tired old sound system for a wild new one can take perceived years off any car. Integrate your vehicle with an iPhone, iPod or satellite radio. A more expensive way to make a used car look like new again is to install an aftermarket intake and exhaust system and air filters. It will help the system to breathe better and increase the amount of horsepower it can kick out. An aftermarket exhaust system will likely cost you a bit more than an aftermarket intake system, however. You can also make an old car look young again by replacing the worn and torn rubber strips sealing your car's doors. If you have any touch up paint for your vehicle, you can sparingly use it in place of the space on the vehicle's exterior covered in pieces of plastic trim. Weathered away black sections of paint now turned dull and grey can benefit from a dab of touch up paint greatly. (https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/g175/10-ways-to-make-your-old-car-feel-new/)

Making a used car handle like a new car when you drive it is another way to make it look like new. Replacing brake pads and rotors, struts, dampers, springs and shocks can give a car a second youth. If you also add racing shocks, urethane bushings and stabilizer bars, then the used car may handle even better than when it was new. You can even consider rebuilding the steering system and suspension with new tie rod ends and ball joints while you replace old shock absorbers. (https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/g175/10-ways-to-make-your-old-car-feel-new/) Lastly, replace old accessories with new ones, like floor mats and seat covers, and do your best to fix any scratches and dents. (http://www.wisebread.com/12-cheap-ways-to-make-your-car-look-awesome)