Tips for Buying a Used Car

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So you've decided it's time to replace your current vehicle for something newer. For some people taking advantage of a 0% financing offer and getting a brand new car is a great plan, but for others a used car is a good option.

If you buy a used car from a dealership that offers both new and used cars, you can probably find one that's coming in off a lease. People who lease will be charged if they return a car in bad condition. As a result, most of "off lease" vehicles turn out to be a good bet for the next buyer. You can also find cars with a "certified pre-owned" designation at a dealership. These cars are usually three years old or newer, and some even come with a warranty. 

Where to Start
When you're going to look for a different car, first determine what you need. If you have a lot of passengers or cargo, you might need a minivan or an SUV. If not, you might be looking for something sportier. Do you live in an area where 4-wheel drive is a feature that's nice to have sometimes in winter or is it a year-round necessity? Once you determine these needs, look at other cars on the road or online to see which ones are appealing to you.

Next, make a spreadsheet listing the cars you are interested in and decide what your must-haves are. Prefer a push-button start, Bluetooth technology, keyless entry, satellite radio or leather seats? Find out which models have all of those things. If your top priority is gas mileage, include that for each of the cars on your list too. You might also want to consider the type of fuel the car takes. Lots of cars now require premium gasoline, which comes at a premium price.

Speaking of premiums, be sure to check with your Shelter agent to find out what your new insurance premiums will be once you've narrowed your list to two or three. 

Price Matters
If you have a specific price range in mind, research the price of the exact model of each vehicle you want. You can do this by visiting car valuation sites to get an idea of what the car might be worth. Remember to make apples-to-apples comparisons though, because there can be significant price differences between models. For instance, a 2013 Nissan Altima SL can cost thousands more than a 2013 Nissan Altima S, even if both vehicles have the same mileage on the odometer. 

Hit the Road
Once your spreadsheet is complete, you will begin to see which models fit your criteria best. The next step is to find out if those vehicles are for sale in your area, then take them for a test drive. This will help you determine how well the car fits you and if you like how it drives and handles.

When you think you've found "the one," have a mechanic inspect it and get a vehicle history report. This can tell you how many times the car has been owned, if it's been damaged in an accident or flood and other information that you might want to know.

It's a good idea to start your process early—the last thing you need is for your car to break down for good, requiring you to make  a fast and uniformed decision. Armed with the knowledge of what car you want and how much it should cost can help save you lots of money and headaches.