Step 1: Check the vehicle's reliability on the Internet
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Photo 1: Compare repair costs
It's a great vehicle, but only if
you can afford the repair parts.
Don't be surprised by sky-high parts costs after
you've bought the vehicle.
Get all that information up front at rockauto.com
Family and friends used to ask me if a
certain vehicle was “a good one” only
after they'd bought it. Hello? What am
I supposed to say then?
Buying a dependable used car takes
a little bit of homework. Here's a four-step
plan that you can follow to have
the best shot at getting a car that
won't turn into a money pit. This step-by-step inspection program works
whether you're buying from
a car lot or a private party. It's not
rocket science, just simple logic.
This story isn't about cosmetic
issues like rust, body dents or dirty
carpets. Plus, I'm assuming you're
buying a vehicle that's out of the
factory warranty period.
Once you decide on a few vehicle models you're interested in, it's time to
begin your research in online forums such as edmunds.com and automotiveforums.com. These are two Web sites where you can read comments
and ask questions of a pool of thousands of people who actually own that
vehicle. Review the owners' comments and ask about their ownership
experience. Find out if there are any recurring problems with that year,
make and model and how much the owners have shelled out in repairs.
Then ask whether they'd buy the same vehicle again. They'll give you
the straight dope. Some forum members respond immediately, but be
patient; it might take a few days to get plenty of responses.
Meanwhile, check out rockauto.com's “Repair Index” to compare repair
parts costs (Photo 1). You may find, for example, that a certain European
sedan's alternator replacement could cost upward of $800, whereas the
same item for a similar domestic model is relatively cheap at $150. When
you're buying a used vehicle, parts cost is a major concern.
Step 4: Negotiate the price first, then take it to a mechanic for a final inspection
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Photo 1: Negotiate the price
Negotiate a price based on your findings. But make it contingent on a clean bill of health from a professional inspection.
Most mechanics charge
about $100 for a used-vehicle
inspection, and it's the best
money you'll ever spend.
But before you commit to the
inspection, negotiate the best
price based on any problems
you've already discovered (Photo 1).
Then make the final purchase
contingent on a clean bill of
health from your mechanic.
Make sure the final inspection
includes a scan tool check
for “readiness monitors” and
“pending codes.” I'm warning
you—don't skip the final
inspection step just to save