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Between the price of gas, insurance, and parking, buying a used car is what many of us wannabe auto owners are forced to do. But how do we go about it? The prospect of buying a used car can be downright scary. Still, there are ways to track down a high quality used car and save big on gas. Here are some practical issues to consider when buying a used car.

Buying a Quality Used Car

When we seek to buy a used car we are walking into the "unknown." We can rarely be truly certain as to what we are buying. So the best way to buy a good, used car is to buy it from an owner. That way you can speak face to face about the vehicle, its repair history, the way it has run, etc. Ask for a repair record, oil change logs or other papers the owner has acquired to upkeep the car. Older cars that look good and still run well are coveted. But trucks and SUV's should have low mileage if you are considering purchasing.

It's also a good idea to bring along a friend when shopping for a used car. Whoever is selling the car will be looking for whatever advantage they can find, so by bringing along a more experienced companion, you'll be less likely to get ripped off.

8 Musts for Inspecting a Used Car

  • Assess the battery: There should be a date code on the battery and if the code is more than four-to-five years old, the battery may be failing very soon. Check the battery attachments as well for corrosion or scratches, which may reveal a starting problem.

  • Check the oil: Pull out that dipstick and assess. If oil is low in the compartment, the engine may be leaking oil or burning. If you notice that the oil is thick or dark, the owner has not changed the oil in a long time.

  • Check the transmission dipstick: As you examine the fluid, note that it should be red or pink in color. If brown or has a burning smell, the transmission may be in trouble.

  • Check the odometer: As we all know, the lower the miles, the better the car. However, there is a difference between highway miles and city miles. Highway miles are always better since the car is kept at a seemingly constant speed. A car with 80,000 highway miles might very well be in better shape than a car with 50,000 city miles. Be aware also, that odometers can be turned back.

  • Check the tires: If the tread looks uneven, this could mean faulty or worn suspension that could be a huge pocketbook headache down the road.

  • Check to see that everything works: turn signals, lights, heater and defroster, air conditioner, wipers, lights, radio, door locks, power windows (if applicable).

  • Steer clear of water-damaged vehicles: Evidenced of water damage can be stains on upholstery, carpeting and other areas and can cause difficulties with the electronic and wiring components of the car.

  • And for sure, for sure (duh), take the car for a test drive: Check how it starts and idles. Challenge it's acceleration capabilities and listen for noises. Sniff for unusual smells. Note any warning lights that come on.

The bottom line is that Consumer Reports can give you some pretty stellar used car comparisons. Google them and read up. Talk to your buddies on what cars have done well for them. Then you will know what to look for when buying a used car. Good luck!

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