Consumer Report: Buying A Used Car

By: Lauren Evans Email
By: Lauren Evans Email

Sales of used cars are way up. So far almost four million more have been sold this year than last. But buying a used car is never a good deal if you end up with someone else’s headaches. Consumer Reports’ auto experts can keep you on the straight path.

More people are buying used cars in this down economy. As a result, used cars are in short supply and prices are up.

“People are looking for value now," says Rik Paul of Consumer Reports. "And used cars, especially late-model used cars, are better values than new cars.”

But Consumer Reports says you have to shop carefully. First, narrow down your choices to a reliable make and model. That translates into less time and money spent at the repair shop.

“The reliability information that Consumer Reports gathers shows that some models are generally more reliable than others. It’s hard to go wrong with a Honda, for instance," says Paul. "The Accord, the Civic, the CR-V, and the Pilot are all very reliable.”

Next, you want to find a car that’s been well maintained. Ask for records so you can see if the recommended maintenance was done as well as any repairs.

“You should also look over a used car very carefully," Paul explains. "Telltale signs of damage are rust or corrosion like this or a door that doesn’t close properly.”

Also check the engine and under the car for any oil or coolant leaks. If you find any, steer clear.

But most importantly, have an independent mechanic check out a used vehicle before buying it.

“If someone won’t allow a car to be inspected, consider that a red flag and move on," Paul says.

And is it better to get a certified used vehicle? They can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars more.

“If you focus on getting a reliable car that’s well-maintained, and you have it inspected by an independent mechanic, you can skip going the certified-car route," says Paul.

Taking a test drive is also important. You want to see if the car drives smoothly and that there are no unusual noises. Take the car on highways and local roads, too. Ideally you want to spend up to a half-hour driving the car so you have enough time to size it up. You can get more advice on buying a used car by clicking on the Hot Button.

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  • by Jason Location: Jackson on Oct 14, 2010 at 06:04 AM
    I agree with Seth. Rick Paul should be promoting American made vehicles anyways. I have owned 2 pre-owned American vehicles for years. 1 is a Dodge, and 1 is a Chevy. I have no complaints.
  • by Seth Location: Mt. Sinai, New York on Oct 13, 2010 at 08:28 AM
    I disagree with Rik Paul's Honda comment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has over 1200 complaints on file about the 2003 Honda Accord. Of the 1214 complaints (as of Today) referred to this agency, 428 fall into the "power train: automatic transmission category." The 2003 Honda Accord is prone to catastrophic transmission failure and information from the NHTSA web-site reveals that when it occurs, it happens quickly and many times at highway speeds. The complaints from NHTSA are mostly similar to each other in that the vast majority of the failures happen suddenly at higher speeds and the car's occupant(s) are often unsafely jolted forward while coming to a near stop in the travel lanes. This is a serious safety issue. Coming to a near complete stop from 60 or 70 miles per hour, in some reported cases, has resulted in some injuries and will eventually result in someone's death. Is a car that comes to a stop, in traffic, without use of the break Reliable
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