How to choose the right used car
Used car or new
By purchasing a used car you can save a lot of money. You could
buy a loaded model with all the bells and whistles that you
might not be able to afford had you bought a new car. A new car
depreciates quickly in the first few years and after 3 years it
is worth only about 60-70% of the original price. In fact, as
soon as you leave the dealership, your vehicle is suddenly worth
$1000-$2000 less. When purchasing a new car you basically are
paying for its fresh "new" aroma and warranty. However, buying a
new car does not always mean the buyer will get perfection. A
new car may come with problems associated with poor design or
manufacturing defects that may have been already repaired during
the warranty coverage period if it's a used car. The same is
true for all kinds of recalls and campaigns.
Buying a used car is still a bit of a gamble - there is no
guarantee that the car is accident-free, has real mileage, and
was properly maintained. There may be some hidden problems like
a worn out automatic transmission, or engine problems that may
not have been obvious when you test-drove the car.
There is no perfectly safe car, but certain models can protect
you better in case of a crash.
Some vehicles offer features that may help you to avoid an
accident in the first place. You can compare crash test ratings
and find other car safety related information online at:
NHTSA - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website
where you can find automobile safety information, auto crash
testing, statistics, recalls and more.
SaferCar.gov - crash-test and rollover ratings for specific
models by NHTSA
IIHS - the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website where
you can compare frontal offset and side impact crash test
results as well as Injury, Collision & Theft Losses and Fatality
rates for different cars. In addition, there are number of
consumer publications available including Shopping for a Safer
Reliability is one of the most important factors to consider if
you decided to go for a used car. Not all cars are the same.
Some models are proven to be very reliable, others are known for
constant problems. Since it is a used car, the original warranty
coverage is probably over and you want the model that is more
reliable. There is a number of resources where you can check
reliability ratings of certain models:
MSN Autos - follow the link "Used cars" in the left navigation
J.D. Power and Associates (look for Long Term Dependability
ConsumerReports.org provides excellent data (paid subscription
However, be aware, even most reliable model car won't last long
if not maintained properly.
With unpredictable gas prices, choosing more fuel-efficient
vehicle can help you to save money at the pump. Do you know that
the difference in annual fuel costs between different cars could
be as high as $1500 - $2000?
Plus, more fuel-efficient vehicles pollute less, which is good
for the environment.
You can compare fuel economy of different cars following links
For US: Fuel
For Canada: The Auto$mart Program
Cost of insurance
The cost of insurance varies a lot depending on the make, year
and model of the car, driver's experience and many other
factors. It's recommended to get insurance quotes before buying
Follow the link Online Auto insurance quotes.
Make or model
I often being asked what make or model I'd recommend? I don't
think there is a certain make or model that is just perfect for
everyone. It really depends on what exactly you expecting from
your next vehicle and how much money you want to spend. For
example, talking about SUVs: if all you need is reliable, and
not so expensive SUV, I'd recommend Nissan Pathfinder. You want
your SUV to have luxury interior, smooth ride and you ready to
pay more for it, try Volkswagen Touareg. Power and Performance
is all you want, then try Porsche Cayenne, and so on.
However, considering general terms, such as reliability, fuel
economy, quality and maintenance costs, I'd highlight such
models as Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Nissan
Altima, Toyota Camry, Honda Odyssey, Honda CR-V, Nissan
Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.
There is an excellent decision-making tool at MSN Autos. Follow
the link "My Research" on the left bar where you can pick few
different models and compare their ratings for reliability, fuel
consumption, price, etc. (registration required).
Automatic or manual transmission?
Cars with manual transmission are cheaper. They are more
powerful and more economical. A manual transmission is also more
reliable than an automatic. Experienced drivers of manual
transmissions will tell you they like how it allows the driver
to feel "closer" to the car. It's just more fun! However, it is
more work to drive such a car, and can be especially difficult
for the beginner. But don't be scared. You can learn how to
drive such a car in just a few days. It's not as difficult as it
It is much easier to drive cars with automatic transmission.
Automatic transmission is more convenient in a city, in traffic
jams, etc. But it involves a more complicated device and breaks
more often. The repair of an automatic transmission is
complicated and tends to be quite expensive. Regarding fuel
efficiency, a car with an automatic transmission consumes an
average of 1.3 times more fuel than the same kind of car with a
manual transmission. When you buy a used car, the automatic
transmission is the one of the most important parts to check -
How to check a transmission
Considering a car with Diesel engine
Cars with a diesel engine consume almost half as much fuel as
the same car with a gasoline engine. However, there is a price
to pay: Diesel engines are noisier and there always will be that
not very pleasant smell from the exhaust. Some Diesel engine
vehicles require only synthetic oil which means higher
maintenance cost. There are only few passenger cars with Diesel
engine available in North America: Volkswagen Golf, Jetta and
Passat and Mercedes-Benz.
Four-cylinder engine usually provides better fuel economy, but
V6 and V8 engines generally have more power and little more
durability. V6 (or V8) engine will be best choice if you want to
tow a trailer.
The engines with four valves per cylinder (almost all Japanese
cars) provide better efficiency.
The features like multiple valves per cylinder, variable timing,
variable valve lift also significantly improve engine
How to check the engine condition
Do I need the ABS?
The four-wheel ABS or Anti-lock Braking System is designed to
help the driver maintain steering control during hard braking,
especially in slippery conditions. How it works:
Imagine, you are driving a car without ABS on a slippery road
(e.g. after a rain or snow). Suddenly, you notice something on
the road right in front of you. You hit the brakes, and try to
turn aside, but the steering doesn't work; the car just skids
out of control. Why, because all the wheels are locked up while
you're holding down the brake pedal. As a result, you lose the
ability to steer the vehicle.
Braking on the snow without ABS
The four-wheel ABS can help in situations like this. It prevents
the wheels from locking up, helping you maintain steering
control during braking. In a similar situation, driving a car
equipped with four-wheel ABS, it would be easier for you to
steer your vehicle while braking.
If slippery road conditions are common in your area, the ABS may
be helpful if you use it correctly. The disadvantage is that the
ABS is quite complicated device and might be costly to repair.
Essential to know:
- The four-wheel ABS system can help to slightly reduce the
braking distance in some situations. However, under certain
conditions (e.g. on loose snow or gravel), the braking distance
may be longer. The main purpose of four-wheel ABS is to help the
driver maintain steering ability during hard braking.
Is it worth to buy a car 'as is'?
I wouldn't advice to buy such a car even if the price seems to
be very cheap and here is why:
Usually used car like this needs a lot more repairs than it may
seem at the first look. Just a fresh example:
A friend of mine bought twelve years old Honda 'as is. It was
drivable, but "minor body repair" was needed. It was very cheap
though - only $1200. During the safety test more problems were
discovered and he had to spend another $600 for the brakes and
suspension. To pass emission cost him $350 more for new
catalytic converter and tune-up. Body repair added $500 on the
top. And after one week of driving another problem came up - no
compression in one of the cylinder. Another $700 flew away.
Finally the total cost came to almost $4000 (plus new audio
system, battery, etc.) and no one knows what and when will be
broken next because usually once the car starts breaking, it
For this money, he could buy much better car in perfect
condition certified and emission tested with no hassles and
headaches. As a conclusion I'd suggest you to look not for the
cheapest car available, but for a decent vehicle for reasonable