Want a Better Used Car? Shop like a Woman

Used car shopping
Used car shopping

Are women actually better at buying used cars than men? A company called LeaseTrader, which runs a used-car marketplace for people who want to get in or out of a lease rather than buy, crunched some data and came to just that conclusion.

LeaseTrader found that women who use their service are significantly more likely than men to ask sellers tough questions, evaluate a car's safety features, and have vehicles inspected by mechanics before making a deal.

Men, on the other hand, tended to limit their questions to subjects like engine performance and technology -- and nearly half declined to arrange a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic, even when buying long-distance.

'Fess up, folks: Are we really surprised?

The Right Way to Buy a Used Car

What women and men both have right is that buying a used car isn't a casual purchase -- it's a big deal, and you need lots of information in order to make the right choice.

It's no surprise that men and women would prioritize the information they need differently. It makes sense that moms who expect to spend a lot of time with kids in the car will ask hard questions about a car's safety. And guys... well, we guys tend to romanticize our cars a bit. We like horsepower and great stereos, so it's a no-brainer that many of us will pay close attention to those aspects of a car's feature list.

Of course, those are stereotypes, and plenty of purchasers on both sides of the gender gap fall outside of those descriptions. But no matter your gender, you'll do a lot better in your used-car hunt if you do your research the right way.

The Two Questions You Must Ask Before Buying

Impulse buys are fine at the mall, but not a good plan when you're spending thousands of dollars on a vehicle that will carry you and your family for several years. Before handing over that check, there are two big, critical questions that need to be answered about any new-to-you car:

1. Is this the right model for me? Do you fit comfortably in the driver's seat? Do your kids fit in back? Does the model have good reliability ratings from Consumer Reports? Are the controls laid out in a way that works for you? Does it have the features and specs -- safety, performance, fuel economy -- that you want and need? Does it feel good to you on the road? Do you like it? (Don't underestimate the importance of that last one. You're planning to live with this thing for several years.)

2. Is this particular car a good one? Does it look like the previous owner took good care of it? Are the door panels, the interior surfaces, the tires in good shape? Are there signs of accident damage? Test drive it: Does it drive well, with no vibrations, rattles or squeaks? Does it accelerate smoothly and stop briskly? Can you live with the color? What does your mechanic think of it?

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Answering the first question -- deciding on the kind of car you want to buy -- will require some research to narrow down the possibilities, and probably a few test drives. Don't be afraid to cast your net widely -- while the mainstays from Toyota (TM) and Honda (HMC) mostly deserve their top-drawer reputation for reliability, the best offerings from Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) have been just as good lately -- and can often be had at a better price used.

And the second question? It's always best to check out each car in person -- but nowadays, when so many folks buy cars over the Internet, that's not always possible. But what is possible is to arrange for a pre-purchase inspection by a competent mechanic, something that should always be done whether the car is local to you or far away.

Don't Skimp on This Last Step

Most good mechanics will be happy to do a pre-purchase inspection. If you're buying long-distance and you're an AAA member, the club can help you find a reputable shop that's local to the seller.

Typically, pre-purchase inspections will include basic engine diagnostics, a survey of wear and tear on things like suspension parts, and a check for rust or accident damage; in short, the things you want to know about a used car, but often cannot easily determine yourself.

Expect to spend about $120 or so for an inspection like this. That's not cheap, but it's money well-spent if you're ready to buy, and it's money that both men and women should be ready to lay out to make sure that your new-to-you ride is as good a deal as you hope.

At the time of publication, Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owned shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of General Motors and Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford.

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