6 Things You Should Check Before Buying a Used Car

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By Allison Martin

Thinking about retiring your current wheels? If so, it might be wise to skip a brand-new model and instead purchase a new-to-you vehicle.

Buying a gently used car spares you the depreciation that befalls a new car as soon as you drive it off the lot. You'll save a lot of money while still getting a quality vehicle that will last for years.

But before you buy, there's some homework required. That used car might look sleek, but you must find out if it is actually dependable.

Here are some tips for doing research before you go car-shopping.

1. Check reviews and ratings

Have you ever bitten into an apple, only to be disappointed that it was brown and mushy to the core?
The same principle applies to cars. It may look shiny, but after a few drives, you may realize it's just not the right fit for you. Or, it may disappoint in performance. Perhaps worst of all, you may find it is expensive to repair.

Before you go for a test drive, check reviews and other sources of information on the Internet.
First, simply do a search of "most complained about cars." You'll find an impressive amount of information from a variety of authoritative sources.

Now, do the same for "most reliable cars." You'll find articles about ratings by organizations such as J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.

You may also want to search "complaints" and the make, model and year of a vehicle you're considering. Forums can be very helpful.
Other sources:

2. Analyze for affordability

If the car is still in the running, the next step is to analyze its affordability. Take a moment to crunch a few numbers using an affordability calculator to determine if the monthly payment is feasible.

Take into consideration the cost of the taxes, tag, title and any other add-ons. They could easily add up to thousands of dollars, depending on the purchase price of the car and your state of residence.

Also, check out the model's depreciation trend. If the car has historically lost thousands of dollars in value year after year, the purchase may not make much sense.

Finally, is the asking price too much? Sites like Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book can help with that.

3. Consider maintenance costs

Now for the kicker: maintenance costs. The cost of labor isn't the only thing you should be concerned about — find out how much replacement parts cost. If you're thinking about purchasing a high-end foreign model, be prepared to absorb high maintenance and repair expenses.

Once again, do an Internet search for "most expensive cars to repair" and "most expensive cars to own" and you'll find plenty of results.

4. Compare insurance premiums

The next line of business is auto insurance. Some cars cost a lot more to insure than others. Our friends at Insure.com do an annual ranking of the most expensive and least expensive cars to insure, and allow you to search for the average insurance rate for a vehicle. Look for similar rankings from other sources as well.

You may be able to get a better deal when you're actually shopping for insurance, but it's still smart to find out if the average insurance cost for the vehicle you're looking at fits into your budget.

5. Check for recalls

If a car is often recalled for mechanical issues, that's a red flag. Check out "What You Need to Know About Car Recalls" to find out about the recall history of the vehicle in which you are interested.

6. Think about suitability

Think hard about this one because you'll probably drive the vehicle for a long while. It may be tempting to purchase that sporty new two-door because the guy two houses down is offering it for an irresistible price. But if you have four kids in tow each day, the purchase just doesn't make sense.

Do you have any additional suggestions? Let us know in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Originally published