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Ten tips for buying a used car

Buying used can be a great option or a terrible one. Here are some tips to narrow those options down to the first one

Published July 23, 2013

When I first entered the car business in the early 1980s, buying a used car often represented a leap of faith and a measure of good luck.

Sometimes you ended up with a reliable automobile and years of worry-free driving.

Sometimes you did not.

Today, thanks to advances in quality, design and safety coupled with better consumer-protection laws and vehicle history reports, used vehicles can provide years of problem-free driving.

If you decide to buy a used car, there are definite advantages. But consumers still need good information if they are to make an informed decision.

Here are my 10 tips for used-car shoppers:

1. Buy from a registered car dealer. Registered dealers offer transparency on the vehicles they offer for sale, including background checks to ensure that vehicles aren’t stolen, seriously damaged or have liens against them. These disclosures are rarely forthcoming when you buy privately.

2. Check out Consumer Reports, Lemon-Aid, J.D. Power and Associates, auto journalist reviews, automotive blogs and forums. These resources will yield a wealth of information on any make, model and brand.

3. Consider all operating costs when you crunch the numbers. In addition to the cost of borrowing (if you plan to finance the vehicle), be sure to include insurance, fuel and maintenance costs, the cost of replacement parts, depreciation and the resale value.

4. Compare prices. If a vehicle is priced too high or too low, find out why. Some vehicles are priced low because they require higher maintenance costs, and some fuel-efficient vehicles command higher prices because their maintenance costs are low.

5. Compare the manufacturer’s certified pre-owned programs. These manufacturer-sponsored refurbishment-and-warranty programs are available at new-car dealerships and cover items such as the powertrain, roadside assistance and a vehicle history report, to name a few. Each program is different, so you’ll need to research them carefully.

6. Consider recalls. Recalls are not confined to a single make or model; all automakers experience recalls and these incidents tend to attract a lot of negative press. But vehicles that have had recall issues addressed are safer and more efficient to drive, and less prone to mechanical failures. If there is a pattern of recalls for a specific model, there may be deeper problems and you may want to get a second opinion.

7. View the car in the daytime. Car-shopping can be done during any type of weather, day or night, but once you’ve narrowed your choice to two or three vehicles, they should be viewed in daylight. Viewing a car in daylight will make mechanical deficiencies, structural problems and paint blemishes more visible.

8. Get help. Don’t be shy about asking friends or relatives for their opinions. Consumers can get a lot of great information online, but word of mouth is still hugely relevant. Whether conversations are taking place online or offline, you will gain a better understanding about a particular make and model based on candid feedback from a network of friends and car enthusiasts.

9. How does it feel? Never buy a car, new or used, based only on appearances or price. Perhaps the single most important criteria is how it feels to drive. Take the car for a drive on city streets and on the highway. Is there enough leg room? How does it manoeuvre in heavy traffic? Are the controls easy to reach? If a vehicle doesn’t feel comfortable, try something else.

10. Consider your trade-in. Trade-in vehicles, regardless of their age, should always be clean, presentable and in good running condition. This will help maximize your trade-in value.

This column represents the views of TADA. Email president@tada.ca or visit tada.ca. Benny Leung, president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, is a new-car dealer in the GTA.

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