Team Clark’s Joel Larsgaard is one of the pioneers of buying a cheap car on The Clark Howard Podcast. He bought a Nissan Altima with 200,000 miles on it for only 3,200$.
In the spirit of Joel, we’ve assembled rules that you need to follow if you want to buy a cheap used car. Of course, before buying one, you should try and find out whether buying a car with cash is the right decision for you. And don’t forget to make sure you are covered with an inexpensive car insurance policy. Let’s take a look at the rules that will get you the car you want now.
These are some of the websites you can check out when searching for cheap used cars online: Carvana, Craigslist, Autotrader, iSeeCars, and CarGurus.
That last one on the list lets you put in your ZIP code and the make/model of your vehicle. After that, the site will search millions of listings on published databases, and it will rate cars with notations like ’fair deal’, ’high priced’, ’great deal’, or ’overpriced’.
Autotrader is also known for its advanced search tools. Besides the make/model, it will let you choose its price as well. It lets you filter results based on the fuel economy and a host of other parameters.
The annual Consumer Reports auto reliability survey is the largest survey of automotive reliability, and Clark Howard relies on it. This publication is great at analyzing new models when they come out every year.
There’s a specific value in this for used-car buyers. This magazine offers detailed reliability ratings going back even several years on every make and model you can think of. The ratings are compiled from reports that are about 17 common trouble spots in more than a million cars on the road. The car’s reliability can really affect how pleased you’ll be with a car over the years. It’s also good to know it because it’s going to influence the resale value.
You might also want to consider searching for maintenance records. You’d probably like to buy your vehicle from an owner who’s a perfectionist.
All the things that make your vehicle look ugly – dents, hail damage, peeling paint, and nicks are your best friends when buying a used car. This is because the worse the exterior looks, the more you can negotiate the price with the seller. Don’t forget that a bad-looking exterior won’t affect what’s under the hood.
There’s something you need to be aware of, though. Tires. Tires shouldn’t be bald; if they are, you could have to pay several hundred dollars to replace them. Take this into consideration when haggling about the price.
If you’re ever in need of new tires, there are lists you can find online.
One more thing that’s useful to keep in mind is that if you settle for less luxury cars, you’ll save much more money. Rid yourself of unnecessary preferences, and look for a reliable one.
Also, avoid cars with an accident record! It’s too risky unless the owner can prove that the clam record was for non-structural damage. They should have a receipt from a credible body shop and even a photo of the damage before the repair itself.
Have you heard of manufacturers like Hyundai, Mitsubishi, and Kia promoting their 10 year/100,000 mile car warranties?
This is what inspired the following rule you should follow if you want to spend under 5,000$ for a used car: Look for the ones that have 100,000 miles on them (if not more).
Do you maybe think that it’s too much and that vehicle with that many miles is probably going to ’die’ soon? Well, you’re wrong.
It’s possible for cars that are made within the last 10 to 15 years to ride 200,000 miles and more if you take care of them properly. This is why you might wanna check for records of routine maintenance (especially oil changes) with the seller.
According to Consumer Reports, Honda and Toyota top the list when it comes to car reliability. This means that their cars have high resale values.
If you want to buy a cheap one, avoid the Hondas and Toyotas. According to USA Today, you should look at ’second-tier’ Japanese brands, like Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Mazda.
You might wanna avoid the European ones as well, but this time for a different reason. Vehicles with German engineering, for example, are so finely tuned that they need a lot of maintenance. This is more money that you need to spend in the shop.
Something like Ford Focus can be a happy medium, perhaps. It has a lot of proven reliability.
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to get a free VIN check when you want to get a cheap car. You need to do this if you want to avoid buying a flood vehicle or one with a salvage title.
You can even get a VIN check on your current vehicle if you’d just like to know your car’s history.
The last and most important thing you should do is get the car inspected before buying it.
One of the important things to know about buying a used car is that you buy it ’as is’. Don’t trust the salesperson; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a commissioned employee or an independent seller.
In the ideal case, you’ll get an ASE-certified (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic to examine your purchase. You can find the most highly qualified ASE-certified mechanics in garages that are part of the Blue Seal program.