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Buying a used car: What to look for, what to avoid

Friday, March 21, 2014, 9:00 AM

Buying a used car can be a stressful experience for some. When buying a used car you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money. The goal is to get something that is going to last and not give you too many problems down the road. What should you be looking for in a used car and what should you avoid altogether?

The first step is deciding what you want in a new vehicle. Do you want a big SUV or a small car? Are you fine with manual windows and locks? Or would you rather have a car that’s fully loaded with Bluetooth and a built in GPS? Jonathan Yarkony, Senior Editor for autotrader.ca and autos.ca says, “Before shopping, look to yourself to establish what you absolutely need and what fits your lifestyle, and what extras you might want on top of that, but stick within your budget when the time comes.”

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Once you decide what exactly it is that you’re looking for in a vehicle, you can decide what you want to spend. Remember to include fuel, insurance and anticipated maintenance costs in your budget as well.

The next step is actually looking for a car. It may take you a while to find something that is right for you (the right price, the right mileage, the right year). Yarkony says, “Do your research and be patient, there are lots of cars out there, and usually several of the type you are interested in, so look around for the best price, do a thorough test drive and be sure that the vehicle satisfies all your basic needs.” He adds that, “A recent survey found 33 Percent of Canadians were dissatisfied with their automotive purchase, mostly because they felt they overpaid for the vehicle or that it did not meet their expectations.”

Have a price range in mind before you start shopping. Also, have a range in mind for mileage and the year of the vehicle. This will help you narrow your search a great deal. What mileage and year should you be looking for? Yarkony says, “This is often dictated by the shopper's price and needs, but a good window to look within is cars 3-5 years old with 60, 000-100,000 kilometres.”

If you find a vehicle, or even a few, that meet all your requirements, make sure to do an inspection and take them for a test drive. Yarkony says, “Dents and scratches could be an indication of poor maintenance or hard use, but a car with a few dents and scratches might still be mechanically sound.” Yarkony continues, saying, “Just as important as a visual inspection is listening to the car in question during the test drive – listen for clunks, knocks, rattles, whines, screeches or anything that doesn't sound 'right', and also feel for any lurching or poor power delivery, braking or steering response. The best way to make sure your car is in good working order is to take it to a trusted mechanic, who can look for any signs of poor operation or worn parts.”

When you take the vehicle for a test drive, drive it at different speeds and on different types of road conditions (gravel roads, wet roads, etc.). The Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) website explains that this helps evaluate the “steering, brakes, shock absorbers and front-end alignment."

And for a final piece of advice from Yarkony, “Research, research, research!” It may take time to find the perfect fit, but you want to make sure you are satisfied with the end result. Happy hunting!

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