Car buying Strategies

I’ve been reading with great interest the many discussions regarding: purchase of new vs used cars; the difference of certified pre-owned vs not; how Carfax reports are only mildly believable; steering clear of purchasing a previously LEASED car; AND, that extended warranties are JUST money makers for the dealers and NOT worth it!

Thus, I have decided on my “refined” car buying strategy.

My “Original” plan was:
A. Buy myself a brand new car, another Acura perhaps, or Honda, as I’m one of those that like to keep their cars FOREVER!
B. Then I’d keep my old faithful ’90 Integra running and teach the teenager how to drive it. It’s a 5 speed manual, as are most of our other cars (1985 Westfalia and 1995 Mitsubishi Mighty Max), with the exception of the Hubby’s 2011 CRV, which he does NOT want the teenager driving exclusively, as it is currently the BEST (read RELIABLE) car in our family.

My “New” plan MIGHT be:
A. Purchase a “Newer” used car (Honda, Toyota, Acura) or maybe a used Rental (and NOT a used, Leased car!) Again. I’ll want to keep a great car for a LONG time.
B. Still keep the Integra going, fixing things as needed (Finally located a recommended independent mechanic to replace former ones).

This way, our family has two reliable (read SAFE for teen) cars to drive. I bookmarked a link that @galant posted about good vehicles for teens. Here is the link for anyone interested

Then, when my beloved car finally meets her demise, Mom (that’s me!) will get a NEW CAR!

NOW, considerations and questions:

  1. Use my Banks TruCar program to search for vehicles, although I’ve read mixed reviews on this.
  2. Compile my own list of Kelley Blue Book values for the cars I’m interested in (options and all) and have these handy (but out of sight) when I go see the Vultures at the Dealership…ugh!
  3. Assume that anything with a CPO designation will have some kind of warranty already included in the price; If they try to “sell” me the warranty, are they just ripping me off?
  4. Ask to see the maintenance records. I think they would have to disclose these by law, or am I mistaken? I would want photo copies and to compare the VIN with the car I’m interested in…can you tell that I DON"T necessarily trust anyone?
  5. Take any contenders to my new mechanic for the once over. How does this work? Will the dealerships REALLY let you take one of their cars off the lot before you buy it?

Sorry this got long winded. I have been dreading the thought of buying a used car for some time now! The first car I ever bought was my brand-spanking-new Integra, so I did not have these worries!

As always, I appreciate all of the great wisdom and advice that everyone gives!


Factory CPO cars sell at a premium compared to similar used cars. It will come with the normal warranty for that year and model car plus an extended warranty to entice you to buy a CPO. A lot of CPO cars will be off lease since they are low mileage and usually about 2 years old. An off lease car would not bother me, but it sure bothers you. A leased car has one driver and a rental car has hundreds. If you are buying from a dealer, there might not be maintenance records. OTOH, if it is a leased car maintained by that dealer, they will have the records. If it helps make the sale, they would be glad to show the maintenance records to you. This should be especially so for a CPO car. I like to do my own research on pricing. The more I know when shopping for a cR, the more likely its is that I will know a bargain when I see it. You can use KBB, NADA Guides or Edmunds.

@jtsanders the reason for NOT looking into previously leased vehicles was due to what others had said; that many lease owners do NOT do the required maintenance, as they are in the car for a short term, so why bother? That is really the only reason I was concerned.
It was stated by some that at least with Rental cars, the agency maintains them a bit better, but who really knows? I’m assuming this is so that one of their cars does not crap out on a person renting it. That would hurt their business IMO.

The rentals have more potential to be abuse IMO but it also depends on the model. I recently went through this shopping process, looked at 2-3 yr old leased cars; there were quite a few that had more wear and tear for the miles. I concluded that they were abuse (or maybe had ODO roll-back), so I would move to the next car.

I also needed the car for a teen driver. Our older car was a 2005 Camry. We ended buying a 2013 Sonata. I gave that to my wife and daughter. My wife hates changing cars, so I had to almost force her to start driving the Sonata. Right now she is enjoying the blue tooth and the tighter handling and improved braking. I could not see my teenager driving the '05 mostly because it does not have side airbags and despite being a newer car, it is really behind in the safety department. Do I like the idea of our newest car being damaged by our teen driver? NO, but then again her life is more important than the car, so I have to put up with it and enjoy the Camry myself.

I think in your case you should make it as simple as possible. Forget about the used car idea, and just go ahead and buy a new car, since you plan to do that eventually anyway. Stick with the original plan in other words. Cut down on the number of car transactions. And your selection choice seems good and well-informed, Acura, Honda, Toyota. You like your current Acura, so if pressed to decide among the three, I’d say just go ahead and buy another new Acura and be done with it. New cars have a definite advantage over used cars. You know it hasn’t been abused by someone who drove it before you. In my way of thinking, that’s worth the price premium of a new car vs a used car. And no need to take a new car to a mechanic for a check-up or need to rely on Carfax.

As far as which Acura and how it is equipped, or whether you want to go for the extended warranty, that’s up to you. I prefer minimalist equipped cars myself. The fewer options, the fewer things I’ll have to eventually fix. I’m just using it to drive around, not living in it. Don’t need those mod cons they try to sell you. And I have other things to do than fix cars, so I want to keep that time and resource eater at a minimum. I always decline the extended warranty, my thinking being that if something is going to break, it will probably break during the normal warranty that comes with the car.

Negotiating a deal is tricky, b/c you are up against a car sales force that does nothing all day but sell cars. They are way ahead of you on this. Remember this if you don’t remember anything else: They know everything, you know nothing. There is no negotiating trick you can come up with they don’t know how to easily counter. So for leverage, focus what you have on your side, really the only thing you have on your side, that you’ll buy the car elsewhere, or buy a completely different make, if you are not satisfied with the deal you are being offered.


As far as maintenance records go, it’s not so simple

The dealer will not be allowed to show you ANY documents that list the previous owner’s name, address, phone number, email address, etc.

By law, they are not allowed to do that, at least in California

And if the car is located at a different dealer, versus the one that actually did all the maintenance, they most likely wouldn’t have the information, anyways

If I was trading in a car at a new car dealer, in all honesty, I wouldn’t bother showing up with my maintenance records. It’s not going to influence how much they allow in trade

As far as leased cars go, you’re correct that many individuals do not maintain them properly, because they won’t be driving them past 2 years or so

Extended warranties are extremely profitable upsells for a dealer. The customer will almost never break even, unless the car is horrendously unreliable and needs an engine and/or a transmission. And if that were the case, the car is probably a POS, and you shouldn’t plan on hanging onto it, anyways.

Let’s go further . . . the only extended warranties that are even remotely “good” are manufacturer extended warranties. The others are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. There are so many gigantic loopholes, you could drive a Freightliner through them

Yes, Honda and Acura have tremendous value retention. This is clearly related to their reliability, which is in most cases excellent. Toyota and Lexus are right up there with them, in terms of reliability. But I believe Honda/Acura has a slight edge in resale value.

Honda/Acura tends to have a sportier and more sophisticated suspension/steering system versus Toyota/Lexus. That may or may not be important to you. If boring is fine, Toyota will do just fine. If you want resale value, reliability, AND slightly sportier suspension/steering, Acura/Honda may be the way to go

Rust may be another issue, depending on where you live. If it is an issue, buying new may be the better choice, so that you get maximum usage from the car

All thinking about car buying strategy is good thinking. Most used cars, OK all used cars are a better deal than new ones. I would recommend buying any two year old Camry or Accord and any other car with a good reliability record that was a program car; a lease or rental that is at any dealer that sells those models as new ones. Kelley Blue Book is overpriced. Those prices insure that a dealer gets big enough rewards. Planning is good but if it doesn’t say Sunkist on it, you really don’t know what you’re getting, but it usually isn’t bad.

One factor is the financing. I have always been paying cash for my cars, so not sure what the interest rates are for used or new. Also not sure if a credit union cares which one you buy.

I agree about KBB . . . their prices are not very accurate

Edmunds seems to be more accurate

Regarding with car strategy buying if you are very particular and ask a lot about the car you can definitely gain much information and weight it for you self what is best.

I know it can be irritating to find a car you like from a private party, but if you’re concerned with value that’s the way to go. You might find a good price at an ordinary dealership, but the chances of getting one without serious haggling are slim, and doing that effectively is not a skill most of us have, or want to develop. At least buying from a private party makes it possible to talk to the previous owner and find out what maintenance records they have. If anything sounds iffy you just walk away.

I also like the rental company sales lots as they have fixed prices and they do maintain their cars consistently. They don’t have the most interesting cars, but choosing carefully will get you a reluable car in decent condition. Yes, their cars may have been driven by a few nutcases, but the greatest abuse a car can suffer is inadequate maintenance, not careless driving.

We are in the same situation – planning our first car in ten years (the car we will trade is 15 years old), so we commiserate with you.
We are planning to buy a 2015 one because newer cars are so much safer, and as I get older that’s a bigger consideration than it used to be. You can check on the IIHS website to compare crash test ratings for a 2015 versus a 2013 car. The models we checked – Subaru, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion – have improved their 2015 cars to do better on the crash tests. Recent options – like adaptive cruise control – have also supposedly made newer cars safer than ones made even a couple of years ago.
Sounds like you would get more peace of mind (and options packages which suit you) buying a new car, but you can do plenty of boneheaded stunts with a new car yourself, without worrying about whether someone else has done it to a leased or rented car, and you can get a lemon in a new car, too. We’ve had about equally good results from both used and new cars we have bought over the past 45 years and have kept ours an average of 8 years.
If you select a used car,several sites have reliability data for past years (i.e,, CR), and nearly any car can have problem years – 2008 was very bad for Accords for example. Yes, you can get a better value on a two year old car, because of depreciation, but sounds like that’s a minor consideration for you since you keep your cars so long. If you are taking out a loan, you may be better off with a new car because the rates for a new car loan are potentially better.
If you are buying a used car directly from the owner, maintenance records are a huge plus.
Will a dealership let you take a car to an independent garage? Ask them. Every dealer is different (your credibility with the dealer will help). An alternative is to bring along a knowledgeable friend or a mechanic who can check it out. What you are often looking for is signs of abuse, like suspension damage, poor body/frame repairs, engine noises, signs of water damage, etc. This matters more than just how the car appears (especially if it has been detailed recently). Years ago, you could easily abuse a car by doing things like over-revving the engine, but newer ones have safeguards to prevent much of this from happening.
I believe that leased cars, just as purchased cars, need to have documented maintenance or the owner risks losing warranty coverage, and leased cars also have to be returned in excellent condition or the leasor risks losing money, so they can be pretty good buys. Extended dealer warranties are very profitable, but repairs on modern cars can be fiendishly expensive, so we have used them (manufacturer warranties are best, but not all independent warranties are worthless). They all have plenty of exclusions and fine print.
Just my opinion, but most people who rent cars are probably not trying to abuse them – they want a car for business purposes, and it’s pretty clear that if they do something stupid (like careless driving) they can get nailed if they are reported by the police or if they damage the car.
Finally, it may be worth renting a car that’s similar to one you are considering buying, or asking a friend who owns one if you can drive it for a while, just to see how you like it (it’s better than taking one around the block at the dealership). We did this with a Fusion and were very impressed with it. Sounds like you keep yours long enough to want to be happy with it!
PS If you can keep a '95 Mitsubishi and an '85 Westfalia going this long you are almost certainly someone who is an ideal car caretaker!

Anyway, if you want the peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly how your car has been treated, and if you want the latest in safety, a new car wins. If you want a better value and know that even a new model car may have inherent reliability problems, then a used car may be better. Good luck.

If a dealer refuses to let you take the car for an inspection, RUN AWAY! I don’t think you can have a thorough inspection without getting the car on the lift.