What matters most when buying a used car?

Hello All,

I am looking to purchase a used car and was looking for some advice.

I would like a car that can easily last me a year or two without needing any maintenance work. Which maker/model is best if I am looking for low maintenance?

Also when buying a used car what should be considered most important:

  • milage
  • maker/model
  • fuel efficiency
  • how old is the car

Any guidance would be much appreciated.

When buying a used car, what should be considered most important is that the seller has a clear title–in their name–and has owned the car for at least a year, and can offer a plausible explanation for why they’re selling it. Other than that, the car should be in good enough condition for the asking price. Everything has its price, and even a very old car, or one with a lot of cosmetic issues, or even one which currently does not run could still be a good deal, as long as the price is right–and it comes with a valid title.

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I’m sorry new to this whole car buying deal. What exactly does it mean for a seller/dealer to have a clear title?

Also, how do I check if they have a clear title?

There is no such thing that will not need some maintenance. Find something you like that sells for a price you can live with and still have funds for repairs .

Why the use for 1 year plan . Of course you did not say what your budget is .

I’m a complete novice when it comes to buying a car. This is my very first car, I have no experience with cars. So I thought before I go ahead and buy a brand new car, I should get something that will last me a few years on which I can polish my driving skills.

As for budge, I’m looking for something with monthly payments of about $150- $180. Which is about 5k to 12K.

Instead if maintenance, you probably mean no repairs in the next two years. It will need oil changes at least, and that’s maintenance.

How much can you spend? For no repairs, you will likely spend $15,000 or more. If you want to spend less than $5000, expect several up front repairs like brakes, coolant, trans fluid, and tires. Pay for a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic you trust to avoid unexpected repairs. Since you will pay around $150 for the inspection, you won’t take just any car in. Make sure it’s in great shape by your estimation first. Take a friend that know something about cars with you, and go for a test drive of at least 15 minutes.

Since this is your first vehicle if you are 25 years old or younger your insurance will be expensive so add that to your budget .

Just start looking at the online listings for your area to see what you can find for a price range . I would say avoid private sales since you don’t know much about vehicles .

A title is an official document from the manufacturer, certified by the state in which you live, establishing ownership of the vehicle. Basically, whoever has physical possession of the title owns the car.

So if you’re buying a used car, you want to make sure, first and foremost, that the seller has the title. Otherwise, he can’t legally sell the car, and while he can take your money, you won’t legally own the car. But your money will be gone forever.

After the title… I look at general condition of the car. If it’s beat up or not been well maintained, I walk away.

And in terms of maintenance, it’s a plus for me if I can see frequent, regular oil changes. 20K mile oil changes early in the life of the car will not work out well for the engine later down the road (literally).

Finally, focus on the overall price of the car, not the monthly payment. Any car dealership can give you a car loan with whatever terms you want…but you may pay a huge premium for it overall during the course of the loan.

Good luck.

I am over 30, does that make a difference in terms of insurance?

I once worked with a woman who confused scheduled maintenance with actual repairs (She: You’re getting your car repaired AGAIN? Me: Ummm… no… I’m having it serviced, in order to prevent the need for repairs.), and suspect that the OP is similarly confused regarding terminology.

That being said, IMHO, the most important factor when buying a used car is the issue of whether the previous owner(s) maintained the vehicle properly. You can take the very most reliable make and model, and cause it to deteriorate into an unreliable and/or unsafe hulk within 4 or 5 years, due to lack of proper maintenance.

So, I would advise the OP to seek a car whose maintenance records he can review, with the mfr’s maintenance schedule alongside, in order to verify that everything is in order. In almost every case, this means a private party sale, preferably from an older car owner who didn’t abuse the car and who was careful to have it maintained properly.

So let’s say a car shows it had three previous owners. And the latest owner had work like: maintenance inspection completed, oil and filter changed, and tire work done that is better?

Thank you for the clarification. That is what I meant. If maintenance is part of owning any car and is less costly than repairs, then yes I did mean repairs and not maintenance.

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You will not get a 12000.00 used vehicle for 180.00 a month . More like 350.00 using an online loan calculator as most lenders will only go 3 year loans for used vehicles . Do you even know what your FICO score is ?

Last used car I bought, 2020 came as a trade in or end of lease from the dealer I bought it from. Had complete history of services, a one year bumoer to bumper and price was very competitive. A guy happy with buying a used car? I must be in the minority :wink:

Yes, I would say that’s “better” than not knowing any maintenance history at all.

But I’d also wonder at bit why a car had had 3 owners during it’s time. Is there perhaps a problem that folks are “passing on” to the next buyer, like a failing transmission, electrical issues, etc.

I may think about these things too much. Or not enough, perhaps. It just depends on your own level of risk tolerance, I guess.

Your first comment is buying used car.
Your 2nd comment is brand new car.
Not the same.

Remember that many scams are present on Facebook, Craigslist, etc. If they want some convoluted payment or shipping method and the price seems too good, RUN from the deal. I saw a 2 year old Toyota Camry listed for $2000 the other day. It was an obvious scam. Basically around here the most beatup crappy car sells for $3000 right now so a super cheap price is a red flag. Also, these scams commonly show up in “sponsored ads” as well so that doesn’t mean it is legit. In fact my opinion of a “sponsored ad” is just someone who paid for more exposure to scam people.

If buying a cheaper car, definitely make sure the title is good and that there are no liens, etc. Sometimes people will sell a car with a payday loan that they haven’t paid off around here. It will seem like a good deal until you realize there is no title. Sometimes people buy cars like this for parts or to use only on their farm or other private property which probably technically isn’t legal but is often done.

I used to flip 3-4x cars a year and always had the most drama with the cheaper ones. I would buy it, fix what was wrong, clean it up, and then sell. I would have one sitting around at any given time to work on when I had spare time. Eventually my business took off and the headaches were no longer worth it. I had a REALLY bad experience with the buyer of my second to last one of these. The last one was sitting on my property waiting to be repaired and I no longer had the motivation. A guy with a rollback came and gave me the same price in scrap that I paid for the car and just had it disposed of properly. I gave him the title, he gave me the money, and that was that.

Look for a car that is in really good shape. No major dents, a couple of minor door dings or a scratch is OK as long as there are only two or three. It must have the original paint, no re-paints.

The interior must be clean and not worn and torn. It must also be original, no new seat covers. Major body damage, look for paint that doesn’t quite match, is a little duller (flat paint next to glossy paint) and panels that don’t quite match up like the gap between two panels or a door and a panel is different.

A lot of dings and scratches is a red flag for a vehicle that was owned by a heavy drinker. Poor interior and exterior indicates that the vehicle was abused and vehicles that are abused are rarely well maintained.

The best used vehicles are one owners who were elderly. They usually don’t abuse their vehicles and they take better care of them.

The classic “old person” car can be a great deal. These generally aren’t flashy or highly desirable cars but usually good solid deals that have been maintained.

Keep in mind that a lot of these aren’t driven all that fast or far to get the car warmed up. This helps to keep things like the EGR and PCV cleaned out. You might look for engine sludging or a rusted out exhaust system if you consider one of these. Lots of short and slow trips are not good for a car.

Once you get a to certain age of car, the condition of the particular car(s) you’re looking at, as well as the particular car(s)'s upkeep becomes more important than the reputation of the make and model.