Look for reliability, not lowest price, when buying used cars

Jeff Bartlett
Jeff Bartlett

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Every year it becomes more difficult to shop for a reliable used car.  Prices have been at historic highs even for models with lots of wear. Shopping for the cheapest used car can really end up costing you, because the best deal isn't always the least expensive.

With so many vehicles from which to choose, it can feel overwhelming to find an affordable used car that drives well and will hold up down the road. Consumer Reports says choose a reliable model to minimize the risk of expensive repairs while you own the vehicle.

"Our data shows that Hondas and Toyotas tend to be really good cars for reliability, said Cars Deputy Editor Jeff Bartlett.

Bartlett said some higher end vehicles, like the BMW X5, don't rate as well for used car reliability because many of the high tech bells and whistles don't hold up well over time and can be expensive to replace.

Bartlett said in general the freshest used cars are the ones that are found on the lot at a new-car dealership. Many of those cars also carry higher prices because they're sold as certified used cars and have met certain standards set by the manufacturer or dealer.

"The corner lots tend to buy the second tier cars at auction, and those are going to need an even closer inspection before you purchase," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said most used cars have $1,500 to $2,000 of profit built in so you should always negotiate. He also said to try to buy the newest car you can afford because it's more likely to have all of the latest safety features.

Even if you have to stretch your budget, if the car checks out with the mechanic, it will be cheaper than having it in and out of the shop later on.

You can find good cars at bargain prices buying from a private party. Cars with full maintenance records are worth a premium. But private party sales are as-is, so there's no dealer to go back to if something goes wrong.

It's also important to remember buying used isn't always as affordable as it sounds.

"The dealerships certainly make a lot of their money off the financing end," Bartlett said. "Certainly if the dealership can meet or beat what you can get from your bank or an online lender, that's great. But you don't want to be trapped."

If you're borrowing money, the interest on long term loans really adds up. And interest rates are higher the older the car. The more you can pay as a down payment and the shorter the loan, the better off you'll be.

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