This writeup explores the world of used car purchasing. Unfortunately, used cars have a bad reputation because many people have been burned purchasing them. This doesn't have to happen. Used car purchasing can result in a really nice set of wheels for not a lot of money, if a person plays his/her hand well.

NOTE: Being Amerocentric, this writeup is written with Americans in mind. Some of these suggestions may also work in your native land.

1. Just say "no" to the used car salesman. I don't care how tempting the deal is. I don't care if they say "bad credit, no credit, whatever." Unless you really can't take a line of credit without an absurd APR, skip Mr. Smiles down at Chuck's Car World. You will pay mightily for your salvage title, bent chassis wonder, both in a heavily jacked up sticker price and repair costs. Shiny, happy cars with cutesy flags on the antennas do not translate into pleasant experiences.

2. Use Consumer Reports like the loaded weapon it is. Here in the US Consumer Union, a consumer watchdog group, publishes reviews of products. They do not accept advertising, only grants. The problem with CR is that they play this one size fits all philosophy. One toaster is good for everyone, one bagel is tasty, etc. They suggest cars for their appliance potential, and not for their pleasure. If you agree with them, use their advice. If you enjoy driving both as transportation and as a hobby, look elsewhere.

3. But, use a car reporting service. (US only) and other services by fax and internet can provide title information, like whether the car is a salvage, fleet refugee, ex-taxi, or whatever. Invaluable for those cars where the owner/dealer isn't too forthcoming about where the car has been, or who can't provide a history for the car. Look past the lies, these services can unlock the truth.

4. Use a car inspection service as well. Many localities have services where mechanics use diagnostic vans to evaluate cars. If you're serious about a car, use an inspection service to evaluate the roadworthiness of the machine before making a decision. Inspectors frequently view bodywork, checking for rust, plastic filler, and botched paint jobs as well. These services can run up to US $150, but I believe that $150 is better than $12,000 down the drain.

5. Take the advice of the Byrds. Drive, Drive, Drive! For there is a test drive for every purpose under heaven, and test driving is meant to look for structural faults, mechanical wear, and engine fitness. If the seller says "no drive", say "no way". Check for the pull of the wheel. Pulling either way could mean a bent chassis. Check transmission shifting, and in manual transmission, check the firmness and friction of the clutch. It may not be possible to do a slow speed braking test, but try to gauge the effectiveness of the braking system. All in all, don't do anything that would scare the seller with you. After all, you might want this car. Don't you?

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