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Six steps to getting the best deal on a used car

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(BPT) - When it comes to value purchases, there are few that compare to buying a used car over a new one, since new cars begin to depreciate the minute they are driven off the lot. If you are able to find a used car that still has plenty of life, you can save thousands from what you would pay for a new car.

While buying used can net you the best deal on a car purchase, it also requires you to do your homework to make sure you truly are getting good value from your purchase. Here are six steps to help you rest assured that your used car purchase is a good one:

* Start by identifying the type of car you want to buy. Consider expanding your search to similar car models that offer the same types of benefits. For example, though the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain are different in name, they are nearly identical mechanically.

* Use online resources like Edmunds.com and car enthusiast forums to identify any red flags around given models or years.  Focus less on reported reliability when the car was new and more on the car’s reliability today. Minor problems in the first year are much less important than major problems that might show up a few years down the road. 

* If you discover that a particular model might contain features that don’t age well, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid the car. If it’s a widely known issue that has damaged the reputation of that type of car, but can be easily fixed, you may be able to find a bargain. Aftermarket part manufacturers often create good solutions for original problems. Again, it pays to do your research. Auto parts retailer RockAuto.com allows you to quickly check the availability and cost of replacement parts. When you use Rock Auto’s Repair Index tool, you can also compare any two models you are considering to get an idea of which one might cost more to maintain.

* Once you have identified a specific car, use the car’s VIN number to buy a vehicle history report from Carfax.com or one of its competitors. Simply googling the VIN number can also pull up free auction records and sales histories that may be helpful. If the history report is different than what the owner has told you, there’s plenty of reason to proceed with caution.

* Next, develop an inspection checklist to go over yourself as you test drive and examine the car. Check to make sure the license plates are current and verify the vehicle recently passed an emissions test if they are required in your area. Check brakes, hoses, belts, the body and underbody for signs of wear or damage – a dealer should be more than willing to put the car on a lift for your inspection if you are serious about buying the car. Make sure the heat and air conditioning work.

* Do not worry if you are not a car expert and have no idea how to evaluate some systems on the car. Even if the car passes your personal inspection, you’re not done yet. Take the car to a trusted professional mechanic for an inspection.

“I have been a car nut since I was a pre-teen and I only buy used cars, but I would still take any car I was considering spending a lot of money on to a professional mechanic for an inspection,” says Tom Taylor, engineer and vice president of RockAuto. The mechanic will almost always find something you overlooked. His inspection may tell you to avoid a car or help you negotiate a fairer price. Use RockAuto.com on your smartphone and the mechanic’s report to immediately show the seller how much it will cost to replace needed parts.

If you’ve done your research and followed these precautionary steps, you’ll feel informed as you negotiate a selling price and can rest assured that you’re getting a quality vehicle. All that’s left is enjoying your new purchase.

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