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Consumer Guide to Buying Used Cars

Two out of every three car purchases these days are used cars and when you look at the prices of new cars, it’s easy to see why. The average price of a new car is over $10,000, which is more than many people can afford or want to pay. Many families also own two or more cars and it’s likely that at least one of those was bought used.

Buying a used car can be an excellent way to save money because you avoid much of the expense of depreciation, which is heaviest during the first few years of ownership. Buying  a used car can also be a very expensive proposition if you make the wrong choice. Chris Cornell loves cars and is a “car guy”.  Chris is an auto enthusiast who just loves Ford Mustangs -  both the old classic 60′s Mustangs all the way to the new 2013 Boss 302s. Some unhappy used car owners liken their experiences to owning a mobile incinerator that burns an astonishing amount of money just to stay running. Anyone can make a mistake in picking a used car, but smart shoppers are less likely to get stuck with someone else’s problems by following some basic guidelines:

  • No matter how good a car is when it rolls off the assembly line, it won’t be a good used car if it has been abused, hasn’t received regular maintenance or was seriously damaged in an accident.
  • A mechanically simple car can cost less in the long run because parts and service will be cheaper. That’s why a rear-drive car with a carbureted engine might be a better choice than a front-drive car with fuel injection or sophisticated electronic engine controls.
  • Always have a mechanic check over a used car before you buy it. No matter how good it looks or feels when you test drive it, any car can have serious mechanical problems that will be very expensive to fix. More on this subject later.

Many people think that buying from a friend, neighbor or relative is a good idea. In many cases it is, especially if you know that they took good care of the car and saw that it had regular maintenance. However, remember that as soon as you take possession of the car, you’ll have to pay for any repairs or parts that have to be replaced. Things that worked perfectly before can break unexpectedly and you’ll have no recourse. That’s why it’s a must to have a mechanic check over the car before you buy it. He’ll be able to spot potential problems and advise you of regular maintenance that needs to be done.

Used car dealers have earned an unenviable reputation for being unscrupulous businessmen who offer lots of promises, but seldom stand behind their merchandise. However, that has changed somewhat, particularly at the used-car lots of new-car dealerships. These typically are established dealers that have a reputation to worry about, so they usually offer at least a minimal guarantee and sometimes a generous one on low-mileage, late-model used cars. They often sell long-term protection packages at extra cost that cover the engine, transmission and other major mechanical components.


The Infiniti

There may be five different nameplates in Infiniti’s current lineup but, for all intents and purposes, Infiniti is a three-vehicle brand, as the EX and FX crossovers as well as the different variants of the G provide the bulk of Nissan’s luxury division’s sales. With the new and completely redesigned 2011 model year M luxury sedan, Infiniti is once again hoping to compete with the established segment leaders and to steal some of Germany’s thunder, a feat it never managed with the previous-generation M as well as the now very much forgotten larger Q sedan.

While the previous-generation M was an able performer performer from a driving dynamics standpoint, it suffered from bland and uninspired styling, a core issue that the new model confronts head-on. Borrowing cues from the softer-edged G, the new M is all about styling that is almost organic in nature with flowing and curved lines that allow the new car to stand out and be noticed.

Getting behind the wheel for an initial test drive, I found the same story applies inside the cabin. Whereas the previous-generation car was outfitted with a largely black plastic interior that did not accurately reflect the brand’s luxury credentials, the new one offers tasteful genuine ash as well as aluminum trim on its dashboard and console. While BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have developed single-controller setups (iDrive, MMI, Comand) to access their car’s various systems, Infiniti has gone old school by way of a myriad of single buttons as an interface. Getting aquainted with the location of the various controls was relatively straightforward with the exception of a most puzzling feature, which is called the Forest Air climate control system and its breeze mode, designed to emulate a natural breeze by randomly varying the air flow through the cabin – it proved to be more annoying than refreshing.

The new M comes as the 37 or M56, depending on the choice of engines, and the all-wheel-drive system is available on both models. While the 5.6-litre, V8 delivers major power in the form of 420 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, the 3.7L V6 proves to be more than adequate with its 330 h.p. and 270 lb-ft of torque. Indeed, the car of choice for most buyers will be the V6 engine matched with the all-wheel-drive system.


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Should you buy a new or used car?

Now that you know how much you can spend, your finances will be pointing you toward a new or used car. It might not be clear if you should buy, lease or buy used yet. That’s OK. For example, you might have enough money to buy a new car but want to save money by getting a used car bargain. Or, you might find yourself deciding between an inexpensive new car or a high-end used car. How are you going to decide? Here are a few points to consider.

  • With a new car you can: Pay more, but save money on financing, get rebates and get a warranty
  • With a used car you can: Pay less, but spend time searching for a good deal and researching the history of the car

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How much can you afford?

This is a good place to start your car-shopping adventure. If you put a high priority on look and style, you might decide to allocate a larger portion of your paycheck toward a new car. If you think of a car as transportation only, you’ll want to spend as little as possible on your next set of wheels.

Financial experts recommend that, before you buy a car, you should review your budget because the cost of a car goes far beyond the monthly payment dealerships advertise. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much “take-home pay” do you bring in each month?
  • How much is your rent or mortgage payment?
  • What is the total of your other bills: food, utilities, debts and savings?
  • Will you have two cars and two car payments?
  • How much will insurance cost for a new car?
  • How much will the car cost to fuel and repair?

If you total all your expenses and deduct them from your take-home pay, you will have a clear view of how much wiggle room there is in your budget for a new car. If you can truly afford one, the figure should be more than enough to cover your car payment. We say “car payment” since most buyers will finance a new car, meaning they will take out a loan and pay it off over time. Still other people will lease their new car  and make smaller monthly payments. More to come on all that…but back to the finance questions for now.

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Begin your Car-buying Search

One day you are driving down the road when the thought suddenly jumps into your mind. For some people this thought comes when the “Check Engine” light pops on one too many times on the way to work. For others, it’s when a hot new car passes on the street or stars in a TV ad, just screaming to live in their garage. But the thought is usually phrased the same way:

“It’s time for me to buy a new car.”

Following hard on the heels of this first thought is a second. This new thought comes in the form of a question that will lead you in many different directions:

“What is the right car for me?”

Before you go car shopping, you need to decide what you are going to buy. The question if what car to buy should be answered long before you visit the car lot. Don’t make the mistake of wandering into a dealership and telling the first salesman who descends on you: “You know, I really need a new car – but I don’t know what to buy.” Next thing you know, the salesman will be making a huge profit and you’ll be driving home in a car you don’t want and can’t afford. But with our help, a little research on your part and some insider information and professional tools at Edmunds.com, you’ll be set up with the perfect car for hundreds or thousands less than others have paid for the same vehicle. Plus, we’ll show you how you can use the Internet and the phone to get rock-bottom deals that salesman would never offer “walk-up” customers without hours of unnecessary and uncomfortable negotiation.

First, back to the basics. Need a car? Start by breaking the question into two pieces:

“What do I want?”


“What do I need?”

Wanting is pie-in-the-sky dreaming. If you are wealthy – as in “dropping $50,000 on a car won’t affect your bank account” wealthy – you can give this question a lot consideration. But needing is where most of us should probably focus.

There are lots of things you would like to have. But your car-buying decision will be a mix of what you can afford and what you really need. There is an old expression that addresses this sticky situation: don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. In other words, you can make decisions now that look like they will save you money, but they may actually cost you big bucks a year or so down the road. For now, keep in mind that you should be balancing needs and wants as you move through the car-buying process.

Before we go any farther in that direction, there is a more pressing question you have to address. That is:

“How much should I spend on my new car?”

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