girlygirl answered Thursday April 27 2006, 4:50 pm: I had a 93 Honda Civic del Sol (the little 2-seater with top that comes off). They go like hell, great on gas, extremely reliable, and pretty safe too. I drove it for 10 years, up to 150,000 miles and only had one tune-up. Just tires and oil changes and once I had to have the A/C fixed because I live in FL. [ girlygirl's advice column | Ask girlygirl A Question ]
TheOldOne answered Thursday April 27 2006, 2:56 pm: A Honda or a Toyota would be my first choice, although Volkswagen makes some awfully nice cars. I assume that a hybrid is out of the question, although I read recently that some cheap new ones (10 - 11k) would be available in the next year or so.
At this point a used hybrid would be a gamble at best. You'd be getting an early model, and the odds are that the bugs hadn't yet been fully worked out of the design when it was made.
Something else to consider is reliability. If you get a car that needs a lot of repairs, or is expensive to repair, that can add a lot to the ultimate cost.
You also need to think hard about what size car you want. Two doors, or four? Hatchback, or sedan? Generally a smaller car will get better gas mileage (although you should always check to be sure), but a two-door can be a lot less convenient than a four-door.
One other thing: for good gas mileage you pretty much have to stick to 4-cylinder engines, of course.
Now, some more general advice about used cars:
It's important to sit in the car and take a few minutes to get a feel for it. How's your visibility? Check the mirrors and look all around. Is the steering wheel at a comfortable height, and if not, is it adjustable? How much leg room do you have? How does it all *feel*?
Check the doors. Some cars have very long doors, which can be a pain when you're parked next to other cars; it's hard not to bump them with your door when you're getting out, and these days that can often set off a car alarm. Embarrassing.
Check for rust and body damage. Always. You'll have a mechanic do that as well (I'll talk about that later), but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't use your own eyes, too.
Think about the sort of things you'll use the car for. Will you be driving friends or family around much? How many? Will there ever be children in the car? If so, will the car take a child's seat or booster seat easily? Some do, some don't. Do you plan to move large objects? If so, trunk size is important, as is whether or not the back seat(s) fold down.
Financing: most used car dealers will offer financing for your used car purchase. And they'll try to make it easy for you; they don't want to lose the sale by presenting you with a lot of complicated paperwork! But that doesn't mean they'll care if you don't get the best interest rate, either.
So go to your bank or credit union, and see what sort of used-car loans they have. Write those interest rates down and bring them with you when you shop. Even if you decide to go with the dealership's finance company, you may be able to use that information to leverage down the rate. And every little bit lower on interest helps.
I don't know how much you're planning to spend, but this will probably be the biggest purchase you've ever made so far, so it's important to be really, really smart about it. Which means, RESEARCH. Look up the cars you're considering. Check out what price they're selling for elsewhere. Read reviews of that specific year of the car, and see where their weak points are.
When you start to narrow your search to a specific car, look up that vehicle (by VIN, Vehicle Identification Number) to make sure that it has never been in an accident. You'll pay a few bucks for the report, but it's VITAL. There are a lot of cars out there that have been in fairly serious accidents. Body shops can make those cars look good. But those cars are almost *certain* to have serious problems soon, because there's no way to undo the damage throughout the car.
You should know that the warranties offered by used car dealerships usually aren't worth much. They're generally only good for 30-60 days, and almost everything is exempted in the fine print (the same is true of any extended warranty that they may try to sell you - those are usually huge ripoffs).
But once in a while you'll find a car - a USED car - which is still under the original manufacturer's warranty. If you find one, take a good hard look - because it's potentially a great find. I found one a while back that had over a year left on the warranty, and we were able to get several problems taken care of for free. It saved us a couple of thousand bucks, easily.
You should also find out as much as you can about the dealerships you shop at. They're not all the same; some really screw their customers, others provide good service. At the very least, you should Google the dealership's name and check out the top ten or twenty entries. You might also want to look them up on Google Groups and Google News.
Have your mechanic (or a mechanic you trust; ask your friends and family, if you don't know one) check out any car that you're thinking about buying. They'll charge you a few bucks for the service, but they should be able to spot potential lemons. It's definitely worth the money.
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