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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


In search of a new used car

When seeking a “previously owned,” or less euphemistically, “used” vehicle, shoppers will encounter everything from nearly new to nearly worn out trucks and autos in the marketplace. Making a choice can be daunting.

First, determine what you are willing to spend.  “Certified” used vehicles are the top category.  They are cars and trucks offered by franchised new and used car stores — late model vehicles with multi-point safety checks and factory-backed warranties.

If your budget allows, these are a great choice, but be prepared to spend $15,000 and up for these premium machines.  To define your budget, you must decide whether you are going to pay cash or use financing.  Your price range is either the cash you have, or the cash you have plus the amount you are willing to pay monthly.

So, if that tally is in the higher range, a nearly new, certified used vehicle is a fine option.  Virtually every new car dealer offers “certified used.”  The qualifying vehicles generally have documented backgrounds, low miles, extensive inspections, and factory sanctioned warranties.

Dependability and mechanical protection are two decided advantages of certified vehicles, but their “newness” offers more, generally in the area of safety.  Newer vehicles will likely have the latest in driver assists, airbags, and construction.

Or maybe your spending limit is under $10,000 — or $2,000 — or less.  If so, your search will involve more work.  With certified cars, you are mainly choosing make, model, and color.  With older autos, those qualities become secondary and condition is paramount. Independent dealers and private parties are sources or these lower-priced vehicles.

Generally, as the price goes down, the miles go up.  If you want to spend $5,000, for example, you will not get a “low-miler.” In the lower price ranges, high miles go with the territory — cheaper used cars and trucks must be judged by condition since they all have higher miles.

Condition must be evaluated to achieve value.  A car priced at $3,000 that is in immediate need of tires, brakes, and a windshield may really be a $2000 car that needs $1000 worth of work.

Miles are not all-telling either, because a 120,000 mile car may need no work, and a 50,000 mile car that has never had brakes, tires, or an alignment may be ready for $1,000 in repairs.  That’s why it’s important to not only judge the condition of major items like engine and transmission, but the status of battery, brakes, exhaust, tires et cetera when choosing lower-priced used vehicles..

And look over the paint finish closely.  Evidence of bodywork or existing damage is common on older cars, but if one has a total repaint, attempt to determine why.  But existing body damage may be preferable to a failing transmission. In the lower price range, an automatic transmission in need of a rebuild can “total” the car.

If you are not qualified to make a competent vehicle appraisal, let a trusted mechanic look at your prospective purchase.  The key word there is trusted, since a shop may come up with a fix-list that is unreasonable, squelching what may be a decent selection for your price range.  Also, they may be hoping for a windfall if you go through with the buy.

With careful research, examination and evaluation, you will improve your chances of getting a good used-vehicle value.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at