How to buy a used car

Erika Enigk%%GateHouse News Service
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Is a new-to-you vehicle on your shopping list? Don’t get caught overpaying for a lemon.

Cars are lasting longer than they used to, according to Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. A few years ago, a vehicle had an average road life of nine years. Now, it’s 11. 

“The average consumer tends to hold onto their vehicle for six to seven years,” he said. 

Then, another owner does the same.

From mileage to options to accident history, used vehicles each have their own story. But with research, buyers can still get a good car at a good price.

Buy from a dealer

Selling a used vehicle to a private party versus trading it in could get a better price. But buying from a private party, while it may save a little money, probably won’t be worth it, Gutierrez said. Generally, only those who are looking for a special vehicle, such as certain hard-to-find sports cars, would want to buy from a private party. Those who do choose the private party route should be sure to meet in a public place for safety.

A dealership will perform basic reconditioning of a vehicle, so buyers know they’ll get a road-worthy car. And with newer vehicles, buyers can shop for certified pre-owned models that often come with warranties and other benefits, he said.

Consider pricing

Kelley Blue Book’s website,, has a tool that allows buyers and sellers to estimate what a used vehicle is worth. It’s useful information when going into a negotiation, Gutierrez said. 

The key is to know what condition the vehicle is in. While many people may say their car is in “excellent” condition, that classification is reserved for vehicles that are almost like new, which few actually are, he said.

Get a history report

Carfax is the best-known vehicle history report service, but there are others as well. If a vehicle has been in an accident or had issues, that information should be in the report. 

This is an especially important step for people who live in areas hit by flooding recently, Gutierrez said. If a vehicle sustained flood damage, a buyer should know.

Have a mechanic take a look

Even with a clean history report, it’s important to give a used vehicle a once-over, and to have a trusted, independent mechanic do the same.