Auto Bits: Six steps to getting the best deal on a used car

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Tip of the Week

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 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.

- Once you have identified a specific car, use the car's VIN to buy a vehicle history report from or one of its competitors. Simply Googling the VIN 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.

- Brandpoint

The List

According to CNNMoney, here are the cheapest 2013 cars to fuel:

Scion iQ EV

Honda Fit EV

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Smart FortTwo ED

Ford Focus BEV

Tesla Model S


Toyota Prius Plug-in

Chevrolet Volt

Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid

Car Q&A

Q: I own a 2002 Ford Taurus SEL that I purchased new. It was driven 41,000 miles. I have noticed a large drop in gas mileage for city driving. It was billed as 20 mpg city, but now I’m closer to 10 mpg. My mechanic has checked the usual things, sparkplugs, wires, filters, and everything looks good. What is he missing, if anything?

A: This happens for a couple of reasons. First, the difference in the winter blend gasoline will lessen gas mileage. The winter blend is designed to fire off faster in cold temperatures. Second, the engine will run longer in the closed loop mode because of the colder engine temperature. In the closed loop mode the engine operates in the preprogrammed computer mode. The engine runs richer and the transmission will sometimes not shift into overdrive or top gear. Oxygen sensors also get lazy with mileage and more noticeable in the cold temperatures. Engine oil also thickens and causes more drag on the engine. This is where full synthetic oil can also make a big difference.

- Junior Damato, Talking Cars columnist

GateHouse News Service