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If you are looking for a cheap used car, consider checking out a U.S. Government auto auction. The General Services Administration (GSA) runs auto auctions throughout the U.S. You can learn more about this by visiting the Federal Citizen Information Center.
You can download a PDF version of the GSA's publication "U.S. Government Automobile Auctions." The guide describes the auto auction program and includes a checklist on how to buy a quality car at a great price.
Aside from the used car pricing guides put out by Kelley and NADA, other great resources for help in determining used car prices include the AutoSite, Intellichoice, and Edmunds Web sites. In fact, it's not a bad idea to check out a few of these when you are car shopping.
While all of these sites consider essentially the same factors in determining pricing, each source has its own slightly different formula that weights the factors more or less when calculating pricing reports. In some cases, the values reported by any two sources may vary by as much as $1,000.
Before you shop, make sure you understand the many factors that affect used car pricing. A car with a lot of physical and mechanical wear and tear won't fetch as much as a car of the same make, model, and year that is in pristine condition. Cars with lower mileage for their age sell for more than those with higher mileage.
Other things that affect used car pricing include installed optional equipment and where you live. If you live in a metropolitan area with a high demand for a particular car, you could find a better deal by traveling outside of the market to find your car.
If you are in the market for a new car and plan to sell your old car, you may want to take the extra time to sell it privately. Used car trade-in values are considerably lower than what you will likely get selling the car privately.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), best known for its used car price guides it has published annually for the past 70 years, also has a Web site full of useful information for both new and used car buyers and sellers. If you are considering buying or selling a used car but don't know what the true market value is, just pop onto NADA's Web site.
On NADA's website you'll find pricing guidelines for any truck, car, van, or wagon from 1986 on (including the retail sale value vs. the trade-in value). Most libraries and bookstores carry copies of the NADA Official Used Car Pricing Guide—or you can buy it online at the NADA Web site.
How do you know if the price you are being asked to pay for a used car is fair? Many factors affect used car prices, including:
• Overall condition of the vehicle
• Whether the car was well-maintained
• Interior and exterior blemishes
• Options (such as air conditioning and electric locks, mirrors, and seats)
• Whether you are buying or selling through private sale or through a dealer
Whether you're buying or selling, a good resource for pricing a used car is Trade-In-Value.net, but you'll have to give them contact information. If you'd rather not do that, check out Kelly Blue Book's Web site.
If you are shopping for a used car but need to stay within a certain budget, the Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide includes recommendations for best buys by used car price range.
Let's say you can afford to spend $8,000-$10,000 on a used car. In that price range, Consumer Reports recommends 15 brands and nearly 50 models. All cars on the list are considered to be the most reliable used cars in that price range.
*The price range represents what you'd be likely to pay for a typically equipped car with reasonable mileage.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|