Transportation should provide
enjoyment, not a financial burden
By Kyle Busch
What enables people to be on time for a scheduled appointment,
attend a favorite social event or recreational activity, or just drive
on a pleasant summer day? What machine do many people get
to know as if it were almost a member of the family? What
enables drivers to experience greater freedom? Of course, what
else but the automobile. Or in today's terms: the automobile,
sport-utility vehicle, or minivan.
More and more people are realizing that the cost of new
transportation can really throw a budget into reverse. In many
instances, today's new vehicle prices compare to the cost
of a new home just a generation ago.
Since dependable transportation is a necessity--do not despair;
a two to four-year old used vehicle can be purchased at a savings
of 25 to 50 percent as compared to its cost when new. Additionally,
the number of well-built, dependable vehicles has increased during
the past decade.
When well maintained these vehicles can be driven for many miles,
and they are now available at substantial savings.
The purchase of a dependable, reasonably priced used vehicle is not a matter
of chance or luck, but rather, it is a matter of knowledge
and understanding. Becoming informed is one of the most important
factors in successfully purchasing a dependable used vehicle
at the best price.
Variety is the spice of life. Certainly, the number of vehicles that
are available today can add spice to one's daily travels. Literally
hundreds of different vehicles are available, but which one is the
best for you? To better determine the vehicle that satisfies your
transportation needs, first take the time to carefully identify your
current and future driving needs, then become aware of the many
available vehicles, and finally, zero in on the vehicles that best
meet your needs.
A vary dangerous frame of mind to be in is to "fall head over
heals" for a particular make or model of vehicle based purely
on emotion. Although some emotion is always part of life, it
is wise to put excessive emotions aside and focus on day-in
and day-out transportation needs.
Some questions to consider about transportation needs include:
- How many people will be transported in the vehicle?
- What type of objects and cargo will be transported
in the vehicle (space considerations)?
- Will driving be conducted in poor whether conditions
or off-road (rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, all-
- Will stop-and-go or interstate driving be performed?
Thus, is an automatic, a semi-automatic, or a standard
- Is there a preference for a domestic or a foreign vehicle?
- In a sport-utility vehicle, is a more rugged full box type
frame needed for off-road driving, or will a unit-body
type frame be suitable for intended general highway
driving? Additionally, what towing capacity should the
sport-utility vehicle have?
- In a minivan, are sliding doors needed on both sides,
the left-side or the right-side of the vehicle for easier
entry and exit?
- How much will insurance cost to protect the driver and
the vehicle (consider obtaining an insurance quote before
buying a vehicle)?
- What is the approximate amount of money to be spent on
If you are not familiar with which vehicles meet your transportation
needs, consider visiting a local public library to consult the yearly
publication or the April magazine issue of Consumer Reports. This
objective information source provides technical specifications for
vehicles including the size, weight, engine horsepower, optional
equipment, and miles per gallon of fuel. If technical information is
desired for a specific used vehicle, review the Consumer Reports
issue that matches the vehicle's year (1998 Toyota Avalon--consult
the 1998 April issue of Consumer Reports).
After determining the type of automobile, sport-utility vehicle,
or minivan that satisfies your needs, it is worthwhile to consult
Consumer Reports' frequency-of-repair information to identify
specific vehicles that will likely have fewer future repairs.
Regarding the frequency-of-repair information, if a vehicle of
interest is six years old or less, consult the most recent April
edition of Consumer Reports. If the vehicle is more than six
years old, add five years to the vehicle's year and then consult
that year's April issue of Consumer Reports.
Web discussion groups are also a good source of "from the street"
information for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of specific
It is a good idea to identify at least two or three used vehicles
that meet your transportation needs. Then, instead of being in
a position to only consider vehicle A, you will have the flexibility
to consider vehicle A, B, or C. This increases your ability to
purchase a used vehicle that is in excellent condition at the
In addition to becoming informed about particular vehicles, it
is worthwhile to learn the approximate prices for vehicles of
To obtain a general idea of vehicle prices, consult the current
monthly edition of the N.A.D.A. Official Used Car Guide at a
public library, bank, or automobile dealership.
Vehicle price information can also be obtained by consulting
the vehicle classified sections of major newspapers at a public
library. This is a convenient way to get a read on future prices,
because vehicle price trends usually begin in major cities and
then progress to other areas of the country. The bottom line on
becoming informed about vehicles and prices is to obtain a used
vehicle that is in excellent condition, with a low repair history,
and at a substantial savings.
Identifying Used Vehicle Sources
There are a number of possible used vehicle sources from which
to choose. Rather than becoming overwhelmed with all the
possible sources, keep in mind that each source is actually
competing with the others. Therefore, when shopping for a vehicle,
be certain to let each source know that you are also considering
the other sources.
Some of the sources to consider when buying a used vehicle
- The Internet (Investigate if the source is reputable)
- Used automobile lots (buyer beware)
- Rental car companies
- Company vehicles
- New automobile dealerships (investigate if the
dealer is reputable)
- Private owners
Contacting a used vehicle source by telephone and obtaining
specific information can help to reduce unnecessary legwork.
The telephone inquiry will enable you to determine if a vehicle
is worth your time to investigate.
Some questions to ask a private owner or other used vehicle
source about a vehicle include:
- How many miles has the vehicle been driven
(the average is about 10,000 to 12,000 miles
- Is the transmission an automatic, a semi-automatic,
or a manual? If the transmission is not what you
want, there is no need to ask further questions.
- What is the condition of the vehicle's body? Is
there any rust?
- Has the vehicle been repainted and if so, why?
Avoid repainted vehicles. It is better to see the
original paint even if a few small stone chips
need to be touched-up.
- Has the vehicle been involved in any accidents?
Avoid vehicles that have been involved in any
- When are the next state inspection and emissions
standard test due? The vehicle should have a
minimum of at least six months remaining until
the next required state inspection and
- How often were the engine oil and the oil filter
changed, and who performed the service?
An acceptable answer would be every
3,000 to 3,500 miles or about every
three to four months.
- Are you the original owner of the vehicle?
Original owners tend to take better care of
- What is the reason that the vehicle is being
sold? It is encouraging if the individual is
the original owner and if he or she is
planning to again buy the same make of
- Are parts and service readily available for
the vehicle? Where can parts and services be
obtained? Avoid buying a vehicle if parts and
service are not readily available.
- Has the vehicle had any recent repairs (new
brakes, tires, exhaust, battery) or service
and if so, what garage performed the repairs or
- What price are you asking for the vehicle?
The interior and exterior inspections and the vehicle test-drive
are used to verify the information obtained during the telephone
Inspecting The Exterior
Before conducting a vehicle exterior inspection, make certain
that good whether conditions exist. The ground should be dry
and there should be plenty of sunlight.
Some aspects of the exterior inspection include:
- Consider the environment that surrounds the
used vehicle. Are the dealership surroundings
clean and orderly? Does the retail car company
provide courteous and efficient customer service?
Is the private owner's property well maintained?
Was the vehicle kept in a garage? Rather than
just a minor point, the surroundings, in point of
fact, can provide an indication of how well the
owner maintained the vehicle.
- Look to see that the state inspection and the
emissions test stickers are valid and note when
they will be due.
- Observe how the vehicle sits. The vehicle should
sit level horizontally when it is viewed from the
front and the rear. When viewed from the side,
the rear of the vehicle should sit slightly higher
than the front. A vehicle that does not sit properly
or have a "good stance" has been driven hard.
- Check all four of the tires for evenness of tread
wear (similar to how the soles of a person's
shoes indicate how he or she walks). Also, check
to see if all four of the tires are the same brand and
type. Be suspicious if the front tires are a different
brand than the rear tires. Sometimes, an owner
will install a new set of front tires on a vehicle to
hide the uneven tire wear caused by a steering
and/or a suspension problem.
Finding More Information
In addition to the points covered in this article, information about
the exterior and interior inspections, the test-drive, saving money,
and selling a used vehicle are explained in the book: Drive the
Best for the Price: How to Buy a Used Automobile, Sport-Utility
Vehicle, or Minivan and Save Money. To find out more about the
author and this book visit: www.drivethebestbook.com.
In 1991 the book's author, Kyle Busch, purchased a used
vehicle for $2,600 that a private owner had driven 82,000 miles.
He has driven the vehicle for over nine years and the odometer
has now logged over 292,000 miles. The vehicle continues to
provide for his daily transportation needs.