How to Inspect a Cheap Used Car
If you're in the market for a cheap used car, it's very important to inspect it before you make a deal. Otherwise, you may end up spending more than you paid for the cheap used car in maintenance and repairs before you ever have a chance to add more miles to it. You don't need to be a mechanical engineer to perform an inspection on a used car, so don't worry. All you need is a bit of patience, a refrigerator magnet, and a flashlight, to inspect these critical areas at the cheap used car dealership.
Get a Vehicle History Report
A vehicle history report like a CarFax won't tell you everything, but it should give you insight into whether or not the cheap used car underwent repair for major damage at some point in its life.
Tires and Wheels
When inspecting a cheap used car, look at its tires. Uneven wear could mean the alignment is off, and if the tires are worn, you'll need to buy new ones. Also, see if all of the tires match and if they are from a reputable brand; a cheap used car that has non matching tires can mean that the previous owner cut corners when maintaining the car, which is never a good sign.
Unless you're looking at a fiberglass Corvette, use a refrigerator magnet to check for Bondo patchwork that would mean the car has been in an accident. Look around a cheap used car for paint drips and runs, both are sure signs that the car has been repainted at some point. Finally, keep an eye out for rust on a cheap used car. Rust spreads like a cancer, and it is almost impossible to get rid of once it gains a foothold.
A cheap used car's interior is a window into how it was cared for and for what kind of person the previous owner was. First, has the cheap used car been cleaned at all? If not, it shows that the previous owner did not take good care of it. There's no reason to buy a cheap used car that was used as a trash bin. Look in the spare tire well for any signs of damage that could indicate an accident, and give a sniff to make sure there aren't any offensive odors.
Under the Hood
Pop the hood and look for paint overspray. Cars never leave the factory with overspray. Make sure the cheap used car doesn't have any worn or stripped bolts, and check the spark plugs to make sure that they look relatively new.
Take it for a Test Drive
Make sure the cheap used car starts easily and smoothly. Any funny noises can be a big red flag. If it has an automatic transmission, make sure that it doesn't clunk when it shifts gears, and if it is a manual, make sure you can change gears smoothly. In a safe area, hit the brakes hard to see if the cheap used car shudders or pulls in particular direction, and to ensure that there is enough pressure in the system. Look for smoke coming out of the tailpipe, and watch the temperature gauge to make sure it doesn't overheat. Throughout the test drive, keep your ears open to listen for anything that doesn't seem right. Your ears will probably tell you something is wrong before anything else.
The Five Best Cheap Cars to Buy
A used car is only able to be considered cheap if it remains inexpensive to own. Sure, you can easily pick up a ten year old Mercedes S-Class for roughly 6% of its original value, but you are all but guaranteed to spend thousands of dollars on maintenance and repairs. If you're looking for a used car that will remain cheap for years to come, look for these models at your local cheap used car lot.
Honda Civics have legendary reliability, and they can be pretty fun to drive too. In particular, look for the eight generation Civic (2006-2011) at the cheap car lot. This generation has the most features for the price, and have aged sufficiently to bring the cost down to more affordable levels. The Civic will never let you down, it'll be comfortable, and there are plenty available.
The Lexus LS400 has a well-deserved reputation for being a reliable cheap used car. There are documented examples with almost a million miles on the odometer. The V8 engine used in the Lexus LS400 is so reliable that the FAA has certified it for use in aircraft. But the Lexus LS400 isn't just a reliable cheap used car, it's probably the most comfortable cheap used car you can buy. Miles disappear when you're behind the wheel of the LS400 due to the quiet cabin and luxurious interior. Look for the first and second generations of the car, built between 1990 and 2000.
Ford Crown Victoria
The Ford Crown Victoria is immediately recognizable to anyone as the car police departments and taxi services relied on for many years, and with good reason: they're unstoppable. A Crown Victoria will put hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer without skipping a beat. They're also comfortable, large, and former police versions are even fun to drive. Best of all, they are very cheap used cars. You can purchase a Crown Victoria in good condition for only a few thousand dollars if you look hard enough.
If all you want in for a cheap used car is reliability, then the Corolla is the car for you. Corollas are reliable transport that will get you from point A to point B over and over again, and not much else. They aren't particularly rewarding to drive, and no one is going to look twice at you, but they're comfortable, and they last.
Want a fun cheap used car for less than $5,000 that won't turn into a garage queen? Miata is always the answer. Mazda developed the Miata to give you the experience of driving a classic British sports car, but without the myriad of headaches British sports car ownership entails. Miatas are cheap, simple, easy to work on, and are revelations to drive on a twisty road. A Miata may not have much power, but their lightweight means that it can carry momentum through corners better than almost anything. There's a reason why more Miatas are road raced than any other car every weekend.
Weigh Your Options: Cheap Car or Down Payment
On the surface it makes perfect sense to buy a cheap used car in cash over financing a vehicle for several years. No monthly payments, zero percent interest and less to worry about, right? Well, not exactly. Here are a few things to think about when deciding between paying cash for a cheap car and putting a large down payment on a more expensive model.
The Cash Option
The process of buying a cash car is relatively simple. You head to the nearest cheap car lot, find a suitable option in your price range, hand over the check and off you go! Many people choose this route for the sheer simplicity -- you pay the advertised price and nothing more.
Conversely, when financing, you are responsible for making payments that include interest -- effectively increasing the total amount that you pay for the vehicle.
While the outright purchase of a cheap used car is usually preferable to financing, there are a few instances when this may not be the case. Perhaps the best example is if you qualify for a 0% or very low interest rate. In that scenario, since you don’t stand to lose much by financing; your money might be better spent in other areas.
Benefits of a Large Down Payment
Having the cash to purchase a cheap used car in full is admirable. But let’s be honest, if you’re looking to make your dollars stretch further and get the best used car your budget can buy, putting down a large down payment is likely your best shot.
To put this into context, let’s say you have a $5,000 budget for a new-to-you car. You could spend that whole amount on a practical, cheap car that would satisfy your basic automotive needs. On the other hand, if you decided to use that $5,000 as a down payment, you could likely find a newer vehicle with all the features you desire and a lower risk of mechanical issues down the line.
Weigh Your Options
Purchasing a vehicle is a big deal, and a decision that should not be taken lightly. Do your research before stepping foot onto a dealership floor and take the necessary time to weigh all of your options. This will ensure that you’ll have confidence in your decision -- whether it was paying cash or financing with a large down payment.