Choosing the Right Car
You won't be able to make a good deal if you don't know what kind of car you are looking for. Therefore you have to decide what exactly you want. If you need a simple transportation to drive to work and back, a small sedan will do the job. Perhaps you want a car to be very economical? If so, look for a car with a small engine. If you plan to use your car to tow a trailer, then you need a more powerful engine.
Once you've decided what type of car you want, you may check out the market, see what models are available, and see what fits into your price limits. Keep in mind that aside from the quoted price you may need to pay for taxes and registration.
What can you expect to buy for your money? The average minimum amount of money one would need to spend on a 'decent' car 3 to 4 years old would be about $8000-$12,000. Usually such a car may last for another few years relatively trouble-free if properly maintained.
For $4000-$5000, you may be able to find a 6 to 9 year old used car with relatively high mileage which still might be in good shape. However, it may take a lot more time to find a good condition used car in this price range.
For at least $1000-$2000, you may be able to buy something that you can only use as a means for simple transportation. Most likely it will be a car with high mileage sold by a private owner. You can expect to spend much more money on maintaining such car and keeping it drivable. You will save yourself a lot of trouble if you scratch from your list cars with a very high mileage (say above 150,000 miles) and older than ten-twelve years.
When considering the 'mileage' count, it doesn't really make such a big difference whether it has 60,000 or 80,000 miles, much more important is to know if the car was well maintained and accident-free.
Once you managed to narrow your search to just a few models, you may compare the reliability ratings and read some reviews on the net.
You may have to make up your mind on some additional details about the car you will be buying such as the type of transmission, the engine and the ABS.
Do you need a manual or automatic transmission? A manual transmission is more reliable than an automatic so it is easier to maintain. Besides, cars with manual transmission are cheaper. They are more powerful and more economical. Experienced drivers will usually say that a manual transmission gives you a better ‘feeling' for the car and essentially more control and precision when driving. It is much easier however to drive cars with automatic transmission, especially in a city, in traffic jams, etc. The downside is that the automatic involves a more complicated device and breaks more often.
How about a car with a diesel engine? Cars with a diesel engine consume almost half as much fuel as the same car with a gasoline engine. However, there is a trade-off: diesel engines are noisier and there always will be that not very pleasant smell from the exhaust. Some diesel engine vehicles require only synthetic oil which means higher maintenance cost.
You may also want to consider a car with an ABS if you live in an area with icy roads. The main purpose of the ABS is to help you keep control of steering during hard braking or on slippery roads. The disadvantage is that the ABS is quite complicated device and consequently not so reliable. ABS failures occur quite often and ABS repair is very expensive.