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Why a Lower Priced Used Car Doesn't Always Equal a Better Deal

Why a Lower Priced Used Car Doesn’t Always Equal a Better Deal

used car deal

There’s an old saying that no two snowflakes ‘are exactly alike’. When it comes to buying a used car, that same adage holds true, even when shopping for vehicles of the very same make, model and year. Obvious physical differences that they have include their interior and exterior colors, seat material (cloth or leather), mileage, option packages and engine size. But more importantly, since the day those cars were initially purchased and driven off the lot, their road histories became quite different for a number of reasons.

Those histories can also be the difference maker for you between making a wise purchase versus buying a lemon. As a potential used car buyer, whether it’s through a private seller, dealership or online, it’s your job to do some detective work in an effort to guarantee the best used car purchasing decision possible. And, the less guesswork that’s involved for you the better your purchase will probably be. Something to keep in mind is that a cheaper car may end up costing you a lot more in the end due to repairs. As a buyer, don’t just use price as a deciding factor but search for the best overall value instead. To help you with that process, here are some reasons why every used car is different.

Used Cars Differ due to Maintenance History

used car maintenance

Performing routine maintenance on a vehicle in accordance with recommended manufacturer intervals is one of the most important ways to keep an auto in tip top condition. As a result, when shopping for a used car it’s your job to learn as much as possible about its mechanical service history. Running the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through Carfax is one way to determine how well it was maintained, but not all smaller shops report their service work on there. In those cases, refer to any service records that might be kept in the glove box with the owner’s manual, or ask the seller or dealer for that information. If it’s a private seller they usually keep all of the service paperwork. Other differentiating factors that you can look for include:

  • Has the vehicle changed hands several times? The more owners that a used car has had, the more likely one of them neglected to take care of it as they should have.
  • Are there any fluid stains on the engine or pavement underneath the vehicle?
  • Has synthetic oil been used in the engine continuously? Synthetic oil use will prolong the longevity of various engine components.
  • Do any of the engine or exhaust system parts just seem to appear old or worn out?
  • Was the last owner a young male who may have driven the vehicle hard or a white-haired grandma that hardly drove it?
  • Has the car been inspected thoroughly by a mechanic prior to being put up for sale?

For example, you may be looking at two very similar 2015 Honda Accords. Accord ‘A’ has 105,000 miles on the odometer but it also has detailed service records that indicate impeccable upkeep and just one owner. Accord ‘B’ only has been driven 80,000 miles but you can’t find any maintenance information, it’s had three owners and the dealer bought it at an auto auction in another state. The second Honda just seems to be not as well taken care of as the one with higher mileage. In this case it may be wise to go with Accord ‘A’ if you are committed to continue having routine maintenance performed. Also keep in mind that most sellers, be they private or a dealership, will clean a used car’s engine to remove any traces of fluid leaks. Test drive the vehicle and then pop the hood to look for any fresh signs of leakage while also checking underneath for drips.

Other maintenance signs to look for include the condition of the auto’s interior and exterior. Does the body show indications of abuse such as dents, rust or paint damage? Check out the car’s interior and what shape it’s in. Is the upholstery or dash torn, ripped or are there burn holes and/or stains? Are knobs, buttons or pieces of the trim missing or damaged? If the inside of the used vehicle shows signs that it wasn’t well taken care of, then the mechanical upkeep probably wasn’t the best either. In the end, it’s always a good thing to pay your trusted mechanic to carefully give the used car a ‘once over’ before you buy it. And the way a vehicle was maintained in comparison to what appears to be an identical one is a prime example of how different used cars truly can be.

Accidents Matter, Right?


Whenever a car is involved in an accident, even a minor fender bender, it’s never quite the same again. Carfax reports are great for searching a vehicle’ s history to determine if it’s undergone any past collision repairs. The more serious the wreck, the more likely that it caused a lingering mechanical or body issue that you will have to live with. For example, the frame may be slightly bent, or the suspension damaged. Or, the engine may have required some major work due to a front-end collision, and it’s possible the body shop didn’t use OEM replacement parts. Any auto that’s been in an accident leaves unanswered questions when you’re considering buying it. To make a wiser decision when you know a vehicle has been in an accident take these precautions:

  • Have it inspected inside and out by a mechanic.
  • Take it to your local body shop and ask a technician to point out any and all body work that’s been done.
  • Test drive the vehicle and check its performance for rattles, handling issues, shimmies, a rough ride, uneven shifting or steering problems. All could result from an accident.
  • Ask to see a copy of the title and look for any salvage records which would indicate a more serious accident.
  • Try out all of the power gadgets like the moon roof, door locks, stereo and windows, as even minor fender benders can loosen electrical wiring.
  • Turn on the headlights and check out their alignment. If they’re off it could indicate a fairly significant past front-end collision.

In the end, when you have two similar used vehicles in mind, and one has been in a major accident and the other not, it’s a difference maker that might matter as time goes on.

Other Factors that Make Used Cars Different

other used car differences

There are a few other issues that cause the histories of otherwise nearly identical used vehicles to differ. And you need to be aware of these when looking to choose between those offerings. They include:

  • Weather exposure: If you are looking at two very comparable cars, but one came from a warm weather state like Arizona and the other from the Northeast, keep in mind that the latter Taurus was exposed to harsh winter weather conditions including road salt.
  • Natural disaster zones: When a flood or other type of natural disaster strikes, cars get damaged, right? Unless they’re totaled out by the insurance company, someone will be looking to sell those used vehicles and they are typically shipped to other states as a cover. Be cognizant of situations where a vehicle’s history places it in a disaster zone around the time that calamity struck. If so, it’s probably best to move on to another car.
  • Is the title ‘clear’?: Especially when buying a used car from a private seller, or through an online service, ask to see the vehicle’s title first and look for any outstanding liens. If you buy the car outright without checking for those, you will be obligated to pay off the lien holders first.
  • Will it be fully insured?: Before signing on the dotted line, confirm that your insurance company will cover at least the purchase price of the used vehicle in the event it’s totaled soon after you buy it. This comes into play if you are somehow paying more than what the vehicle is worth, for example when buying a hard-to-find used car like a Toyota RAV4 EV. A great resource to determine used car values is Kelly Blue Book online.

When considering two very similar used cars, learn as much about these differentiating factors as you possibly can. When push comes to shove, one or more of these may lead you to buy a ‘cream puff’ instead of a lemon.

Finding a Used Car that’s a “Difference Maker”

true used car deal

As we’ve seen, no two used cars are exactly the same. Their accident, maintenance and origination histories, among other factors, create uniqueness. When buying a quality used car, sometimes the information is hard to find, and that may make your purchasing decision a difficult one. High-pressure sales tactics don’t make it any easier, along with inflated dealer prices and questionable warranties. A vehicle’s past as opposed to a very similar one right down the street can be a ‘difference maker’ as time passes. And what if you could shop for a quality used car at a place where they only stock difference makers and lemons aren’t allowed? A place that offers a different kind of buying experience where there’s no price haggling, all vehicles have undergone a rigorous checkup by highly-trained technicians, and free vehicle history reports are provided. What if every used car you were considering came with an ironclad warranty, 3-day, no questions asked money-back guarantee, and on-the-spot financing is available even if your credit history is not the best?

If all of these sound like difference makers to you, stop into Auto City today! Our used car selling experience is quick, seamless and affordable. In fact, at Auto City we’ve designed a refreshingly different buying process that will put you behind the wheel of your own difference maker fast! To learn more about Auto City, and the unique way we make used car shopping fun, discover the Auto City advantage !