As a consequence, cars are now typically warranteed bumper to bumper for three or four years (or 36,000 to 50,000 miles), with even longer power-train guarantees.
It's little wonder, then, that used cars are such big business. More people buy used automobiles than new ones, and dealers now find them more profitable than their new cars.
So, why don't we take a look at what could be a sensible solution to your transit needs. We'll check out the places to buy them, and what you should be looking for. First, where they are sold:
New-car dealerships: Dealers have the advantage of getting top-notch, late-model trade-ins, such as returned lease cars, which typically are three years old and have less than 36,000 miles on them.
These returned lease vehicles are usually candidates for the dealers' certified used-car programs. A certified car undergoes an extensive inspection and any repairs that inspection indicates. The car then usually gets an extended guarantee. In the case of Sloane Toyota in Devon, for example, the factory power-train warranty of five years or 60,000 miles is increased to seven years and 100,000 miles.
Certification means a premium car - at a premium price. But the quality and buyer peace of mind it entails make it worthwhile to a lot of customers. Mike Nesrat, general manager at Sloane-Devon, says 90 percent of the used cars he sells are certified.
Independent used-car dealers: To a significant extent, the independents sell the automobiles that new-car dealers take to auction. In some cases, the dealerships are unloading cars with accident histories, and problems requiring repair. But they also sell them simply because they have mileage beyond their certification limits - or the dealer needs some quick cash.
The trade-off for the higher mileage and risk that can, but don't necessarily, attend the independents' wares is considerably lower prices.
Private sales: This is the riskiest way to buy a car, particularly if it is no longer under warranty.
Let's look at some of things you can do to make sure you get a serviceable, satisfying used car:
First, check out the dealer with the Better Business Bureau. Your examination of the car should begin with a request for a Carfax report, which will tell you whether it's been in an accident or flood. Ask to see the car's service records, which will indicate if it has been properly maintained.
Look over the vehicle. Are there dents and scratches you'll have to fix? Check out the interior. A car with a purported 20,000 miles on it shouldn't have a badly worn brake pedal or driver's seat.
Check tire wear. During the test drive, pay attention to the way the car steers and brakes. A pull or vibration in the steering suggests front-end misalignment - or worse. A pulsing pedal during braking could mean warped brake discs.
Finally, hire a mechanic to go over the car. If the seller won't permit that inspection, you don't want the car.
If you are trading in a car, having it detailed might well be worth the money. Sloane's Nesrat says that a car's appearance, along with good tires, a clean Carfax, and evidence of proper maintenance, "make a humongous difference in trade-in value."
Contact Al Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org.