Buying a used car for the graduate? How-to guides to get the best deals

With graduations looming, many proud parents and grads are thinking about a used car purchase in the near future. Buying a used car is always tricky, but the growth of the internet has given purchasers a wide variety of new tools to make sure that everyone walks away happy. This article from Smart Money gives a variety of helpful tips and useful advice if you’re planning to buy from a used car dealer and this one from MSN Money should be required reading if you’re planning to buy from a private party via Craigslist. For the mechanically inclined, Popular Mechanics has a useful 10 point buyer checklist to keep in mind — and don’t forget to avoid common used car scams.
It’s always a good idea to check the price of a car you’re considering against the Kelley Blue Book value, easily done on their website. Remember that price can be different in different parts of the country, and experts advise doing a Craigslist check on similar cars in your area to get a feel for local prices even if you’re buying from a dealership. Edmunds is one of the best online sources for used car information (new cars, too) and they have a recent article on buying a used car for under $2500. One point the experts all agree with is spending an extra $35 or so to get a carfax report on any car you’re seriously considering.
Of course, you may not have your computer when you’re shopping. There are car-buying apps for that. Edmunds has a highly recommended app for iPads, iPhones and Droids as does Kelley Blue Book that can instantly give you the estimated value and reviews on any car — and with an app like Craigslist Finder, you’ll be notified whenever the car of your dreams comes up for sale.
Once you have the car, it will need insurance and the way you approach that may vary depending on whether your student is a high school or college grad. Laws vary in each state and insurance companies also differ in their rules, but for the most part, children can only be covered by their parents’ policy if the parents’ home is their primary address. Some insurers offer exceptions if students will be away at school, but others won’t insure a car if it is garaged in another state. You’ll also want to check with your agent – depending on the circumstances, there may be multi-vehicle discounts if the child is insured on your policy; the student may also qualify for a Good Student Discount or for safe driver training program that will enable a discount. There’s a lot to consider and a lot of variables – your independent insurance agent can help you make the right decision.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks for 2012 Autos

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced its Top Vehicle Safety Picks for 2012. There are 18 new picks for a total of 115 winners in the following categories: 69 cars, 38 SUVs, 5 minivans, and 3 pickups. The award recognizes vehicles that do the best job of protecting people in front, side, rollover, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute evaluations. The ratings, which cover all 4 of the most common kinds of crashes, help shoppers pick vehicles that offer the highest levels of crash protection.
Here’s a handy list of the 2012 Top Safety Picks with links to the ratings.
If you will be shopping for a new vehicle, you may also want to consult this list: Insurance Losses by Make & Model. And you will also want to talk to your local insurance agent.

True Cost to Own a Vehicle Calculator

The Edmunds True Cost to Own Calculator is a handy tool that will help inform you of the true cost of your next vehicle purchase. The purchase price is not the only indicator of which car is the better deal as sometimes the cheaper car will hit you with other costs down the line. The True Cost to Own Calculator helps reveal those hidden costs.
Here’s how it works. Based on your area and the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, it then factors in estimates about depreciation, taxes, fees, financing, fuel, maintenance, repairs, and the purpose of this blog, insurance. All estimates are based on a 5 year period with 15,000 miles driven per year. Although these are just estimates it’s educational and often surprising to compare the charts of different makes and models to see what the estimated “True Cost to Own” is.
It’s also good for comparing whether or not that hybrid car you’ve been eying is finally worth it, since in theory the higher purchase price will save you gas in the long run. You might be surprised. The True Cost Calculator helps determine this and reveal other hidden costs.
Insurance is already figured into the tool, but here is a list of the Most and Least Expensive Cars to Insure for 2011. Another factor you might want to consider is susceptibility to theft. Here is a list of the Top 10 Most Stolen in 2010.
Before you purchase your next vehicle be sure to check this tool out – it pays to do a little advance research!

Flood Damaged Vehicle Fraud Prevention

The east coast is still recovering from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and other heavy rain events. The succession of storms and hurricanes this season have resulted in fleets of vehicles being inoperative from flood damage. Unscrupulous car dealers are notorious for turning around these flood damaged vehicles and selling them to unsuspecting buyers. As a result the National Insurance Crime Bureau has released this list of Flood Vehicle Fraud Prevention Tips.
Here is what they recommend:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
    Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust, Copper will show a green patina.
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

If you are concerned the vehicle you are looking at may have been declared salvage from flood damage, you may want to check out our previous post, Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car for specific ways to confirm this, such as researching your car’s Vehicle Identification Number for a history report. Also if you discover a car dealer who is committing this type of fraud, make sure you inform the NICB at 800-TEL-NICB.

Even if you aren’t shopping for a vehicle you should be concerned about the aggressive flooding this year. According to The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory the Atlantic Hurricane Season lasts until November 30th, meaning there is still a chance of even more flooding that could affect your car your home.
Take steps to protect your property. Your car insurance may cover more than you think but homeowners beware: flood damage is not covered by most homeowners policies, you would require special flood coverage. Contact your insurance agent to ensure that your vehicle and your home are protected against any future flood damage before it’s too late.