How Do I Narrow Down My Used Car Choices?

By Tara Baukus

Dear Driving for Dollars, 

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I'm ready to replace my aging sport utility vehicle with a used car that is a couple years old. I have a set budget, but there are too many choices within it because of age, condition and mileage, not to mention the cars' features. How do I narrow down my list? 

- Teresa

Dear Teresa,

You are right that buying a used car, more so than new, presents a wider array of choices often within a relatively narrow budget because there are more factors to consider. To narrow your list, you should think about which factors are most important to you and rank them accordingly. For example, do you want the newest or lowest-mileage model you can afford, or are certain car features more important to you that you'll trade off age or miles in order to get those features?

Determine what is most important to you, and don't let yourself be swayed from that or you are likely to regret your purchase later.

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Your list should get whittled down dramatically once you've ranked the qualities that are most important to you in your next car. To help you narrow it down further, consider the whole picture of the used cars you are considering. For example, one used car may have more miles on it than another, but if the car with more miles has a much longer warranty, you may save on car repair and maintenance costs in the long run. Similarly, checking the car's estimated cost for repairs and maintenance on a used car information site such as or Kelley Blue Book and looking up reliability reports, such as from Consumer Reports, can also help narrow down your choices.

Take your time and do as much research as it takes to make an informed choice. Buying any car is a pricey endeavor and one you want to be happy with. Otherwise, you will regret it every time you get behind the wheel.

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