Shopping Used: A Friend Is Warning You Off Your Top Pick – What To Do

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What do you do when you get conflicting advice about a new car model you have fallen in love with? We have answers.

Used car shopping is a challenge. Not only are you faced with selecting a style of vehicle and specific model, but you also need to settle on what year to buy based on your budget. Once you do find the perfect ride for your lifestyle and financial situation, you can then start your due diligence before buying. One way we always suggest to get started is to ask friends and family if they think this model is a good choice. However, if you ask enough people in your social group, it is almost inevitable that one of them is going to be negative on your pick. Then what?

Used Car Shopping Advice- Sample Size Matters

If your mon’s friend Agnes once had a nephew with a Camry that went up in flames, does that mean you should cross the Camry off your list? Most likely not. The Camry is the top-selling sedan in America since the Pilgrims set up the first Toyota dealership back in the 1600s. Trillions of buyers can’t all be wrong. Of course, some Camry’s had sad endings. One bad story is not a surprise, and you should not let it spoil the rest of your important research. Now, if it is your spouse that is telling you that the exact model you like is one they had a horrible experience with, do the smart thing. Move on to another model. You don’t need to hear “I told you so” either literally, or in your head, every time the car has a glitch. Aside from that, one or even two bad experiences with a popular model are likely to be part of your research on any model. You need to expand your sample size and also make it more quality-based.

Ask The Right People For Help

Toyota had a marketing campaign for years that centered around “ask someone who owns one.” With all due respect to the folks at Toyota’s marketing department, we would change that to, “Ask someone who has a clue about cars.” In every family, there is that person. At BestRide, the staffers are all one of those people. In some families, it is a mechanic who is your best resource. Mechanics know which used cars have bad histories and they likely even know the part number by heart for the fitzer valve that always fails. They buy them in bulk to keep the shop stocked up. They will warn you if you are buying a vehicle with a known problem.

Is your grandchild with the 200 MPH Porsche 911 the best resource to ask? We say no. Watch out for enthusiasts. They tend to value different things than most owners. For them, power and handling trump issues like reliability, value, safety, and comfort. If you want an opinion on a daily driver, ask a generalist.

Get the Facts

No matter how many people you ask, your sample size will always be small., So how do you find a huge group of people to tell you how a specific year, make, and model has trended for reliability? As it turns out, there are two outstanding resources for this, and both are fiercely independent. The first is Consumer Reports. With a subscription, you can look up any specific year, make and model car and Consumer Reports will tell you exactly what sort of reliability history that exact car has. We know the folks at Consumer Reports. They would never accept even a free cup of coffee from an automaker to sway their data-driven reports. You can trust that what they produce related to reliability is based on owner-reported facts rather than staff opinions.

Another resource is CarComplaints.com. This free website pulls together all the complaints by everyone who owns and hates their car. They compile and massage the data and they then show it back to you in a way that has a clear meaning. Not only does CarComplaints show you what the folks reported, they then “stamp” that year make and model with a judgment. These range from “Beware of the clunker” to its “Seal of awesome.” You can also use this site to steer clear of the “bad years” of very good cars. The Accord chart above is a perfect example. You don’t want a 2008 or a 2003. Pick a different year.

Get It Checked

Whatever used car you opt to purchase, make your deal contingent upon having your trusted mechanic give it a close look before you buy. It may cost you a few bucks (say $100) to have a mechanic give the car you plan to buy a look-over. But it may well save you from buying one with a problem.

Check For Open Recalls

With your cell phone, you can check in an instant if a vehicle you are considering has an open recall. Just plug the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into this webpage and it will tell you if there is an unaddressed recall open on that exact car. If there is, don’t buy it until the recall is resolved by an authorized dealer.

Story Credit: Our thanks to Car Talk Community member Kathryn K. She posted a request for help after a pal told her that a specific model she wanted to buy had costly AC issues. She did the exact right thing and expanded her sample size looking for more info on the specific model she felt was right for her in a forum where car experts offer free advice.

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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