Should your next car be new or used? Ask ten friends and you'll likely get an equal number of votes for each option. If you're debating which kind of car to buy, here's some information that might help you make a decision.
Immediate Savings on Used Cars
While a car continues to lose value throughout its useful life, the rate of depreciation is most dramatic right after title transfers from the dealership to the first buyer. There's no question that the next buyer down the pike -- the guy buying a used car -- benefits from the original owner's loss. What's more difficult to quantify is the subjective value of driving a brand new car. Some car buyers are willing to accept rapid depreciation in exchange for that new car smell.
Higher Insurance Costs on Later Models
Insuring a brand new Cadillac is going to cost a whole lot more than insuring a five-year-old Cadillac with 50,000 miles on it. In the insurance world, it's all about value -- the more your car is worth, the more you pay.
Warranties Offer Peace of Mind
This is probably the one area where most people agree: The manufacturer's warranty makes a strong argument for buying new. Warranties that cover everything from roadside assistance to regularly scheduled maintenance protect new car buyers from performance and repair headaches. Compare that with the lack of information and protection many used car buyers get. When buying from a private party, you have no guarantees. If you're lucky, the seller will have the car's service records available. But what if he or she is not the original owner? You can be left with major gaps in the car's history.
Dealerships that sell used cars often provide warranties, but they tend to be much shorter and may not cover as many potential problems as new car warranties do. One exception is the "factory certification" program offered by many car dealers. These companies sell end-of-lease and rental cars to customers with virtually the same bumper-to-bumper warranties they provide on new cars.
Most states have "lemon laws" that protect used car buyers from unscrupulous car sellers looking to unload a vehicle loaded with problems. So while you may not have the warranty you get with a new car, you do have some recourse if your "new" used car turns out to be a money pit. Contact your local Better Business Bureau for information on how to get your money back if your seller refuses to reimburse the cost of covered repairs and be prepared to take him to small claims court if necessary.
One other risk used car buyers should be prepared for is the possibility of not meeting ever-stricter state and federal auto emissions and performance guidelines. In Massachusetts, for example, cars that can't pass inspection require pricey mechanical adjustments. All new cars comply with states' requirements -- not all used cars do, and not all used car buyers realize that.
The fact that both the new and used car markets are thriving proves that there are compelling arguments for each option, which is exactly why it can be so hard to decide which way to go. If you're still stumped, maybe you need to ask eleven friends and go with the majority vote.
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