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Car Buying

Buying a Used Car: How Do You Know If It's Reliable?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2013

Reliability is certainly on the mind of nearly any shopper interested in buying a used car. We understand that, so we've listed a few sources you can trust to find out whether the model of car you're considering is reliable. And while many of our sources can't check out the exact car you're looking at, they'll give you a good idea about what to expect from the cars on your shopping list. 

Check Out J.D. Power Data

J.D. Power is one of the few companies that specializes in automotive reliability data. The company offers two measures for used-car reliability. The first, dubbed the Initial Quality Study, measures a car's problems in its first 90 days of ownership. More important to shoppers interested in long-term reliability is the firm's Long Term Dependability Study, which looks at problems owners have in a car's first three years. 

While J.D. Power's data may not help shoppers considering 10-year-old cars, vehicles that perform poorly after 90 days or three years are unlikely to improve over a longer period. Check out J.D. Power's data on its website, JDPower.com

Follow Internet Forums

This may surprise you, but Internet forums are one of the best ways to determine how reliable the car you're considering might be. Automotive forums attract experts who can often identify common problems suffered by just about any car. 

Best of all, most cars -- from high-priced Ferraris to the Ford Fusion -- have an Internet forum dedicated solely to fans and owners of that make and model. The result is that you can learn about issues that other drivers are having, and you can look for such issues on a test drive to make sure the model you're considering doesn't pose similar problems. 

Talk to a Mechanic

If you're concerned about reliability, you may want to talk to a mechanic who specializes in the kind of car you're considering. How common are problems? How bad are they? In some cases, you may even want to have the mechanic look over the exact car you're considering before you sign the papers. 

Read Online Reports

We also suggest reading Internet reports about a car's reliability. If you're considering a Hyundai Sonata, for example, search for "Hyundai Sonata reliability." This may lead you to a forum, or it may lead you to a firsthand review of the car written by an owner. But remember: Many people only write reviews if they have something negative to say about a particular product, so don't necessarily let one or two bad reviews change your decision. 

Talk to a Friend

Considering a common car? You likely know someone with the same make and model. Don't be shy about asking friends for input, or even posting a message on social media calling for friends and acquaintances to share their stories. It's not entirely out of the ordinary to approach someone in a gas station or parking lot to ask about a car -- provided, of course, that you're very careful with your approach. 

Consider an Inspection

Remember, our suggestions are designed to help you narrow your car choice, not pick the correct car for you. Even though Internet forums, mechanics and friends may say a certain type of car is reliable, the exact car you're considering could still have serious faults. As a result, we strongly suggest getting a real mechanical inspection when buying a used car. While such an inspection may be pricey, it sure beats paying out more in repairs later.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Used Car: How Do You Know If It's Reliable? - Autotrader