The Cost of Owning a Car
You probably can get a decent used car for as low as $2500 (e.g. a
8-year old Geo Prizm or Honda Civc, with 90-100 thousand miles). Besides
the cost of the car itself, you will need to pay for sales tax, inspection
charge, tags, title, and insurance. You'd better check around to get
an idea how much these extra costs would be before deciding how much
you can pay for the car.
Where to Find Used Cars?
The easiest place is around the campus. There will be people graduating,
etc. But a better place to find good cars is from residents in the
neighboring area. A car kept in a garage is worn much less by rains,
snows, and the sun, then a car parked on the street. Your local
newspaper is a good source for cars for sale in the neighborhood.
What to Look for in a Used Car?
Year of the car - apparently the newer the better, as long
as you can afford it.
Make - the company that produced the car, e.g. Ford, Toyota.
Mercury is essentially the same as Ford. Chevrolet, Geo, Pontiac,
Saturn, and Buick are all General Motors companies. Dodge and Plymouth
are both part of Chrysler, which merged with Diamler-Benz of Germany.
Model - a specific type of car made by the company. For example,
Taurus made by Ford.
Mileage - the number of miles the car has been driven. Occasionally
the odometer (里程表) could break and the mileage may be reset to zero.
Ask the owner whether the mileage as shown on the odometer is original.
Usually a car can last for ten years, or around 100,000 miles.
Japanese cars tend to last longer than American cars. With the same
mileage, cars driven mostly in the city tend to have much more wear
(磨损) than cars driven mostly on highways.
Avoid a car that has had an accident. Accidents make a car's
reliability very unpredictable.
Look for a well-maintained car. Ask for a maintenance record
from the owner. The maintenance schedule listed below is for most
cars. Check the owner's manual for more accurate information for
a particular car.
|Oil change (换机油)
||Once very three months or 3000 miles, less often
for newer cars.
|Tire rotation (轮胎轮换位置)
||Tires don't wear evenly. Most cars are front-wheel
drive, which gives much more wear to the front tires. Tires
should be rotated every 6000 miles or so.
||This should be replaced once every two years.
||The makes sure that the tires are held perfectly
vertical to the ground. Should be done once a year.
||Should be replaced every two years.
The following signs suggest you should not buy this car:
Oil leak (漏机油). This can be the start of many troubles. Repair
is expensive. Although some cars can do fine for another 5 years
without any repair, you should not take chances.
Low tire pressure. This tells you that the owner doesn't
even do a very basic job to keep the car in good shape.
All different tires. If the car has tires of more than two
brands, it means that the owner replaced tires in a reactive way,
not before something went wrong. It may also indicate that the car
is not tire-friendly.
Two bumps. To test the car's suspension, use both hands (and
perhaps some of you body weight) to push the car down, and then
release. If the car bumps up, and down, and stops, there is no problem.
If the car goes up, down, and up-and-down again, the suspension
is not good.
Repainted. If certain part of the car is painted a (even
slightly) different color from the rest, ask the owner what happened.
Chances are the car had an accident. If the car's color is different
from what the title says, common sense tells you the car had an
Flooded. Inspect the car for water stains, mildew,
mud or sand, etc., especially in hidden areas such as door speakers
and the spare tire compartment. Check area under carpet in the trunk
for any dampness. Under the hood, look for rust, green stuff on
copper, or white powder on aluminum and alloy parts.
Check the Car's History
There are a few way to check out whether the car has been in an
accident, flood, etc.
The Title. Some states would mark titles "salvage"
or "flood"; others use codes. If the title indicates that
the last owner is an insurance company, in which case you should
ask for "damage disclosures."
Government Website. You can enter the VIN at www.nicb.org
to see if this car is listed as a damaged car. This is a free service.
However, not all damaged cars are lised.
Have an experienced driver test drive the car and see how the engine,
transmission, and everything else works. If nothing appears to be
abnormal, and you are really considering to buy the car, get the
owner's permission to take it to a mechanic for a mechanical checkup.
This may cost you around $40. Ask friends if they know a mechanic
who are really good at finding problems with used cars. After the
checkup, the mechanic should be able to tell you how the engine
and the transmission are working, what parts need to be replaced
in the near future, etc. This is different from a state-required
safety inspection. Safety inspection only cares about things that
relate to safety: the seat-belt, the lights, the brakes and tires,
the rearview mirror, etc.
Once you have decide that this is a car you want to have, the next
step is to work on the deal: price negotiation, safety inspection,
make the payment, buy insurance, get title, registration, and tag.
Price negotiation. If the asking price is too far away from
what you can accept, you should have checked with the owner the
first time you called to see if you can get a price acceptable to
both sides. When you accept a price, make sure the owner understands
that it's under the condition that the car will pass the state inspection
without much work/cost. You can tell the seller something like "I
will take this price if the car can pass the inspections with repairs
of no more than $100."
Safety inspection. Most states require that a car passes
state inspection and possibly emission test before it can be registered.
Usually you don't want the seller to do the inspection, because
you don't know if the seller can simply get an inspection paper
through the "back door".
Car insurance. Most states require that you have car insurance
when registering your car. Insurance is usually more expensive for
drivers who have less driving experience in the US. It's also more
expensive around a major city, for people under 25, for singles,
and for men than for women. The terms you need to know when shopping
for car insurance are:
Liability: covers the other car(s) (including the drivers
and passengers) when you are at fault in the accident. This is required.
Collision: covers your car and people in your car when you
are at fault in the accident. This is optional.
Comprehensive: covers situations where you car is stolen,
damaged by flood, hit by a fallen tree, etc. This is optional.
Bodily injury: covers any injury on people who are involved
in the accident.
Property damage: covers damage on the car(s) and things in
Uninsured motorists: covers you in case the other person
is at fault but doesn't have insurance.
Underinsured motorists: covers you in case the other person
is at fault but doesn't have enough insurance to cover your loss.
Deductible: comes with collision and comprehensive. It's
the amount that will come out of your own pocket when something
happens. For example, if you have a $500 deductible, and the damage
to your car costs $2000 to repair, the insurance company will pay
Full tort vs. limited tort: this option exists in some states.
Full tort means you can ask compensation for both economic loss
and noneconomic loss as a result of an accident. Half tort means
you can only seek compensation for economic loss. Full tort is more
Registration. Once you have paid the seller and get the
title, have passed inspection, and have purchased insurance, you
are ready to register the car and get the title, the registration
car, and the plate. In most cases you will get a plate (possibly
with a sticker showing when the registration expires) to put on
your car so that you can drive it immediately. Title and registration
card may be mailed to you later.