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Buying a new car these days can insure trouble free driving, except of course when it's time to make a payment.

There are great deals on good used cars if you're willing to look. Since many used cars do not come with a guarantee or warranty, there are some simple things to keep in mind.

What is the safest place to find a quality used car? Generally there are three choices: 1) Used Car Dealers 2) New Car Dealers 3) Private Party Sellers. Of these, new car dealers are the safest place to find good, clean used cars. The reason is simple. New car dealers have often been in business for many years, and therefore have a reputation to uphold. There is too much at stake for a new car dealer to intentionally sell you a bad car. Also, most new car dealers have repair facilities and mechanics. If you were to have a problem, there is good chance they can fix your car without having to send it somewhere else. Finally, you have greater legal recourse with a licensed dealership. A private individual may sell you a car for less money, but you have little or no legal recourse should your car turn out to be a lemon. After all, a private person is not regulated by the government, because he/she is not in the business of selling cars.

Always test drive a car before buying. Here are some things to look for when on a test drive:

A good used car should not leak fluid of any kind, or smoke, from under the hood or from the tailpipe (the only exception is diesel cars or trucks). Be sure to drive the car in a way you would normally drive, including highway speeds and heavy traffic. Let the car reach normal operating temperature, driving a car only when it's cold can mask mechanical problems. Also, be sure to operate all the buttons and switches, including cruise control, power windows, radio, and air conditioning. Remember automobile air conditioners that are in proper working order do not consume refrigerant or Freon. If an air conditioner needs to be re-charged, it is only because there is a leak in the system, there is no such thing as "it just needs Freon." If the air conditioner does not work, it will need repairs beyond re-charging, no exceptions. To avoid future problems be sure a car you are considering uses the new form of Freon, R134a. The old type has been discontinued, and will be increasingly hard to get.

Avoid cars that have been in accidents. There is an easy way for the average person to check for excessive body damage. Most cars sold in America, after 1992 have VIN stickers on each body panel. The maker of the car put a sticker on each fender, door, trunk, hood and quarter panel. That sticker has the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) stamped on it, and cannot be replaced once it has been removed, not even by the manufacturer. If you do not find these stickers on the various body parts, there is a good chance that car has been in an accident, and that piece has been replaced. There is no good reason anyone would remove the sticker, and they do not fall off. Also look for overspray. This occurs when a car has been repainted. When cars are first made, they are painted without most of the mechanical parts in place, if you see color splattered on engine parts or tires, someone has repainted that car.

Finally, have a mechanic inspect a car before you buy. Many problems are not obvious to the average person, and can only be detected by using special equipment. Most garages charge $45-$80 for a pre-purchase inspection. Try to use a garage you know, rather than one suggested by the seller.

With some time and patience you can find a good used car that will provide the reliable transportation you need at a price that won't take you for a ride.