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Finding Good Cheap Cars Online

There was once a time when Americans could easily pick a decent used vehicle for under $1,000. That time, unfortunately, is gone. Now we have to spend far more than that, and finding a good vehicle on the cheap is almost impossible.

Right after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, the federal government was looking for ways to stimulate the economy. One of those was the "Cash for Clunkers" program, which allowed anyone who owned older, less-fuel-efficient vehicles to turn them in for money. Americans participated by the millions. The result? Millions of relatively inexpensive automobiles went to the dump, creating a large hole in the second-hand market and driving up the price for anyone in the market.

Thankfully, the market has somewhat bounced back, although it isn't what it used to. There are a large number of websites, apps, and services designed to help individuals find what they want. Low-income individuals can now find good deals on the used market thanks to a large number of available search engines and other services created to help make the process much easier.

How to find the best deals
Whether you're looking to buy a good, cheap new vehicle or a worthwhile and working second-hand ride, you'll need to keep your skeptic's hat on. Here are a few good tips to finding quality used and new deals.

Step 1: Use reputable websites

No, you don't want to turn to Craigslist. There are excellent websites that will connect you to reputable sources.

These include:

CarMax
Edmunds
TRUECar
Cars.com
AutoTrader
CarsDirect

Each of these sites allows you to search by make, model, year, design, or a simple zip code search for potential deals near you. You can also search for both used and new purchases.

Step 2: Understand your budget and the full cost of purchasing a vehicle

There are always hidden costs. Although you may see a sticker price, that's not going to be the final cost that you'll pay. Expect to pay for:

Finance charges (if you're paying monthly instead of upfront)

"Fees," which can include fees for registration, title, licensing, emissions compliance, testing, floor plan, dealer preparation, advertising, and more. Those fees can add up to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to the final cost

Add-ons, which a dealership will try to attach to your final sale, such as anti-theft devices, extended warranties and more

Step 3: Decide whether you'll pay the full cost or use financing

If you do plan to finance your vehicle, whether used or new, pay as much up front as possible to give yourself a lower monthly payment. Also note that financing means you'll be essentially securing a loan, and until you make that final payment, you don't own the vehicle. The bank does. If you fail to pay, the bank can repossess it.

Step 4: When buying used, search for the Kelley Blue Book value

Used prices can vary, depending on where you're buying, the model year, history and more. However, it's a good idea to do a KBB search on the car you're interested in to get a good idea of how much it should cost. This way, you can better negotiate a lower price. You can also identify a car that may have a long history of accidents. If the asking price is far less than the KBB value, beware.

Step 5: Negotiate your price

All prices are negotiable. If you see a car you like, you can negotiate with the seller to get money knocked off the final price. Remember that if you're buying on a budget, negotiating can help save you a good amount of money.

What to look for
A few basic rules for getting the best deal:

Avoid very old cars. Over ten years old and you're likely to get a maintenance headache.

High mileage is a bad sign. These tend to have problems. If the vehicle has high mileage, but little service history, it's likely going to develop problems not long after you buy it.

Watch out for significant body damage, such as rust and erosion. If you see rust and erosion on the outside, there's a good chance there's rust and erosion on the inside as well.

Do a test drive first. Unusual noises are a danger sign. Unassessed problems can quickly materialize into high costs for you soon after you purchase the vehicle.

Avoid buying uncertified used cars. A certified pre-owned car comes with the complete ownership and maintenance history. Uncertified buys may be a risky venture.

When buying new, try to buy the outgoing year. Dealerships update their stock for the next year. If you this year's model at the end of the year, you can save thousands of dollars.

Ask about the test drive vehicle. Chances are, the dealership has a model just for test drives. If they're currently getting rid of stock, the test drive model will likely be even less expensive due to the number of miles already on the odometer.

Purchasing second hand? Research the vehicle history
Perhaps the first step in buying on a tight budget is to determine whether you're going to buy used or new. If you have limited funds, buying a good, certified used model is your best option. That said, you won't want to go with anything out there. A newer model may have low mileage and a low price, but you should be wary of a deal that looks "too good to be true." You could be buying a "lemon," or a vehicle that looks good on the outside, but that is a junker on the inside.