I believe one of the things that keeps many people from ever really making significant progress financially is car payments. According to a CNBC report the average new car payment in 2014 was $471. Add to that the fact that many households have not one but two cars with payments sitting in the driveway, it isn’t hard to see why many people struggle when they have nearly $1,000 a month going out the door in payments.
But, at the same time most of us need transportation to get to and from our work as well as just leading our daily lives. So what is the alternative? Well, I believe that a quality used car can provide effective, reasonable transportation without killing our budget.
But the key word in that last statement is “Quality”. Buy a lemon and all those savings could disappear in an avalanche of repair bills. So, how do you improve your chance of finding a quality used car particularly if you are like me and aren’t very mechanically inclined?
In the past I have used sites like Consumer Reports or JD Power to try to research vehicle quality. Sites like Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book provide a wealth of information about used vehicles. One problem though with some of these sites is they don’t go back that far. With the average age of used cars on the roads being a little over 11 years, it can be more challenging to find reliability info on older vehicles.
The Long-Term Quality Index
Recently, I discovered the Long-Term Quality Index web site. This site was created to address this very problem. The site was created by Steve Lang and Nick Lariviere. They have gathered data on hundreds of thousands of used cars across America over the last 2 years, and expect that by the end of 2015 they will have data on more than a million cars. The data goes back to models more than 20 years old.
For each vehicle they provide data on the following:
- They have developed an overall reliability score that you can use to compare models.
- A distribution that compares the average mileage as compared to the industry average.
- The vehicles are rated based on the number of issues they have experienced with the engine, transmission, and overall powertrain.
- Finally, the total defects found for each year’s model is compared with the industry average for that year. This can provide very insightful information as it is very easy to see when manufacturers were improving quality as well as when they made changes that did not work out so well.
Research is the key
One of the keys to getting a good deal in almost anything, and particularly when it comes to vehicle shopping, is gathering as much information as possible. The person with the most information will almost always come out ahead on the deal.
Yes, there are lemons. But there are also many great used cars that will provide you with solid, quality transportation for 200,000 miles and more. If you do your research, it isn’t so hard to find one of these vehicles. The Long-Term Quality Index web site is another very useful tool to have in your tool belt when it comes time to look for your next vehicle.