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Pre-Owned Prestige

Online used car shopping
February 1, 2000

OK, so you can't afford a gleaming new BMW--maybe not even a spiffy VW Jetta--so how do you explain all those other people your age who are driving wheels you only dream about? You know they're not earning a dime more than you, so what's the story? Here it is, in two words: Used, or, as the marketers say, "pre-owned." Either way, slightly worn wheels just may be the smartest buy if you're on a tight budget but crave stylish transportation.

Case in point: A new 2000 Jetta GLS runs around $20,000--and dealers aren't coming down far from the sticker price on this super-popular car--but a `97 Jetta GLS, with all the options and low mileage, likely won't cost a dime over $15,000. Go more luxurious, and price cuts become still deeper. A search at the Hertz used vehicles site ( reveals that buyers of year-old creampuffs pocket thousands in savings.

Doesn't buying a used car mean buying somebody else's problem? Used to be, but today's cars are dramatically better made. Many Web sites and books can help guide buyers through the used-car maze.

Robert McGarvey drives a '99 Camry, but his dream car is a '67 Morris Minor. A what? If you have to ask...don't bother.

What Should It Cost?

Get solid pricing info before ever stepping on a dealer's lot by visiting Kelly Blue Book ( and Edmund's ( Both offer easy-to-use price guides that, with a few mouse clicks, give a rough sense of what any late-model used car is worth.

Shopping Around

Let your mouse do your car hunting by visiting the many Web sites devoted to used cars. Especially fertile shopping sites are:

Lemons and Recalls

Book It

Buying a used car can be a great money-saver--or a fast plunge into a money pit. Find good, precautionary reading here: