Driving a bargain for a used car

The next time you're in the market for a new car, it's worth considering one that's only "new" to you.

More drivers are picking a used car for their new ride, with sales in the third quarter of 2016 up 3.3 percent year over year, according to Edmunds.com. The average used car value is up, too, to $19,232 — thanks to more almost-new cars on the market.

"Used is always, financially, the best thing to do," said Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. "You're avoiding that steep depreciation that takes place on a new car."

What's a fair price? Don't expect an easy apples-to-apples price comparison.

"At any one point, a used car is an individual animal, versus a new car, which is more of a commodity," said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

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Even on the same make and model year, used-car values vary based on the features, mileage, condition and local demand. Look to pricing sites and apps like Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book and others to get an estimate.

Asking prices are usually lower when you buy from an individual than through a dealership. Sellers may be more open to negotiating, too.

"Dealerships have to make some money on the car, so they're going to mark it up a good percentage," Montoya said.

But if you need financing, that's often easier through a dealership. (You can reach out to lenders on your own, he said, but you'll need a seller who's willing to work with you in supplying any details or documents the lender requires.)

Cars on a dealer's lot may also be a better bet, with any needed repairs already completed. You'll also have more recourse if there's a problem with your new purchase, Nerad said.

Before you buy, make sure to take a look at the vehicle history report through a service like Experian's AutoCheck or Carfax. That lets you quickly rule out any bad prospects, like a car with a salvage title or an accident history the owner didn't disclose, Montoya said.

Take any promising prospects to a mechanic to get a clean bill of health.