Typical new car depreciation curve.

Typical new car depreciation curve.

Buying a used car is smart for a variety of reasons, and one of the best is that it saves you a ton of money. This is fairly obvious, right? But you might be surprised by exactly how much cash that new car is costing you. Let’s explore.

Sure, new cars are lovely, shiny things, as yet unsullied by parking lot dings and travel mug mishaps. But their values drop — precipitously — especially in the first few years of their lives.

This, friends, is known as depreciation, and it’s the surest way to kiss your hard-earned money goodbye, short of setting it aflame.

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If you are considering the purchase of a gently-used older car — perhaps something like the 51k-mile Mercedes-Benz S-class pictured above, which originally stickered for sixty grand but recently sold on eBay for just $5300, or even just a practical family hauler that you plan to drive until the wheels fall off — congratulations. You are well on your way to eliminating from your budget the costliest of all car ownership expenses.

However, there’s more to buying an older car than just forking over some cash and autographing the title. While you won’t be signing up for staggering new car payments or steep depreciation, you will have to navigate a few other pitfalls inherent to a taking on a second-hand vehicle.

So before you click Buy It Now on that oh-so-tempting auction, take a moment to consider these five important — and perhaps surprising — guidelines. They will help to ensure that you end up with a car which is not only cheap to acquire but also a joy to own and drive for many years to come.

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