Consumer Reports: Best used cars

Consumer Reports: Best used cars »Play Video
In this economy, many people looking for ways to save on big-ticket items are passing on new cars and buying used. It's not the gamble it used to be-if you do your homework. In fact, Consumer Reports says these days buying a used car can be one of the best ways to save a big chunk of money. It can cost as much as 45 percent less than the same car when it was new yet still have most or all of the features you're looking for and still have years of life left in it.

Consumer Reports says if you're buying a used car, get ready to do some research. As you narrow down your choices, be sure to factor in a vehicle's reliability. Then research prices and hone in on specific cars on sites such as Auto Trader.com, eBay, and Yahoo autos.

When you find the right car, that's the time to be extra skeptical. Getting a vehicle history report, such as from Carfax, is OK, but don't stop there. You'll need your mechanic to inspect the car because the vehicle history report doesn't always pick up everything … such as accidents. You'll probably need to leave a deposit with the seller. And expect to pay around $100 for the inspection.

If the car passes mechanical muster, you're ready to bargain. Make an offer based on the prices that you've researched. Be prepared to dicker a little. But also be prepared to walk away.

What about certified pre-owned cars? Consumer Reports says the extra cost may not be worth it, especially if you have done a good job of picking a reliable car. Check out Consumer Reports' list of best used cars.