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Looking to buy a budget-friendly used car? Add to ...

A car is a major household expense so it is little wonder that in a time of belt-tightening and bargain-hunting, buying used makes more sense.

The problem, as explained by Home Cents blogger Shelley White in her blog post, is the dizzying array of used car makes, years and models to choose from. Used car reviewer Chris Chase gave us his picks for the top used vehicles for your money in five categories: sedan, compact, minivan, SUV and hybrid. That blog post triggered 200 online comments so clearly our readers have a few more questions.

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In his weekly used vehicle column at Autos.ca, Mr. Chase looks at which used cars and trucks offer people the best reliability for their money. A journalist based in Ottawa, he also writes new car reviews and features for Autos.ca and a number of Canadian daily newspapers. His ideal used car is a fantasy that combines the performance of a Mini Cooper S and the reliability of a Toyota Corolla.

Mr. Chase was here to answer your questions in a live discussion, which has been transcribed in the Q&A below:

Q: What should we look for when we buy a used car from a dealership?

A: The price, certainly; make sure the dealer hasn't marked up the price unreasonably in order to pad his profit margin. It's always a good idea to have a car checked out by a mechanic of your choice. If the dealer balks at that, it might be best not to deal with them. A second opinion on the car is a good way to root out whether the dealer has anything to hide: has the car been in an accident, or is it on its last legs, mechanically, for example.

Q: Asian cars hold a reputation of reliability, which make them ideal used car purchases. Should used cars from North American automakers be avoided then?

A: Certainly not. There are a number of North American models that are worth considering. The first-generation (2006-2009) Ford Fusion is a great example. It's proven very solid so far, nearly as reliable as a Camry or Accord from the same period, and costs thousands less to buy used than most comparable Japanese models. The key, as with any used car purchase, is to do your research to find the North American cars that are smart buys. The payoff, as I mentioned above, is that you'll pay far less.

Q: We always buy used, what's the best value in a cross over suv? We drive a Dodge Caravan right now.

A: This depends on your requirements in terms of space. The Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson I list in the article that ran here a few days ago are very solid, affordable vehicles, but they're small. The Hyundai Santa Fe is a decent vehicle, though not quite as solid as the Sportage/Tucson. If utility is tops, you might want to consider sticking with a minivan, though the best ones tend to be the Japanese, and they're much pricier used than another Caravan would be. You might want to consider a Ford Flex for a larger crossover. The General Motors large crossovers - GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse, for example - are nice to drive, but I haven't been impressed with their reliability so far. The only knock against the Flex is that it hasn't been around long enough to get a really good idea of how reliable it will be, long-term.

Q: Beyond he standard (reliability, price, gas mileage) what would you recommend that also allows for a very large driver? (Most cars, I just plain don't fit and at best am looking through the top 2 inches of the windshield). I am 6'3” and built like a lineman.

A: A number of years ago, it seemed like the trend was to high roofs and better headroom, even in small cars like the Toyota Echo and Ford Focus. This trend seems to have died out, however. I'm only 5-foot-7 and find that many cars are short on headroom and visibility. You won't find many cars solve your problem. It sounds obvious, but a minivan or SUV is probably going to be your best bet. Unless you look at something like a Suzuki SX4; it's a bit goofy-looking, but had loads of headroom, though it's not very wide inside. Reliability has been good. If you like pickup trucks, that would be another obvious idea, but naturally, driving a truck around everyday can be a bit much, and reliability can be dodgy no matter what brand you choose. I don't know if that's much of an answer, but I hope it helps.

Q: What is reasonable mileage to look for in a used vehicle, in terms of odometer reading?

A: This depends. Assume that most drivers will put anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 km on their vehicle in a year, so multiply that by the age of the car in model years, and you'll get an idea of whether that car fits into the average. However, be wary of older cars with surprisingly low mileage. A car that's been driven a lot but maintained well is better than one that is underused. There are many parts of a car, such as seals and bushings, that will dry out and rot if the car isn't driven regularly. If you buy such a car and then begin using it daily, you may experience problems, some annoying, and some potentially major trouble that could make you regret your purchase.

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