Beware Of These Outdated Used Car Buying Tips

Illustration for article titled Beware Of These Outdated Used Car Buying Tips

Image: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Buying a used car can be a bit more stressful than purchasing a new one. While it is possible to get a quality pre-owned vehicle, it requires a bit of patience and vigilance. However, you will want to be aware that there are some outdated but still prevalent strategies out there that may not give you the results you want.

Recently, we’ve seen a number of used car buying tips circulating from fairly respectable outlets like CNBC and Yahoo Finance, informing buyers on how to get the most for their money on a pre-owned car. While I strongly agree with some of the points, like understanding your budget and getting pre-approved for financing, once they start getting into the details of the shopping some of them miss they mark a bit.

Here are what I consider the top three errors that a lot of used car buyers make.

Don’t Rely On The CarFax

CarFax and other vehicle history report services like Autocheck can provide valuable information such as maintenance history or whether or not the car has been in a wreck. These data points can be good filters as to whether or not you want to pursue a car further.

However, these reports have shown to present inaccuracies or incomplete information. Sometimes accidents don’t get reported and therefore don’t appear on the report, and often it will seem like cars had more owners due to it being sold from one dealer group to another.

For the most part, this is common knowledge, but then you read something like this via CNBC:

You should also ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN), says Ricart. It’s a 17-digit number that’s assigned to every vehicle in the U.S. and allows you to pull a Carfax vehicle history report.

The report will cost about $40, but “is worth paying for,” he says. It provides key information about the car, including service and repair information, vehicle registration and reported accidents.”

While these reports do reveal some solid info you should not have to jump through hoops to get it—nor do I suggest paying for it. If you are researching multiple cars there is no reason to shell out $40 per report when the vast majority of dealers have these reports linked to their ad. And if a dealer doesn’t link a history report on their ad, that can sometimes be a red flag, so buyers should always request a copy from the dealer.

Don’t Trust The Dealer’s Inspection Process

There are a number of dealers that do their best to make sure they are selling a quality used car. Then there are other stores just looking for a quick buck. Both dealers will tell you that they have fully inspected and reconditioned the car prior to selling it, so who is telling the truth?

There is only one way to find out, and it’s not popping your head into the service area as CNBC’s expert says:

“If the dealer or seller claims they have inspected the vehicle, ask them where they do that… It’s good to actually see where the technicians are working on the car.”

I’m sorry to say most people probably won’t know what they’re looking at when they go into a service bay.

The best course of action is to have the car independently inspected by someone other than the dealership. Even if a car is a “certified pre-owned” model that supposedly meets a certain reconditioning standard, these inspections can be crucial. Technicians can miss things and some dealers play a little fast and loose with the certification process.

I was working with California client who wanted a BMW wagon, and I located a CPO example with low miles in Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that the car seemed pretty legit on paper, we used a local shop to inspect the car. The owner of the shop found that the car had a brake issue when slowing down from higher speeds. After some back and forth with the dealer, they agreed to replace the brake components prior to the sale.

Of course some dealers are going to put up some resistance on having their car sent out for an inspection, but usually, this is an indication that the dealer doesn’t want to be bothered with the effort and it doesn’t automatically mean the car is problematic. If that happens, there are a number of remote services than can send people to the dealership to provide an inspection and a report.

Don’t Negotiate In Person

I’m still amazed that in 2019 there are people that still insist that you negotiate a car deal like it’s 1999. Your time is valuable, and doing the marathon of back and forth with a dealer on a car deal only to maybe get to your goal is not a good use of your energy.

When it comes to negotiating a used car deal, Yahoo Finance cites a James Goodow , President & Managing Partner at Fennemore Craig, P.C.

According to Goodnow, you should make the first move. “In general, it’s best for you to anchor the parameters of the negotiation by making the first offer,” Goodnow said. “Dealers will generally not want to bid against their own prices, so don’t be afraid to put in an offer at or below the dealer invoice price.”

He also said buyers should be prepared for some back-and-forth before the car dealer reaches his final offer. “It’s nice to think that a dealer will cut to the chase,” Goodnow said. “But the reality is most won’t. It’s too ingrained in the car-buying culture.”

Goodow is an attorney, not a car salesperson or a car buying expert. How you negotiate a legal dispute is a bit different than coming to a price on a car. First of all, there is no “dealer invoice price” on a used car. The invoice is what a dealer will pay the manufacturer on a new car. Some dealers may have acquired that pre-owned car cheap via auction or maybe even “overpaid” a bit for someone’s trade to sweeten the deal for a new purchase. In either case it doesn’t really matter what the dealer paid for it. What matters most is what comparable vehicles are selling for.

Making a low-ball offer on a used car is going to set you up for a world of frustration because I have said it time and again that the margins on pre-owned are tighter today than most people realize. If the dealer thinks you are too far apart, they will often dig their heels in and not even counter-offer. However, if you can find a similar car for sale for a lower price that can be a leverage point.

But the negotiation should not have to happen in person. Use a combination of emails and phone calls to get where you want to be on the price and always get an itemized out the door in writing before you arrive because some dealers are a bit notorious for adding in a bunch of garbage fees. This method allows you to engage in multiple negotiations at once and you can easily kill a conversation with a store that is uncooperative.

All this work can be time-consuming and stressful, which is why outfits like CarMax, Carvana, and Vroom have grown in popularity because they claim to take some of the stress out of it. However, by choosing those avenues, customers might be trading convenience for value, and there is no guarantee that the inventory on their lots is substantially better than anywhere else.

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These Johns Hopkins students are slashing breast cancer biopsy costs

Over 2 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. And while the diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence for women in countries like the United States, in developing countries three times as many women die from the disease.

Breast cancer survival rates range from 80% or over in North America, Sweden and Japan to around 60% in middle-income countries and below 40% in low-income countries, according to data provided the World Health Organization.

And the WHO blames these low survival rates in less developed countries on the lack of early detection programs, which result in a higher proporation of women presenting with late-stage disease. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of adequate diagnostic technologies and treatment facilities, according to the WHO.

A group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduates believe they have found a solution. The four women, none of whom are over 21-years-old, have developed a new, low-cost, disposable core needle biopsy technology for physicians and nurses that could dramatically reduce cost and waste, thereby increasing the availability of screening technologies in emerging markets.

They’ve taken the technology they developed at Johns Hopkins University and created a new startup called Ithemba, which means “hope” in Swahili, to commercialize their device. While the company is still in its early days, the women recently won the undergraduate Lemelson-MIT Student Prize competition, and has received $60,000 in non-dilutive grant funding and a $10,000 prize associated with the Lemelson award.

Students at Johns Hopkins had been working through the problem of developing low-cost diagnostic tools for breast cancer for the past three years, spurred on by Dr. Susan Harvey, the head of Johns Hopkins Section of Breast Imaging.

While Dr. Harvey presented the problem, and several students tried to tackle it, Ithemba’s co-founders — the biomedical engineering undergrads Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Sophia Triantis, and Valerie Zawicki — were the first to bring a solution to market.

Ithemba co-founders Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Valerie Zawicki and Sophia Triantis

The 21-year-old Zawicki, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., has a personal connection to the work the team is doing. When she was just five years old her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the cost of treatment and toll it took on the family forced the family to separate. “My sister moved in with my grandparents,” Zawicki says, while her mother underwent treatment. “When I came to college I was looking for a way to make an impact in the healthcare space and was really inspired by the care my mom received.”

The same is true for Zawicki’s co-founder, Triantis.

“We have an opportunity to  solve problems that really need solving,” says Triantis, a 20-year-old undergraduate. “Breast cancer has affected so many people close to me… It is the most common cancer among women [and] the fact that women in low resource settings do not have the same standard of diagnostic care really inspired me to work on a solution.”

What the four women have made is a version of a core-needled biopsy that has a lower risk of contamination than the reusable devices that are currently on the market and is cheaper than the expensive disposable needles that are the only other option, the founders say.

We’ve designed a novel, disposable portion that attaches to the reusable device and the disposable portion has an ability to trap contaminants that would come back through the needle into the device,” says Triantis. “What we’ve created is a way to trap that and have that full portion be disposable and making the device as easy to clean as possible… with a bleach wipe.”

Ithemba’s low-cost reusable core-needle biopsy device

The company is currently in the process of doing benchtop tests on the device, and will look to file a 510K to be certified as a Class 2 medical device. Already a clinic in South Africa and a hospital in Peru are on board as early customers for the new biopsy tool.

At the heart of the new tool is a mechanism which prevents blood from being drawn back into a needle. The team argues it makes reusable needles much less susceptible to contamination and can replace the disposable needles that are too expensive for many emerging market clinics and hospitals.

Zawicki had been working on the problem for a while when Hinson, Lee, and Triantis joined up. “I joined the team when the problem was presented,” says Zawicki. “The project began with this problem that was pitched three years ago, but the four of us are really those that have brought this to life in terms of a device.”

Crucially for the team, Johns Hopkins was fully supportive of the women taking their intellectual property and owning it themselves. “We received written approval from the tech transfer office to file independently,” says Zawicki. “That is really unique.” 

Coupled with the Lemelson award, Ithemba sees a clear path to ownership of the intellectual property and is filing patents on its device.

Zawicki says that it could be anywhere from three to five years before the device makes it on to the market, but there’s the potential for partnerships with big companies in the biopsy space that could accelerate that time to market.

“Once we get that process solidified and finalize our design we will wrap up our benchtop testing so we can move toward clinical trials by next summer, in 2020,” Zawicki says.

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You Can Stay on These Tropical Islands for Less Than $100 a Night

Illustration for article titled You Can Stay on These Tropical Islands for Less Than $100 a Night

Image: Pexels

Going on a tropical vacation doesn’t have to necessarily cost a bundle.

You can save a ton on a vacation by just choosing the right time to go. Hotels and resorts, especially in tropical climates, often have high prices during peak travel season, but significantly lower rates during the “low season” which can be just as nice weather-wise. In fact, traveling during the low season can sometimes be even better since you’re not fighting with the masses for pool space or a cocktail at the bar.

For instance, last December I went on a vacation right before Christmas in Belize. The weather was amazing, and we were able to afford our own bungalow on the beach as opposed to the crappy hotel room miles from the water, which is what we could afford a few months later. We were able to book last-minute tours, get reservations at the local restaurant, and have an amazing time for half the cost of traveling in March or April (high season there).

If you have a small budget and a beachside vacation in your sights, look up when the off-season is for your dream spot and trying to book then.

When the “low season” is will vary a lot by where you’re going, sometimes even by resort. Outside recently rounded up a list of some tropical islands you can stay on for $100 or less a night, some even not during the low season.

A few ideas to put on your radar:

  • Lanzarote, Spain – $97/night
  • Saint Lucia, Caribbean – $90/night
  • Pahoa, Hawaii – $55/night
  • Koh Mak, Thailand – $37/night
  • Anna Maria Island, Florida -$99/night
  • Isla Holbox, Mexico – $86/night
  • Culebra, Puerto Rico – $80/night

In some cases, the low price comes with some less-than-typical accommodations, like camping on the beach. In others, you’re able to snag that beach bungalow for less than $100 a night.

And if you’re just hoping for a vacation but don’t have a specific place in mind, the site Wander can be a great spot to find a vacation spot that fits your travel budget rather than trying to make your budget match your chosen travel destination.

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Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

It’s no mystery that Sonos speakers are popular. In fact, there’s a good chance if you know somebody with a wireless speaker system, you know somebody with a Sonos system. Getting started with a single Sonos One—complete with Alexa capabilities—will cost you just $200. This got us wondering. Sonos might be the most popular wireless speaker system out there, but is it the best?

Picking the right wireless speaker system is more complicated than chasing sound quality. These little music machines tend to be permanent fixtures in your home, almost like a small piece of furniture, so an attractive design is important, and nobody wants a gadget that’s a nightmare to set up or a system that so hard to use that junior can’t listen to Blink 182 in the living room without broadcasting the noise onto the kitchen speaker.

In theory, paying a premium for the very best wireless speaker system should offer a premium experience. A pair of Sonos One speakers ($400 total) is an affordable way to get started with wireless speakers, but we wondered how much more value you’d get by spending at least twice that much. Does double the dollars mean double the sound? Are more expensive speakers more fun to use? Are they just prettier?

A pair of Sonos One speakers is a very affordable way to get into wireless speaker systems.

A pair of Sonos One speakers is a very affordable way to get into wireless speaker systems.
Photo: Gizmodo

In this Battlemodo, we looked at premium wireless speakers that cost at least $500 for an individual speaker, but we tested them out in pairs, because most people would need two for a full stereo experience in a large-is space. Our contenders include the very Danish-looking Beoplay M5 by Bang and Olufsen ($1,200 for a pair), the bookshelf-friendly KEF LSX ($1,100 for a pair), and well-reviewed Pulse Mini 2i by Bluesound ($1,000 for a pair). Just to keep our reference point, we also included the Sonos Play:5 ($950 for a pair).

With both the casual music fan and the fervent audiophile in mind we looked at three things: How easy are the speakers to set up? How do they look, and more importantly, how do they work in real life? And finally, how do they sound?

Setup

One of the best things about Sonos is that setup is a breeze. You really just download an app, plug in the speaker, tap through some screens, and you’re good to go. From there, you can custom-tune the speakers using a feature called Trueplay, which is also easy. You can also add additional speakers through the app with a few more screen taps. So to see if setting up the competing premium speakers could compare to this breezy experience, we simply set up each pair and took note of the moments when we wanted to throw them out the window.

In general, all of the speakers have a similar setup process. You download an app, connect to the speaker’s temporary wifi network, input your own wifi credentials, and then finish up in the app. The Beoplay M5 and the Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i suffered from some similar app-based frustrations during this seemingly straightforward process. My main complaint was that the apps didn’t do a good job of explaining what was going on during the process. This issue became more pronounced when setting up a second speaker, which took several tries with both the Beoplay and the Bluesound speaker.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

The KEF LSX, by contrast, was a breeze. Rather than a seemingly never-ending series of screens, the LSX Control app gave me a simple six-step process to getting the speakers set up. And much to my delight, this process allowed me to set up both speakers at the same times, and when it was all over, they worked together as one system, whereas the Beoplay and Bluesound speakers needed to be linked and re-linked constantly. The only thing that felt slightly confusing about the KEF speakers was the presence of a second LSX Remote app that I could use to stream music and make surprisingly precise equalizer adjustments. The KEF speakers were the only set that required two apps instead of one, and it wasn’t immediately apparent that one was for setup and one was for control. It wasn’t rocket science, either. Plus, most of the time, I just accessed the speakers through the Spotify app, though, so this wasn’t a big deal.

Then there’s the Sonos setup process. It’s so simple and slick, I couldn’t believe how frustrating the Beoplay and Bluesound processes felt in retrospect. The KEF setup was smooth but still second to Sonos.

Winner: Sonos


Design

In some cases, design can be a subjective thing. If you’re talking about aesthetics, some people might want a speaker that looks like a speaker while others might prefer a speaker that looks like a small fuzzy trashcan. But for the purposes of this battle, we adopted a broader, more objective definition of design that took into account looks as well as the overall user experience. That also included studying how each pair of speakers was designed to work with larger home audio systems.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

The Beoplay M5, I will admit, is one of the most attractive speakers we tested. It’s a sleek column of fabric with an almost invisible base and an innovative aluminum control wheel on the top. You can twist the top to adjust volume and tap to pause. You can also swap out that fabric sleeve for other colors—each one costs $90—and it almost goes without saying that the speaker could become a conversation piece in your home. The Beoplay also features 360-degree sound thanks to a mid-woofer in the front, tweeters on all sides, and subwoofer on the bottom. But if you’re looking for a versatile speaker, this is not the one. The Beoplay M5 works with other Beoplay speakers in their wireless series, but it’s only input is a 3.5-millimeter audio jack.

The Sonos Play:5 and the Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i tell similar stories. These two speakers could actually be cousins in terms of aesthetic appeal. Both sit wide and low, with a big speaker grill on the front that obscures their driver arrays. Both also feature a combination of tweeters and woofers. (The Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i has two tweeters that sit under two woofers, and the Sonos Play:5 has three tweeters that lineup on top of three mid-woofers.) When you turn the speakers around, however, it’s the same story of a single 3.5-millimeter input. The Bluesound speaker does come with an adaptor that lets you plug an optical audio cable into that input, but it’s obvious that these wireless speakers are designed primarily to work with other wireless speakers. I would also like to add that the Sonos Play:5 speakers are very big and heavy at 14 pounds apiece.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

The KEF LSX is the real outlier here. These speakers appear to be remarkably simple on the outside with a single driver on the front and subwoofer output on the rear. However, on the front side you’re actually looking at a proprietary driver array that KEF calls Uni-Q. It’s a tweeter embedded in a woofer that sits in a curved front baffle that’s designed to push as much sound out into the room as possible. When you flip it around, you can also see how easy it is to expand on the LSX system as well, since there’s a regular optical audio port, an input for a subwoofer, as well as the handy 3.5-millimeter auxiliary jack. All this means that in addition to being the most compact of the bunch, the KEF LSX is also the most versatile.

Winner: KEF LSX


Sound Quality

Let’s be honest with ourselves. If you’re thinking about spending $1,000 or more on a pair of wireless speakers, you want them to sound ear-meltingly amazing. With sound so good, you could maybe even get past the crappy app and even the fact that you can’t jerry-rig your old hifi to the things. And I’m pleased to report that all of the speakers in this edition of Battlemodo sound great.

For this test, we tried to even the playing field as much as possible. In addition to a couple weeks of daily testing, we did a head-to-head sound quality test using three different tracks with three unique characteristics. We played “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande, an epic breakup anthem, in order to test the speakers’ sound stage (i.e. how wide and high the sound seemed coming out of the speaker). We tested bass response using “Humble.” by Kendrick Lamar, because it not only has the deep thump but also a more textured, lower-range guitar track. And finally, we sampled the upper end of the range with the guitar plucks on “Friend of the Devil” by The Grateful Dead.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

Again, all of the speakers sounded great. The Sonos Play:5 pair, however, sounded the least great compared to the rest of the pack. This is not to say that they sound bad. This big Sonos speaker sounds very loud and is tuned in an undeniably agreeable manner. However, nothing about the sound quality felt very remarkable in our listening tests. The texture of the bass got lost in muddy mids, and “bright” was not a word that ran through my head when craning to hear the rambunctious riffs on “Friend of the Devil.” (Despite the song’s somewhat dark title, it’s actually very cheerful.)

The Beoplay M5 speakers, however, simply shone when handling treble. I felt a crispness from all sides thanks to the 360-degree design and generally believe that these are great speakers for acoustic music. Despite that big subwoofer underneath, however, I couldn’t feel the bass on Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” like I knew I should. The Bluesound Mini Pulse 2i, meanwhile, didn’t just sound great. The pair sounded excellent, delivering clear audio with a surprisingly huge sound stage. I could walk around to the back of these seemingly one-sided speakers and still feel like Ariana Grande’s voice was wrapping me up in emotion.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

But despite all the positive words about the other speakers, there was one pair that simply blew my mind: the KEF LSX. Though they were one of the smaller sets, the LSX speakers delivered a heart-pounding intensity with thundering bass that managed not to drown out the more subtle mid-range sounds. In terms of treble, I’m pretty sure I heard sounds on “Friend of the Devil” that I’ve never heard before, despite it being one of my all-time favorite songs.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

The KEF LSX speakers were undeniably the pair I kept wanting to go back to, if not just because they sounded amazing but also because they sounded truly superior to every other set.

Winner: KEF LSX


Winner Winner

Having won the sound quality battle (by a mile) as well as the design battle, the KEF LSX wins this Battlemodo. They were even a close runner up in the setup battle. The LSX speakers, however, were not the cheapest speakers we tested. At $1,100, they were the second most expensive. If you’re looking for wireless speakers that can truly compete with an audiophile-quality sound system, though, the KEF LSX are for you.

Illustration for article titled Can Any of These Premium Wireless Speakers Beat Sonos?

Are they better than Sonos is the bigger question. If you’re looking at buying two Sonos One speakers for $400, I can’t in good conscience say you should spend nearly three times that amount for speakers that are about the same size but also amazing-sounding. The Sonos One speakers are simply a good deal at that lower price range. If you are thinking of going for a more expensive system, however, I’d skip the Play:5 pair and spend the extra bucks on the LSX. Your ears will thank you for years to come.

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