Everyone needs a car from time to time.

And while automakers would, quite naturally, prefer you opt for the new car side of the showroom, the used car market remains a key part of the overall industry.

So how do you go about getting the best possible deal when it's time to replace the vehicle in your driveway?

While talking to a used car salesman revealed some surprises, it also underscored just how much the "plaid jacket" industry has changed in a relatively short time.

Key to those changes is the Internet itself, says our expert source, a dealer for one of the Detroit 3 who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"People in the market today have so much more information available to them," he says. "From any number of vehicle search sites, they can determine what's the best price for the vehicle they're looking for. The market will price what that vehicle is worth."

While the price of a new vehicle is limited at the top end by local legislation (hence, the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price), there are few rules when it comes to used cars.

"We can buy for as little and sell for as much as we can," said the dealer.

But the buyer, with all the information available, is more in control today than ever before.

"You can price any vehicle and get a pretty good idea of what a particular vehicle should sell for," he noted.

Yet price shouldn't be the only consideration.

When it comes to warranties, for example, not all are created equal.

Our industry expert, while possibly biased given that he's a dealer, made the point that a manufacturer's warranty carries with it a certain amount of strength.

"It's the best type of warranty to buy," he argued. "Especially if you're traveling and you run into trouble. The question you will want to ask is how difficult it's going to be to get a third party warranty honored; with the manufacturer's warranty, it's good at any dealer nationwide."

A smart consumer will want to determine if a manufacturer's warranty exists and if it's transferable to the new owner.

A second point is the mileage of the vehicle in relation to its sticker price.

"This is especially important when you are buying on price," the used car expert said. "When a vehicle is priced lower than the average of other cars on a consumer's list, it's often the mileage that's the difference. And that difference stands out when it comes to maintenance issues."

Our salesman offered an example. "Cars that are coming off lease are a potential point of concern, notably because they may not have had a lot of the more expensive maintenance tasks done -- like the replacement of timing belts -- when people know they're going to turn the car in," he said.

That isn't to say that lease returns are a no-no.

"You just have to be careful," our expert said. "Make sure the vehicle is properly inspected; it's why we're careful with our own trade-ins. We drive them and go over them carefully, including looking for service stickers that will give us an idea of how well the vehicle was looked after."

Are there hidden bargains to consider when looking for a used car?

Our expert, a North American-based producer, says perceptions of better quality from the world of imports do not always stand up under scrutiny.

"People should look for independent studies when making brand comparisons. I think they'd be surprised by how much more they can get in terms of features and options, with equal reliability and for a lot less money."

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