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Lease vs buy, premium vs regular? Answers to your car questions

Even if you can afford this electric BMW, you probably have some basic questions about cars and driving.  We've got some answers.
Even if you can afford this electric BMW, you probably have some basic questions about cars and driving. We've got some answers.
Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

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One problem with being an auto critic - almost everyone you meet has a question.  This week our car critic, Susan Carpenter answers some of the most frequently asked:

I want a new car.  Should I lease or buy?

You're going to want to talk to your accountant.  But, if you are someone who likes the latest thing, a lease might be the way to go.  Especially since cars are becoming more like iPhones, with new technology displacing the old, and making last year's model seem dated.  Also, if you are considering an electric car, a lease could be smart, since the technology is developing quickly, and this year's top dog might soon be last year's has-been.  If, on the other hand, you are the type that becomes devoted to your car, and drive it for years, a lease would be unwise.

If I do lease, should I put a lot of money down, to decrease the monthly payment?

Most financial types recommend against this.  You could be on the hook, if shortly after you drive off the lot, you run into a bus, or your car is stolen.  In most cases, you should first negotiate the best price, and then negotiate a lease that requires the lowest down payment you can get.

What's the difference between a "certified pre-owned vehicle" and a used car?

Well, pre-owned sounds a little better than used, right?  Usually a certified used car has undergone an inspection, and will come with a warranty of some kind.  But check the fine print, because these cars will sell at a premium.  If you have a good mechanic, you might do better having him check out a used car you've found on the private market.

I found a used car I love.  But then I found out it has a salvage title.  What is that, and should I still buy it?

A salvage title is issued when a car that has been "totaled" by an insurance company sells the vehicle.  In most cases, it's best to steer clear of such cars, even if they look like they've been well-repaired.  It can be difficult to insure cars with salvage titles, and difficult to sell them, too. However, if it's a car you've always wanted, you trust the person who repaired it, and plan to drive it for a long time, it might make sense.  But remember, even though you may be saving a lot of money, you are taking a big risk.

Will my car run better on premium gasoline, or is it just a waste of money.

Some car manufacturers specify higher octane premium fuel, which can prevent problems in high compression engines.  If your make and model doesn't call for using premium gas, it will just empty your wallet faster.  Your car won't run any better.

What is a turbocharger, and why do so many cars have them nowadays?

Essentially, a turbocharger is a fan that forces air into the engine's combustion chambers.  It's powered by the exhaust from the engine, and the increase in air (and oxygen) means that the engine can burn fuel faster and more completely.  They were once the exclusive domain of race car engines, but in their effort to provide more efficient engines, many car makers have incorporated turbochargers into the mainstream offerings. The net effect is that a four cylinder engine with a turbocharger can produce as much power as a "naturally aspirated" six or eight cylinder.

Susan Carpenter is auto and motorcycle critic for the OC Register, and appears on Take Two every Thursday on The Wheel Thing.