What to Look for in a Used Car
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Buying a used vehicle can be a daunting task. You don’t want to end up with a lemon that ends up costing you money every time you drive it, or pay too much for something overpriced. If these things worry you, read on. The information in this article will help you find the best used vehicle possible.
and you have the budget – the best option is a certified pre-owned vehicle from the dealer. In fact, certified used vehicles from the dealer sometimes have a better warranty than purchasing the vehicle new. You also don’t have to suffer the depreciation that goes with purchasing a new vehicle. So, if you’re okay with a ‘slightly used’ vehicle that has a good warranty, certified pre-owned from the dealer is the way to go.
If you don’t have the budget for a certified pre-owned vehicle, you do have other options. However, the risk is much greater. To overcome that risk, I strongly urge you to take any used vehicle you’re considering purchasing to a professional mechanic to inspect it before you make a purchase. Even better, take it to a mechanic that is familiar with the brand of vehicle you’re considering purchasing. They will have inside knowledge of the vehicle and may find things that other mechanics may miss.
Before you commit to a professional inspection, here are a few things you might look for during your initial inspection:
First, do a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle. Does it have dents or other body damage? Is the vehicle clean? If it is, this can indicate pride of ownership. If it’s not clean, it can show just the opposite. If the seller doesn’t take pride in the vehicle’s appearance, it’s often an indication of how they maintained the vehicle mechanically. A vehicle that is poorly maintained will often be plagued with mechanical problems later on.
Look at the tires. Are they new? Are they old? Do they have good tread? Is the tread wear even? If it’s not, it can be an indication of a suspension problem. For me, tires are the most important part of a vehicle. I want a vehicle with the best tires possible. If the vehicle you’re looking to purchase doesn’t have good tires, factor that into its cost when you negotiate the price.
Look under the vehicle for any leaks. If you see puddles of fluid under a vehicle, it’s not a good sign. Check the oil, not just for the level, but also for its color and condition. If it’s clear amber, most likely it’s been freshly changed, though that could be a good or a bad thing. Sometimes used car dealers change oil to cover up a problem. Sometimes they are
just being courteous. Looking for those leaks can give you a clue as to what you might be looking at.
Avoid vehicles that have had a significant collision in the past. In my experience, these vehicles are rarely right after they’ve been fixed. For a small fee, you can often do a vehicle check with the VIN to find out if the vehicle you’re looking at was in an accident that required significant body repair. However, this isn’t always accurate. Those agencies only report what was reported to the insurance company. If the repair was done ‘off the books’, it would not show up on one of those reports.
Here’s a quick DIY check you can do for prior collision damage: look at the sunroof if the vehicle is equipped with one. If you see dents or damage in this area, it’s often an indication the vehicle was in a significant collision. I would avoid that vehicle if you find damage in this area.
After you complete your visual inspection, take the vehicle for a test drive. During the drive, listen for abnormal noises. Keep an eye on the gauges and, in particular, watch the temperature gauge. It should come up to
temperature relatively quickly and not overheat. Make note of any warning lights that may come on during the drive.
The vehicle should drive smooth and straight. It should feel ‘tight’. If it doesn’t, it could be an indication that something is worn out, and should be checked.
Once you’ve parked the vehicle, push every button and activate every system. You want to make sure everything works, and if it doesn’t, you can use that to negotiate a lower price, or ask that the seller to repair the problem, if you’re still interested in the vehicle.
What does it smell like? I know this sounds strange, but if it has a musty smell, it could indicate that the vehicle was in a flood. If that’s the case, you don’t want that vehicle. Sometimes used car dealers will use a lot of air freshener to cover up this smell. So, if the vehicle smells ‘too good’, or overly fragrant, the seller might be trying to cover something up.
Another way to check for a ‘flood vehicle’ is to look up under the dash. If you see silt, very fine dust covering everything, that vehicle was likely in a flood and should be avoided.
If the vehicle passes your initial inspection, make a list of your concerns. Bring that list with you to the place that will perform the final mechanical inspection. This way you can have them look into those issues and let you know what repairs you might be in for if you decide to purchase that vehicle.
You might be asking why pay all this money for something you haven’t purchased yet? The simple answer: I’m always disappointed when someone brings me a vehicle they just purchased and I have to tell them they need an expensive/major repair that will cost as much – if not more than the vehicle they just purchased. In other words, don’t be pennywise and pound foolish here.
I could go on for pages about inspecting a used vehicle, but this should get you started. The main thing to remember is to have the vehicle you’re considering checked out by a professional mechanic before you purchase. That will help ensure years of trouble-free use, and that your money is well spent.