With the high price of new cars, it comes as no surprise that used vehicles can cost enough to cause sticker shock every bit as severe as their newer cousins. Yet you, as a buyer, have a few more protections when you purchase new that you don’t always have when you buy a used car. To survive the experience and insure that the used car you buy is worth your time and money, you need to give that vehicle a strong inspection before you ever agree on a price.
Obviously, if you have a mechanic you trust and admire, it may be well worth your time to ask to have this mechanic check out the vehicle before you buy it. Yet this may not always be possible; garages often have appointments booked solid and it can be difficult to pull a mechanic from his job to have him or her inspect your purchase at a dealer or in someone’s driveway. Few sellers are willing to wait for three weeks or more to give you time to get their car checked out and you may lose any deposit you place if you wait so long another buyer steps in.
Sometimes, you will have to step up to the plate and do the best job you can to assess the used vehicle to determine if it’s worth the price asked and if it’s suitable for the kind of transportation needs you have. While you may not be a professional mechanic, there are a number of aspects of vehicle quality you can assess on your own even without expert knowledge.
First, before you even go to check out a used car advertised for sale, do your homework. Let’s say you call about an ad for a mint condition 2000 Toyota Camry and make an appointment to see it the next day. If you happen to know someone who owns a Camry, call that person to pick his or her brain about any problems experienced with that make and model of car. Next, call your regular mechanic and ask the same question. Jot down notes to take with you the next day. You can extend your research by going online and using a Web search engine to try to find out more information about that type of vehicle.
When you arrive to see the advertised car, ask questions and inspect the car with a mind toward the kind of details you uncovered from your research. For example, if you hear that several of these vehicles begin to burn serious amounts of oil after 50,000 miles, you want to start the car and see whether there is black, oily exhaust which can signal an expensive engine repair in your future.
Ask to see the vehicle on as level a surface as possible. This is important, because you can spot a problem with suspension that may leave one or more quarters of the vehicle riding lower to the road than others. You can also sometimes spot frame damage to indicate the vehicle has been in at least one serious collision.
Also ask to see the vehicle manual and the car’s maintenance record. While you’re at it, ask who does the servicing on the vehicle; you may want to give that garage or mechanic a call to see if you can determine how well it’s been cared for in the past. Of course, not everyone is going to give you a full service history but you may get enough clues about problems to make you look for a different used car.
You should also:
– inspect the vehicle for signs of rust or damage
– look underneath the vehicle as well as at the obvious body
– pay close attention when you start the vehicle; look for dashboard warning lights that remain on and ask about them
– check the exhaust as you start the car
– take a test drive that involves turning, shifting gears, braking multiple times, a steep ascent to see how well the car handles, and a dirt road or other challenging road surface
– listen for brake noise, engine knocking, pinging, or anything else that seems not quite right
– try all the lights to be sure they work
– have the engine running at least once when you check beneath the hood
– under the hood, look at the overall condition of the engine (a clean engine is more than just aesthetically pleasing; it may also indicate good vehicle care) as well as for loose or broken hoses, belts, and fixtures
Don’t forget to:
– look beneath cushions and mats to be sure they aren’t positioned to hide something
– check operation of windows, doors, and other devices
– ask about operating costs, including average mileage and oil consumption
Also, never feel pushed to make a deal. If someone is really trying to force you to agree to buy immediately, before you can get the car professionally inspected or give it a thorough inspection yourself, there may be a reason.