One man’s trash is another person’s treasure, says the old idiom. In some cases, sadly, what you thought was a very affordable treasure could in fact be a piece of garbage. In the used cars’ industry, this happens a lot, especially when you do not know what to verify before handing over your check to the owner of the vehicle.
Today, we will not be able to transform you into an automotive specialist. We will not protect you from all possible problems that your future car could have. However, after reading this article, you will have a better idea on how to avoid getting ripped off while trying to buy a reliable used car.
Read online reports on the vehicle you will buy
Instead of trusting the advices of your friends or your dad – which supposedly knows a lot about cars and is a huge fan of Ford, the best thing to do is to find a website that gives evaluations on most of the common used cars that are currently on the market. CarComplaints.com, for example, is a great source that lists most of North American and Japanese brands of vehicles, as well as a few European constructors such as BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen. It might give you pointers on potential problems that you will want to discuss with the seller, or simply scare you away from the lemon you were going to buy.
Carefully verify the paint job of the car
Ask the previous owner if he has had any accident with the vehicle (or if other owners did). Then, circle around the car and try to spot any unusual rust spots, dents or scratches on the body. Different shades of paint could mean that a collision occurred and that the car was previously damaged. These vehicles can rarely be trusted.
Open the hood and have a look
Rust under the hood is another indication that the car is getting very old and that some parts could eventually break. Most importantly, rust is a strong sign that the owner did not properly take care of his car – this means trouble for you in the future. Also have a look at the hoses and belts: they should not have cracks.
Verifying the fluids is important. Brake fluid should be slightly yellowish or clear; the darker it is, the higher are the chances that you will need to bleed the brakes. The coolant should be clear, the transmission fluid is normally red or purplish and the oil level should be sufficient.
Question the mileage of the car
A very old car with little mileage can mean two things:
1) One of the owners was a priest and didn’t use the car so much (which is pretty rare).
2) The mileage was modified in order to artificially boost the value of the car (which is the most possible option).
If the mileage was trafficked, do run away from this lemon!
See if the timing belt has been replaced
Replacing a timing belt is one of the most important repairs that one can do on a vehicle. If the timing belt is not changed from time to time (after 60k to 100k miles), the engine will break up and you will be doomed to buy another car. By checking the car’s service history, you will know what kind of maintenance and repairs were done.
Test drive the car before the transaction takes place
Absolutely no reason should prevent you from driving the vehicle BEFORE buying it. Even if used car dealerships will gladly offer you this service, private sellers should be doing the same thing too. This will help you spot potential problems that you wouldn’t have found otherwise and you will also get a general feeling of how you like the car. It is possible that a great car will not suit you well because its acceleration is disappointing, for example!
If possible, bring a friend or a member of your family that knows a lot about vehicles.
Have a checklist with you
This might sound a bit weird, especially since the seller will not be expecting this, but have a checklist to help you spot the possible problems. Checking the air conditioning should definitely be written on the list, as well as checking if the CD reader and the radio work well. You should verify if you can open the trunk and the gas panel from the switches that are inside the vehicle – sometimes, used cars’ switches won’t work and you’ll have to open them manually, a hassle that can help you negotiate the price a bit.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Alpha