New Year – New Car?
If you have been holding off on purchasing a vehicle, 2022 might be your year!
And, if you’re considering buying a used car, then here are some things that you might need to consider and research before you sign on the bottom line.
On the website, LemonSquad.com, they provide a list of 7 things to watch for in a pre-owned vehicle, whether you’re dealing with a private party or a used car dealership:
- The engine – the most feared and costly of all used car problems. Make sure to get a pre-purchase inspection from a 3rd party repair shop.
- The title – be sure that the title is “clear” for any liens. Also, is it Titled in the same State it will be sold?
- The mileage – check the year and compare it against the mileage to see how the car was driven. 12,000 - 15,000 miles/year is about average, however, if a vehicle is driven lightly, it could be as low as 6,000 miles per year. Though low miles is a good thing, too few of miles may mean that the vehicle has sat for a while and could be more prone to leaks once the vehicle is driven regularly again.
- The history – look at any available maintenance receipts, check for previous accidents, etc. Most sellers won’t lie to you directly, but they won’t offer up information that might keep you from buying; you have to ask the right questions.
- The defects – do your research on recalls, look at make/model reliability scores, etc. You can even search the internet for the most common types of repairs on any particular year, make, model.
- The damage – look inside and out, front to back, over and under. Again, this will be where a trained and certified professional will shine and the pre purchase inspection will be money worth spent!
- The value – seek any and all information on average per year depreciation for the specific make and model. Factor in mileage. Use what you find to negotiate with the seller.
For used cars that are being sold at a dealership, The Federal Trade Commission requires a Buyers Guide be openly posted on every used vehicle. This guide is usually attached to a window and must contain certain information. The most important item to look for is if the car is being sold “as is”. Buyer beware, this guide overrides any information you received from your salesperson or that is written into your sales contract.
If a sale is “as is,” it means that the dealer is making no guarantees as to the condition of the vehicle, so you are on your own should any problem arise after you have purchased the car. In these cases, you’ll not only want to inspect the interior and exterior of the vehicle, you’ll also want to make sure you know what you’re getting under the hood. Consumer Reports offers, “Do your inspection in daylight on a dry day, because floodlights can make cars look shiny and hide body defects. The car should be parked on a level surface and shouldn’t have been driven for at least an hour before your inspection.”
Also note: some states do not allow as-is sales on vehicles selling for more than a certain price. It’s also important to know your rights when it comes to emissions. In some states, it is the sellers responsibility to make sure that the vehicle can pass emissions so that the purchaser can get the vehicle registered properly.
Many inspection points are common sense. Things like a low-mileage car with new tires should send up warning flags since cars usually come with tires that should last at least 20,000 miles. Also, be sure to check that all four tires are the same.
Turn on the ignition switch but do not completely start the engine. Make sure that all the warning lights—including the check-engine light—illuminate for a few seconds and go off when the engine is running. This is called a “bulb check” and is the way that you can see what lights the vehicle has and verify they are not on when driving.
Squeeze the rubber hoses running to the radiator, air conditioner, etc. The rubber should be firm and supple, not hard, cracked, or mushy. This may be best left to the professionals. Make sure never to touch hoses after the vehicle is running as they can be hot!
If the dipstick has water droplets or an oily gray foam, it could indicate a cracked engine block or blown head gasket (indicating that coolant is mixing with the oil). Both are serious issues and should prevent you from your purchase.
Transmission fluid should be pink or red. If it’s brown and smells “burnt” beware.
With the engine running, turn on the heater to see how long it takes to get hot. Switch on the air conditioning and make sure it quickly blows cold air, as well.
Green stains on the outside of the radiator are a sure sign of a leak.
Do a load test on the battery, or check to see if there is a sticker with a date on the battery from when it was installed last. Anything close to 5 years may need attention sooner than later.
Discoloration on the tailpipe should be dry and dark gray. If it’s black and greasy, it means burnt oil could be coming through the engine.
Grab the top of each front tire and try to pull it back and forth. If you feel “play” or hear a clunking sound, the wheel bearings or suspension joints may be failing. This is best done when the tire is suspended and something that a pre purchased inspection should catch.
Walk around the car to see whether it’s sitting level. Push down hard on each corner. If the shock absorbers are in good shape, the car should rebound just once. If the car bounces up and down, there’s a problem.
If the outside shoulder of the front tires show excessive wear, you can assume there has been an aggressive driver at the wheel, or the tires may not have been rotated regularly.
The list goes on and on. For many of us, it’s just a little too much to assume we can make an educated decision without hours and hours of research.
We asked a service professional about his experience and the need for used car inspections. Trent Pickering of Pickering’s Auto Service told us: “A test drive can tell you a lot, if you know what to look for. For those buyers who are not comfortable with their basic auto mechanic knowledge, it’s wise to get a second opinion. Pickering’s offer a used car inspection package at a nominal cost for just this reason. Our experienced, certified auto technicians will go over the car you are considering and let you know the good, the bad and the ugly. This inspection not only includes mechanical review, but also safety and structural inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to not tell you if it’s a good deal or not – it’s to make you a more informed, confident buyer.”
“A dealer shouldn’t have a problem letting you take the used car you’re seriously considering to get inspected. Your salesperson may tell you that an independent inspection has already been performed; insist on having YOUR mechanic inspect it, as well. A savvy private seller may be reluctant to just let you take the car for inspection, suggest that you follow them to your shop of choice so that an inspection can be performed.”
Even LemonSquard.com says: “Don’t take the word of a used car seller at face value. Get a pre-purchase auto inspection to determine if the car you’re interested in is worth your time and money.”