Now, I’ve often heard the phrase “No one trades in a good car”, or “No one gets rid of a good car”. That may be partially true, but there are definitely things you can look for when you’re in the market for a used vehicle to save yourself money, and get a good quality vehicle. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, there are far more junk used cars out there for sale then there are decent ones. More times than not, you’ll end up driving away in a car you just purchased, and there will be something wrong with it. Even worse, there could be something big wrong with it.
A bad transmission, a leaky engine, bald tires and lousy brakes are the most common things that you’ll be buying along with a used car. There are some things to look out for and to check when you look over a vehicle you are considering purchasing.
First, and this is a big one, ALWAYS take the vehicle on a test drive. This will give you the best idea on how the suspension rides, how the transmission shifts, how the brakes work and an overall feel of the car or truck. If you can, be sure to drive it on regular streets and also the highway. Get it up to speed and see how it feels to you. Usually an unsafe vehicle will present itself at highway speeds. Take some bumps in the road too, and make sure you’re not buying a rattle trap either.
Next, you should always check ALL of the fluid levels and quality. Most times, someone selling a car will have just changed the oil so it looks nice and is right on the line on the dipstick. Check the transmission fluid. It should be red in color and not smell burned. If it does, run away! Unless you plan on putting a new transmission in, that is. Check the power steering fluid, the brake fluid, the coolant, and even the washer fluid. Someone that keeps their car up, will usually have a full washer jug. If it looks like it’s been dry for ages, that is a hint that they don’t maintain their car very well.
Another thing to check is maintenance records. Any reputable seller will want to show that they’ve maintained the car properly. Look for oil change receipts, tire rotations, and regular interval maintenance. Take a look at the oil change sticker on the windshield if they have one. Is it overdue for an oil change? Long overdue? That again is a hint to run away.
Always check the function of every available switch, knob, and lever. Check all the lights for proper operation, check the power windows, the radio, the dash lights, the cigarette lighter or power outlet, the trunk release, the hood release, all the doors, all the locks, and even make sure all the keys work the same and if they have remotes, check those too!
A big deal killer is accident damage. The average person might not notice anything wrong with a car that has been repaired from a major crash, but here are some things to look for. Frame damage. Does the frame look bent anywhere that it shouldn’t be? Does the car drive straight? Look for damage to the subframe of front wheel drive vehicles as well. Make sure body panels fit nice and the body lines are correct and line up properly. Do the doors close funny? Was there a big wind leak when you test drove the car? These are signs that it has been wrecked. Also, check the paint. Make sure it matches from body panel to body panel. Most cars have a lot of plastic panels these days, but a magnet is a good way to find filler on steel body parts.
Lastly, go with your gut feeling. If the seller seems honest enough and you like the car, and everything listed here checks out ok, then you are probably on your way to buying a decent vehicle. If you just don’t feel right about something, walk away. There’s no harm in telling someone no thanks. There are decent cars out there, you just have to look for them!
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