Ok, the time has come for you to get a new car but you simply cannot pony out the dough for that Corvette ZR1 you saw in the showroom. But you need something to get you to work next week and pickings are slim. Here are some tips to help you avoid a mechanically unsound previously loved vehicle.

  1. Don’t be rude, but don’t be naïve. Not everyone selling a used car is trying to scam you. Some people are just trying to make sure their old member of the family goes to someone that isn’t going to use it as a getaway car in a bank robbery. But… there are people out there trying to sell cars that dealerships wouldn’t touch because of one reason or another.
  2. Be Prepared! Don’t shop for a used car like you do for gum at a supermarket. This shouldn’t be an afterthought, but something that you research and come prepared for.
    1. Use your phone! Your Smartphone can be used to check the vehicles history or look up the cost of repairs that are needed. If you are one of the last people in Florida that doesn’t have a Smartphone, your flip phone can still be useful. You can call up your mechanic or auto parts store to find out how much a needed part or repair costs. Most importantly, your phone can be used as a calculator! If you are making payment arrangements make sure the numbers add up.
    2. Bring a friend! If you don’t have any shade tree mechanic friends, then bring a friend that is observant and talkative. Having anyone else with you will help catch things that you may miss and you don’t want to bring someone that will say “oh yeah, I thought that looked weird,” when you break down on the side of the road on the way home.
    3. Have time in your schedule cleared. This is going to take some time. If you feel rushed you will miss something crucial and but you will have plenty of time to kick yourself while waiting for the tow truck.
    4. Bring a magnet. It may sound quirky, but you can identify some repair work that was done with plastic body filler or fiberglass. It could be cosmetic repair or it could be the repair that put the car back on the road after a serious accident.
    5. Research the cost of the car or truck you are going to look at. If there is a huge difference in prices you may need to do more research to find out why the one you are looking at is so darn cheap or if it’s the limited edition signed by Johnny Cash that is making it cost twice as much as anything else you are seeing.

Before You Start the Car

  1. Check the ground! Look under the car, note any wet areas under it. This includes the back of the car and around the wheels, not just under the engine compartment. You are not only looking for oil leaks, but also rusty water. It is advisable to look at a car on the spot it has sat for a while.
  2. Open the hood. Look for any cracked belts or hoses and leaks. Be suspicious of a very clean engine! This can indicate someone trying to hide a leak… or someone that just wants their car to look good enough to buy. That is why it is best to look at a car that has sat for a bit; gives chances for the leaks to show themselves.
  3. Check for frame damage. Looking up reports online help but sometimes you don’t need that to spot some damage. Uneven tire ware can be an indicator of frame damage. Most body shops will give free inspections to determine if you have a bent frame or not. If you do this usually “totals” a vehicle, which means it cost more to fix than the car is worth.
  4. Ask for the repair history. This shows how well the owner took care of the vehicle as well as when you may need to get your next tune up.
  5. Ask questions! Don’t be shy, if you have any questions now is the time to ask the owner.
  6. Go for a test drive. You don’t have to go for an hour long drive through an obstacle course, but do a complete check while driving.
    1. Make both right and left turns from the stop and while moving
    2. Use the brakes
    3. Use the turn signals
    4. Make sure the car shifts well, even if it is automatic, shift the gears and make sure there is no grinding or anything unusual that would signify a costly transmission repair
    5. Get the vehicle up to a good speed, preferably the highway. Sometimes issues don’t present themselves until you’re going a certain speed.
    6. When you park the vehicle let it run for a minute or two. If you hear or smell anything unusual find out what it is.
  7. Before you sign the paperwork, take the vehicle to your mechanic (this can be part of your test drive). Tell them that you plan on buying the car and let them know all you have found out about the cars history and anything discovered during the inspection and test drive.
  8. Negotiate! Don’t be timid to offer a lower price than the one asked. If you have ever sold a car before you know that there is a difference between what you are hoping to get and what you are willing to take. If your offer isn’t accepted and that is all you are willing to pay, let them know that. They may contact you later if there are no other buyers and it may also be good to check back in a week if you haven’t already found another car to buy that you like.

Buying a car can be a great experience. It sometimes is a more affordable option especially if you are just looking for a second car for the family. But no matter what you find, make sure you let a professional take a look, we like to help and want to make sure you get a good deal. If you go in prepared, and use all your resources, you are more likely to get something you will be happy with for many years to come.