Buying a used car?

Getting started.

It can be fun buying a used car for yourself, your family or for someone else........ if you know how to come out on top! To buy successfully requires one vital element that I will mention first.

You must keep emotions out of the equation!

  • If you buy emotionally you will get burned!

Just how do you find the right car at a great price every time and not get caught with a lemon or pay too much? Well, if you read this hub and the other one that is linked you will have the information you need to make your job as a used car buyer a lot easier with a lot less risk and saving a lot of time and money.

Which car is the best to buy?

There are thousands of cars for sale at any time, but you only want to buy one car. The one that suits you or whoever you are buying for. The best car that you can buy for the best price possible, that fits your budget is the only car you need to find, and in most cases you will find it.

If you see a car that is perfect for you, just remember this advice before paring with your money:

As a buyer I see as many suitable cars each time I look. No car is a once in a lifetime bargain. Bargains happen all the time, your job is to learn enough to recognise what a bargain is. It is a matter of seeing how much value you can get for your dollar, and you will often be able to buy exactly what you want right down to the upholstery and trim, so don't settle for less than you need or want to any great degree when buying a used car, as there are a lot of choices.

Before you begin your buying you get to have some fun establishing exactly what you want, right down to the colors you prefer, the type of drive train,(auto or manual stick shift) the body type.

If you wish to know which company now owns your make and provides the spares, look here for a current list of who owns who in the motor trade.

This is common sense I know, but with so many cars to choose from you may as well look for one with the lot, after all it may be the same price as one with no luxury fittings at all. You need to consider the difference in value that can be gained by buying the luxury model. Don't be frightened off by horror stories about these extras breaking down. Providing the services have been completed on time you will find most of the luxury models are well built and long lasting if cared for by a competent dealership.

Most amateur used car buyers don't give enough thought to the many factors involved before they start looking at buying a car. This wastes a lot of time looking at less suitable cars to buy, and taking risks.

When buying, one needs to remain focused on quality and value for money, and that means being aware of what you may want to pay for or what to leave off your list, as well as learning to observe small things that may lead to big expensive repairs.

  • List the things that are essentials first, such as price range, number of seats, body style that will allow you to eliminate a whole bunch of wrong decisions, as most of your needs when you are buying a car are limited by size and price considerations too.

Here are some primary decisions that will narrow the field for you.

Seat belts and child restraint anchor points.

Safety first.

Seat belts are anchored with bolts to re-enforced mounting points on the body of the car. These mounting points are crucial to passenger safety, and must be very strong.

Warning!

Any sign of structural rust or even surface rust at these anchor points and you may have a completely useless car. Check it out especially if you see signs of water leakage in the carpet or rubber floor covering. Check seat belts to ensure they are not frayed or damaged in any way, and that they retract properly.

If buying a modified vehicle check to see the seat belts are strongly mounted, and if in doubt check with your mechanic.

Does the vehicle have the extra child seat anchor points? This is crucial if you ever transport little children who require a child seat by law.

A seriously modified Holden.

No air bags in this one! More of an art form than a car, the early Australian Holden lent itself to many modifications.
No air bags in this one! More of an art form than a car, the early Australian Holden lent itself to many modifications.

Air bags

This vehicle is fitted with airbags. The young lady is well equipped as well.
This vehicle is fitted with airbags. The young lady is well equipped as well.

Air-bags.

As a safety device airbags have made a lot of difference to the road toll, and providing they are working correctly they save lives. There have been some accidents where air bags have hurt children, so some research is needed to ensure the model you have chosen has a good report on it's airbag deployment.

How many airbags can you afford is the next question.

If your idea of a road car is a modified car, like the Holden in the picture opposite you will not get airbags as part of the package. Air-bags are designed and crash tested in the car. Not something you can do with a one off car, or fit later as an after-market accessory!

Buying older cars with airbags can be a trap too if you get it wrong. Often the air bags are not working and have the warning light bypassed, and connected to the oil light or alternator warning light power supply.This is a common practice amongst wide boys and bottom feeders at the lower end of the used car food chain.

This can be hard to detect, as the air-bag light goes out as normal after you start the engine.

This is one of many reasons why a good and complete service history is essential.

Some later model cars have almost a dozen airbags.

If you can afford to get a car with air-bags the more air bags the dearer and later model the car will be, so this is a big cost versus safety consideration.

If you can only afford a used car with driver only or driver and passenger single air-bags you need to ensure that the model has a good safety record and is structurally sound.

From hubber mystere in comments.

"If the seats are equipped with side airbags, NEVER COVER THE SEATS WITH A FULL SEATCOVER! It is dangerous, and can lead to serious injuries. Some auto parts stores sell seat vests, which leave the sides of the seats exposed so that the seat airbags will deploy properly in the event of an accident. There are seat covers designed for cars with airbags in the seats; if you buy a used car in the United States from the model year of approximately 2002 and later, be very cautious if the seat has a cover. If it's a seat vest, the seat airbags should have no problem deploying in a serious accident."

Thank you Mystere!

I have written about air bag deployment in another motoring article published here, but the point to make is people often hide the fact that air-bags are missing or not functional.

A dishonest seller or their mechanic can "doctor" the air bag warning light. Be careful, read about if fully.

Avoid buying any vehicle that has had an accident unless there is a receipt for air-bag replacement and a detailed list of what components went in to the repair. Even if repaired properly, a car that has had the air-bags activated and replaced need to be much cheaper if of any interest at all, as the impact from such an accident may have damaged other parts of the car that will lead to break downs later on, and may be difficult to diagnose.


auto air conditioning compressor

These units die, and they cost a lot to replace.
These units die, and they cost a lot to replace.

Air-conditioning and heating.

This can be a bit tricky to get right, but is another way of establishing if the car you are looking at has been cared for properly. I always buy cars with air-conditioning as a personal choice.

In my climate I need one. Having four seasons I use the air-conditioner summer and winter, either to dry the air in the car to de-fog the windows instantly in winter or to cool off during our hot summer days and nights.

Air-conditioning is a very good thing to have, but if you are buying an older cheaper car, try to stay away from the "Climate control" type of air-conditioning. It is more complex and so more likely to fail with age. It can also be very expensive to repair.

If the problem is electrical and you can trace a circuit and use a multi meter you may like to take on repairs yourself though (and deduct the cost off the buy price of course!)

If climate control does not get very hot when set on high, leave the car there. The heater core will be partially blocked, and you don't even wanna know where that baby lives! Far too big a job.You will have to pull half the inside of your car apart to fix it. Avoid buying the car altogether.

If air-conditioning is not very cold it may need a recharge.

Note. More likely it needs something expensive like a new compressor!

.. and here's why. Keeping the air conditioner in good condition is just a part of good servicing. This vehicle has likely not been serviced properly. Unless I had a very good reason to buy a particular car, I would not buy any car without air-conditioning that worked really well and was regularly recharged. For a novice buyer see it as a red light that points to more expensive repairs.

You see, it is another indication that the car has been badly maintained, so other problems are sure to develop in places that may cost you a major repair. This is not always true, but you do not know, so why take a chance? There is another car for sale, this is not the worlds last car!

Leave it there .......... just remember to ask about the air-conditioner on the phone next time before you drive out to view it. The seller isn't fussy enough for me if he is vague about such detail.

I always assume it is the compressor when the air is not chilly from the unit, so again if you are a fair mechanic, deduct the price of a new compressor and belt including your time for replacing the compressor or have the owner repair it at his risk.

Sellers often say "It just needs recharging" when in fact if that were the case why have they not had it done themselves? Surely it would make the car easier to sell?

Any explanations as to why a car has something not working that is an easy cheap fix are probably untrue. Why would the seller not make the repair before selling the car if it is any easy fix?

Air conditioner compressors do not like to be left standing for any amount of time, so if a car has been sitting for some time always cost in a changeover or new air-conditioner compressor.

The reason for air conditioners not functioning is often to do with the seal in the compressor which leaks if left standing for a few months.

The compressor will develop a leak if it is not used in the winter or for extended time.

Remember to ask when it was last recharged.

Repairing a heater

Are you sure you want to do this yourself?
Are you sure you want to do this yourself?

Heating and a cars engine cooling systems.

Heaters get their warmth from your engines cooling system.

If the heater does not get hot enough, It is likely to be partially blocked, and as it forms a part of your engine's cooling system and operates by taking heat away from that system to warm the car, the rest of the cooling system may be partly blocked too, not allowing the engine to run cool in heavy traffic especially at idle. Very expensive to fix properly, and very likely that corrosion has already started inside the car engine block and it will soon begin to leak near the top where the cylinder head meets the block.

The motor will then self destruct if you miss seeing the engine temperature gauge or warning light and keep driving!

No joke! An engine that has been overheated will be down on performance and at least partly worn out in no time. It is to do with what happens to the metal, and although a bit complex to relate here, for the partly informed, it softens the bore, damages the piston or compression and oil rings making them lose tension just for starters. The damage is so pronounced I can pick a motor that has been overheated just by driving the car a few hundred feet in many cases. The lack of power caused by compression loss is noticeable even in V8s.

Remember, the heater in a car is part of the engine cooling system. A partially blocked heater is a sure sign that the rest of the cooling system has not been serviced properly. This could lead to a complete engine failure costing thousands of dollars.

It is also a sign that you or your mechanic are going to need to dismantle a lot of your car's interior just to fix the heater problem even if that is the only problem!

My advice? leave it there!

Honda Fit or Jazz boot space.

5 seats, 1.3 or 1.5 litre motor and bags of boot space in a small package.
5 seats, 1.3 or 1.5 litre motor and bags of boot space in a small package.

Seating and luggage space.

Even small cars these days will seat up to 5 people including the driver as well as luggage, so if you only carry more than one passenger sometimes, or up to 4 people for short distances try to avoid buying a big car.

It is true that bigger cars generally have more room inside to stretch out on a long trip, softer suspension in many cases and a consequentially better ride, so if you are going to be doing lots of long trips, consider buying a large car. Some of the V6's are big enough, so if you can stay with a V6 that is better than having to go to a V8.

Having said that, the newer all alloy Ford V8 and even the early Lexus are both pretty economical, especially if converted to run on LPG. Both motors can be run on LPG with a conversion kit.

My baby Alfa Romeo Veloce.

My 1968 1750 GT Veloce with soft sunroof. Body by Bertone.Top speed 125mph after I modified the cylinder head. 118mph standard when new. 29 mpg.
My 1968 1750 GT Veloce with soft sunroof. Body by Bertone.Top speed 125mph after I modified the cylinder head. 118mph standard when new. 29 mpg.

Engine size.

Try to keep engine size as small as you can for the job your car will be doing. If you live on a steep hill and carry a lot of weight in your car you will need a bigger motor than if you live in or drive mostly in a flat area. Many of the small V6 engines do a fair job.

Just realise that the smaller motor will work harder and so will it's lightweight transmission, so think about how steep the terrain is and how much load you carry, then get the right sized power train for the job.

I like high tech 4 cylinder motors for their ease of repair and strong performance. Most modern 4 cylinder motors with VTEC go really well.

Other than VTEC motors the Alfa Romeo 1750 is one of my favourite motors.When the Alfa went out to 2 litres it was more powerful, but not as usable and although I owned both I preferred the 1750. I did do some cylinder head work on it and reduced it's unsprung weight, but that sort of talk is for another hub.

Australian Ford GT

My first expensive used car

I bought this rare iridescent silver coloured 220 SEB when it was still quite new with 31,000 miles on it. I could have bought 2 cheaper cars of the same year for what I spent buying this!
I bought this rare iridescent silver coloured 220 SEB when it was still quite new with 31,000 miles on it. I could have bought 2 cheaper cars of the same year for what I spent buying this!

Colour.

Colour is very much a personal choice, but understand some colours will be dearer than others but not always better.Really bright colours do tend to fade

Any colour that is iridescent may require a complete car re-paint to match the colour on one panel that is damaged. The Mercedes Benz (below right) required a complete body respray when a truck tyre damaged a front fender!


Guidelines.


  • Repainted cars need repainting again in just a few years. A lot less durable than the factory paint job.
  • I have found white cars are the easiest to repair and match.
  • Bright coloured paint will oxidise faster and lose some lustre more quickly than others.
  • Bright red fades more easily than most other bright colours as it has masses of pigmentation.
  • Black, grey and silver cars can be hard to see in all road conditions and if you decide you must have one, leave your parking lights on all the time so others can see you is my advice.
  • Light coloured cars are better seen and involved in less accidents, as agvulpes pointed out in the comments. Thanks agvulpes.

Daewoo M100 M200 or Chevrolet Aveo

Economy and seats for 5.
Economy and seats for 5.

petrol consumption.

If fuel consumption is an issue and you need a medium sized car, look for a car with VTEC.

Iif you can find a model you like amongst the many cars using variable valve and ignition timing technology. quality engine management means more horsepower and better fuel efficiency.

Turbo-charging is becoming popular but unless you have a degree in automotive engineering stay clear of used turbo cars! Not an easy thing to buy safely second-hand.

You could find yourself with turbo related problems that are very expensive to fix. Turbo motors if driven hard can produce more horsepower, but at the expense of excessive engine wear at low mileage. You always pay for using horsepower, and not only in fuel.

Servicing.

Don't buy something that is hard to service, like some of the European cars that have weird expensive transmissions that break down, or cam belts that are buried in the motor and need constant replacement at great expense.

If you want to buy a European car, leave a comment and I will give you some tips on what to avoid. Personally I have owned many great European cars, just don't buy the wrong make or model!

Beating the other used car buyers to the best cars.

There are many ways to be the first one to see a car that is advertised, but although these early bird gets the worm methods can work when you have got all your skills together, I know that many cars take months to sell, simply because the ad was not good enough in some way, leaving you the chance to offer less than you would have to if the car was advertised the same day you look at it. Take your time, there is always a better one just around the corner.

Now you know exactly which car you want and the things to avoid listed above, you can go to my hub How to save thousands buying a used car. If you follow my advice there you will be doing what I do to buy cars, and I do save thousands every time I am asked to buy cars for friends and family.

More by this Author


Comments 35 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for your great information. Yes, I believe in buying second-hand car but demonstration cars which are 3 or 4 months old. It drops by £2000. Not bad.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Hello hello, I agree demonstrators are a good buy, especially amongst the more expensive makes.


mtsi1098 6 years ago

this is a great checklist for buying used cars...thanks


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you mts1098. I will be adding to it over the next few days.


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

earnestshub, once again you are offering good advise to the car buying public. An interesting fact that I uncovered is that light colored cars such as yellow and white appear to be in less accidents than darker colored cars. A point that buyers should perhaps consider !


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you agvulpes. I agree about the colours. This is certainly worth consideration.


entertianmentplus profile image

entertianmentplus 6 years ago from United States

Great advice I a getting ready to start shopping for one.


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Great step guide Earnest


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you for reading entertianmentplus. Don't miss my car buying hub, it has a lot of buying tips.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you billyaustindillon. I really appreciate your positive comment.


Research Analyst profile image

Research Analyst 6 years ago

I see a lot of cars for sale lately, and really good deals on Craigslist.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Research Analyst, when I buy professionally there are plenty of bargains. I could buy 100 cars a week if I needed to.

I only ever buy cars for sale by private sellers. I know what I am doing, so I get to keep the profit. It is usually over a thousand dollars, and often a lot more.


nick247 profile image

nick247 6 years ago from United Kingdom

This is a pretty damn good list for buying a car full stop, not just a used car. Do you think used cars are better buys? Less depreciation risk, but possibly higher servicing costs?


valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

I can definitely use this one next time i go car shopping. Thanks for the tips.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Hi nick247, thanks! I'm glad you find it useful. The balance between depreciation and servicing is an interesting one alright! This is where expertise comes in with knowing how long the consumables will last on the used car purchased.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks valeriebelew, I do like to be in a position to give real advice on the subject of buying cars.

I am off to buy a car today for a friend. We are looking at an early model BMW 5 series. I have knocked 3k off the price, and it is one owner in deep blue. It is immaculate even though it is 10 years old.


oliversmum profile image

oliversmum 6 years ago from australia

earnestshub. Hi. This is a great hub On Buying A Used Car, especially for someone like myself, trying to decide Which car to buy.

Not knowing what to look for as far as the mechanical side of things go. I do know that you have to put gas/petrol,oil,water and make sure the tyre's. are at the correct pressure,that's about it.

It is really great to have someone who knows what they are talking about,to go to for help.

The car I would choose at the moment is the Honda Jazz, what is your opinion on this particular car. Thank you. :) :)


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you oliversmum!

I feel the Honda Jazz is a very good choice. Plenty of space, even for large items. (check the size of the hatch opening) Fuel economy is excellent, it has airbags.

Quality build too! I would be careful about colour selection as the iridescent will fade with time. You will find the little headlights are very bright and give excellent vision. Good luck with whatever you decide to buy oliversmum.


terrowhite profile image

terrowhite 6 years ago

Good information earnestshub... you have mentioned some of the very important points before purchasing an old car.. I liked it !!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you terrowhite, I will be adding more to this hub, so you may like to re-visit.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Very useful Hub Earnest. My first car was Second Hand - Toyota Corolla. I got in an Auction in 2003 for just £1000 and didn't have a clue about cars. Luckily it served me for 5 good years with just changing the oil, but I would advice anyone buying second hand to read this Hub. It's important.

Best Wishes.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you Lady_E and well done with the Corolla. 5 years is a good run without expense for a used car, and the Toyota Corolla was a good choice. Strong well made car with very few design faults.


mystere profile image

mystere 6 years ago from Southern California

I was looking at 2 of the pictures posted here: The Honda Jazz is also known as the Honda Fit in various parts of the world; also the Daewoo is sold in the United States as the Chevrolet Aveo. One thing that people should be aware of, regarding air bags: If the seats are equipped with side airbags, NEVER COVER THE SEATS WITH A FULL SEATCOVER! It is dangerous, and can lead to serious injuries. Some auto parts stores sell seat vests, which leave the sides of the seats exposed so that the seat airbags will deploy properly in the event of an accident. There are seat covers designed for cars with airbags in the seats; if you buy a used car in the United States from the model year of approximately 2002 and later, be very cautious if the seat has a cover. If it's a seat vest, the seat airbags should have no problem deploying in a serious accident.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you mystere.

Honda has many different names for it's models in different countries. I will include your information in this hub if you don't mind, as I think it is important that we are all on the same page.

The Daewoo Chev needs to be included as well, as does your excellent observation on side airbags.

Great work!


bgamall profile image

bgamall 6 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

Very good technical advice Earnest. Thanks.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Most welcome bagmail, and thank you for the encouragement. I try to keep it good.


Best Cars 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing your tips on finding a good used car. All of your points are certainly well covered and some of the pictures (airbags) are pretty cool as well. I've been doing some price checking as well and have been using a few sites to help compare models and features. Doing side by side comparisons of various points on the cars helps to make it easier to find the right one at the right price.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you for the comment Best Cars, the side by side comparison is a good feature of some car sites. It does help to check several sites when buying a used car and compare models and features where a side by side comparison is available as it is easiest that way.


autopart1 5 years ago

Hi friend i see your hub this is nice. If you want a best used transmission please visit our site...........


Nicky Smart profile image

Nicky Smart 5 years ago from United Kingdom

I see a lot of cars for sale lately, and really good deals on Craigslist.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks Nicky. If you are careful that is a good place to find the odd bargain.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Be aware of scams online with car sales as you would with any other item.

Only last week there was a Honda for sale by a pilot that had a great reason for sale and was 2k under priced.

It was a scam, just a street photo of the car, and the usual story..... he would send the keys. The cars's registration papers would be with the keys.... a copy of course.

Check the licence number and the sellers licence at a minimum when buying online, and of course, check the car physically and drive it before parting with any money.


jojeejo profile image

jojeejo 5 years ago from MO

Thank you, I will be in the market soon for a used car and want to say that you are awesome! Very kind of you to be so thorough in sharing your excellent knowledge. What is so great about this is that you shared simply because you seem to care. Cheers!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

jojeejo that is a lovely comment, and you have my measure. I do care, always did and my customers were very loyal when I was in the trade. (retired some years now)

I like helping people as I find most people are good, and I like to encourage that!

If you would like to read "How to save thousands buying a used car," (link on this page) you will have all the information you need to make a great decision and save a lot more money.

I just taught this to my 22 year old and he bought extremely well, my boy is a good learner, but anyone can do it.


tireboy 4 years ago

Make a promise to yourself to visit at least three dealers representing the brand of car you are looking to buy, starting with two away from your area. By the time you reach the third dealer

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