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Must Read Before Buying a Used Car

Updated on December 2, 2013
You can find all kinds of cars at a used car dealership
You can find all kinds of cars at a used car dealership

Buying a Pre-Owned Vehicle

Frequency in which people buy cars can vary drastically, as some change cars every few years while others may wait until their car is almost falling apart. No matter which category you fit in, for most people it is a rather time consuming and daunting task. Searching for and buying a pre-owned vehicle can add to the challenge as every used vehicle is different even if it is the same exact car.

So many used cars, such little time
So many used cars, such little time

Find Cars Online

Fortunately, thanks to the internet we can now do most of the leg work right from the comfort of our homes. There are many websites that can help you locate a vehicle nearby, provide information about the car and even provide multiple images of the automobile. However, these websites may list some vehicles that have been sold, and not been taken down yet. Because of that reason I do recommend you call the dealership prior to visiting to make sure the vehicle is still available for sale.

Here is a small list of sites that may help you find a vehicle nearby:

Used car history reporting services
Used car history reporting services

Check the Car's History Report

Buying a pre-owned vehicle can be quite different than buying a brand new one in many ways. Used cars that are 6 years or older usually do not come with a factory warranty, so you have to make sure everything is in good working condition and it had been properly maintained. Pre-owned vehicle's mechanical condition depends heavily on the previous owner and their driving and maintenance habits. One of the ways to make sure that the vehicle has been properly maintained is to look at the maintenance records if available. Most of the time you will not find that information readily available from the owner's manual.

Nowadays, most reputable dealerships offer Carfax or Autocheck as a way to give you some insight into prior maintenance of the vehicle. These reports will show you if there were any services performed by major repair and maintenance facilities. However, if any of the services were performed by the owner or a small local garage they will not typically show up in this report. Another thing these reports will show you is if the car has had any major accidents, flood damage, or have any open manufacturer's recalls.

Not All information is on the car history report
Not All information is on the car history report

Not All Info Is Reported

One thing to keep in mind is that these reports will not show everything that has been done to a car as the facility servicing the vehicle must subscribe to the service to upload the information. What that means for the car buyer is that you can use that information as a guide but do not depend on it 100%. Previous car owner could have took the vehicle to a reputable garage for service regularly, but they might not have subscribed to the services to update the maintenance information. Any accidents that were not reported to the police may not show up as well if the repairs were done by a shop that does not report to these services.

Check the Car for Problems

Be sure to check over the car before purchase
Be sure to check over the car before purchase

If you are interested in buying a used vehicle it is more important to do your own testing on the car or bring a mechanic you trust with you or take the car to him/her prior to purchase. There are plenty of tell tale signs of how the previous owner may have taken care of the vehicle.

  • One thing you can look at is the discoloration of the oil dipstick, if you see dark brown color on the stick it means that the oil may not have been changed regularly or may be oil of cheap quality was used (light discoloration is normal).
  • Another thing to look for is any oil or coolant leaks around or under the engine compartment, it usually means worn out gaskets.
  • One more thing you want to check for is the condition of the spark plugs, you can tell a lot about a car by reading car's spark plugs.
  • White or blueish white smoke from the tail pipe can be a sign of a blown head gasket.
  • Check brake fluid to make sure it is up to the proper level, low brake fluid level can be a sign of a brakes pad wear.
  • Check coolant level and color, coolant should be bright in color and clean.
  • Check transmission fluid for color and level, it should be bright red in color without any burnt odor to it.
  • Check power steering fluid for level and color, it should be clear and not dirty.
  • Check all electronics to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Make sure to check the air conditioning and heat for proper operation, a lot of times people will not check the AC if they are shopping in winter time and vice versa.
  • Do Not Buy a Car Without Test Driving it.

Have the mechanic check out the car for problems before you buy if possible
Have the mechanic check out the car for problems before you buy if possible

Do Research and Take a Mechanic if Possible

If you are not mechanically inclined then you may want to have a mechanic look at the vehicle before you purchase it. Typically you will be charged for one hour of labor or a fixed fee to do an overall check on the vehicle. Another way to make sure you are making a good decision is to check the reliability rating of the vehicle on Consumerguide, edmunds or similar car rating site. If you do your homework you can walk away with a rather good deal on a nice vehicle of your choice. Last but not least you may want to look into getting an extended warranty for your vehicle as they are quite reasonably priced now-days and provide peace of mind for you.

Your Last Car

How did you find your last used car?

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