The Art of Used Car Buying 101
Classic For Sale: GTO! Runs Great! Needs Work! $12,000 Cash
It is tax season once again! Now for those of you who are well off, are financially stable, or are oblivious to the recession and the record-breaking downturn in the economy that destroyed millions of lives, my hats off to you. However, for those of us who cherish every nickel and dime we make, whether if we are living paycheck to paycheck, critiquing our bills with an evil eye and a fine toothed comb, or driving our cherished old cars with pride because we can not afford newer ones (and of course we love them), tax returns provide a much needed cushion and breathing room in our pockets (or for a few months at the least.) This could be a prime time to buy a used car, maybe for a teenager who needs to learn responsibility with their 1st automobile. Maybe for yourself or a family member who needs transportation to get to work, school, or both. There are some very simple rules to live by when shopping to buy a used car either from a dealer, an owner, or a public auction. It is important to draw a bold line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable when shopping for a used vehicle. Here are the keys to used car victory...
Plan Of Action.
1. Set mileage limits! The ability to gauge how many miles is too many on a used vehicle is necessary because cars are only as good as their previous owners treated them. A 10 year old car with 100,000 to 150,000 miles is a good bet, seeing as how cars are estimated to be driven 15,000 miles per year. Used automobiles at or around 200,000 miles can be diamonds in the rough, but it is HIGHLY likely you are going to spend some money replacing some key components soon, so use caution. However any car over 300,000 miles is guaranteed to have problems. Keep your money and avoid this death trap at all costs!
2. Walk away if you hear... "We just replaced the heads!", "The car was overheating!", "I think the heads are cracked!", "I do not have the title, but I have a bill of sale!", "You're gonna need a tow truck because it does not run!", "I have no idea why It will not start and I don't care!", "It won't go in reverse!", "It needs a timing belt!", and any car problem involving the word "Transmission". Unless your a seasoned mechanic or related to one and your getting a steal, do not even waste your time on this inevitable fiberglass and steel disappointment. This car is a ticking time bomb. So walk away... quickly!
3. Do a walk-a-round, inside & out inspection. Open all the doors, hood and trunk, check if the windows work, check the tires for tread and check the wheels for all of the lug nuts, look for leaking fluids under the vehicle (oil, anti-freeze, etc.), gas cap, air filter, working AC and heat, check for working head and tail lights, windshield wipers, reverse lights, mirrors, working in-dash gauges, seat belts, a spare tire & a jack, etc., Everything! Everything that you can list and check off, do it! Some of these may seem trivial, but the more you know about what your buying means you can make a more informed decision before you buy.
4. Test drive, test drive test drive! Never buy a car (used or otherwise) unless you can test drive it! There are a privileged few (myself included) who can spot a lemon from a mile away. But just assume that you can not tell if a car sucks or if it is a winner just by looking at it. Make sure you take it for a spin. Bring a friend (a mechanically inclined friend preferred) to drive it as well to get a second opinion because two heads are always better than one. Listen for odd engine noises, smoke coming from the tail pipe or under the hood, steering issues, and other problems. The test drive will either be love at 1st sight or a date from hell... Go with you gut feeling on buying a car and not your need to have one so badly. Or just go home and sleep on it if your uncertain...
5. Leave yourself enough money to do miscellaneous maintenance. After buying a used car, its always a good idea to buy new tires (with a warranty), a new battery, get a tune up & oil change, replace all the fluids and fuses, have the alternator and starter checked, etc. There are a few things that people forget to do that will extend the life of their (new)used vehicle considerably. But your cars past life is over and it is getting a second chance with you as its new owner, so keep up the maintenance as well. The last thing you want to happen is the alternator dying and killing your battery in the process. After buying your used vehicle, I have also found that buying the Haynes Auto Repair Manual for your specific car as an excellent reference tool to give you a basic overall knowledge of your vehicle.
It may seem like a lot to keep track of, but the upside is that you most likely will not be blindsided by car trouble that you never saw coming if your well-prepared. If you do not know a mechanic you can trust to accompany you to view a car, it is important to be informed. Finding an affordable, reliable and well-maintained used car is not easy, so you want to get the odds in your favor by being prepared, knowledgeable and patient. Remember that buying a used car is like marrying someone's ex, they may still love 'em, but they are getting rid of 'em for some reason you may never know until YOU take a gamble and take 'em for a spin! And buying a car is like any long term relationship, it is not about the problems you see, but the problems you DO NOT see! So be cautious and be patient and you most likely will find the used car of your dreams at a decent price. Happy used car hunting!