How to Buy a Used Car
WHO would not relish buying a car for half the original price or less? ‘Is that really possible?’ you ask. Yes—if it is a previously owned automobile, better known as a used car. The problem is, many fear that a used car is not a good deal. Cars, like other machinery, wear out. Thus, the value of a car decreases with age, mileage, and use.
May I introduce myself ? I have been an auto technician for more than 15 years. So let me pass on to you some of the things I’ve learned. The following are a few questions to ask yourself before buying a used car.
How Much Can I Afford to Spend?
First, figure out how much your budget will allow you to spend on a car. Newspaper ads can then give you an idea of the year and model of cars that fall into your price range. In some countries, banks, loan institutions, and some libraries have monthly guides listing the prices of used cars. Be sure to calculate not only the price of a car but also the expense of taxes, registration, and insurance. Also plan to have some money for unexpected repairs the car may require after you buy it.
What Kind of Car Do I Need?
When deciding what you need, determine what is important to you. Consider your family size and what activities the car will be used for, such as driving to work, transporting your children to school, and going in the Christian ministry. Will the car be used for local trips or long-distance ones? Don’t limit yourself to a specific make and model; rather, look for a car that has been maintained well and is in good shape. Get a car that is easy to service. All cars will need parts eventually. In your area is there a supplier for the appropriate parts? Parts for cars over ten years of age can be hard to obtain. If you are on a limited budget, steer clear of luxury or imported specialty cars, as parts and service will no doubt be more expensive. Although such cars may be very reliable, they can also be very expensive to own.
Is It a Good Car?
A good car is one that has been serviced well. Generally, it is best to avoid cars with extremely high mileage—especially if this is the result of driving in the city rather than on highways. What constitutes high mileage may vary from place to place. No used car will be perfect. However, will you be able to afford the repairs the car needs? Usually the repairs will not increase the value of the car. For example, if you buy a car for $3,000 and then spend $1,000 on needed repairs, the car will not necessarily be worth $4,000. Ordinarily, it is less expensive to buy a car in good shape than it is to buy a car in bad shape and fix it up.
Here are a few tips on selecting a good car:
• Check the car thoroughly before you buy it. To get the right picture, avoid looking at a car at night or in the rain. Take a quick walk around the car. What is your impression of it? Do the interior and exterior show pride of ownership on the part of the previous owner? Have they been maintained well? Can the seller provide a record of maintenance done on the vehicle? If not, likely the car has been neglected. You may not want to look further at this car.
• Test-drive the car. Accelerate the car up to highway speed on a test-drive. Also do some stop-and-go driving on hilly terrain and on level streets.
Does the engine start well?
Is the exhaust free of a lot of smoke?
Does the engine run well?
Does it idle smoothly?
Is the engine free of noises?
Does the engine have enough power for good acceleration?
If the answer is no to any of the above questions, then the engine may need tune-up work or more serious repairs. These conditions can also be signs of a worn engine. Be wary if the seller says it just needs a tune-up. Tune-ups should have been a part of the regular maintenance of the car.
Does the automatic transmission slip or not engage when put into gear?
Does it fail to shift smoothly?
Are there grinding noises in any of the gears?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the transmission may need repair.
Brakes and suspension:
Does the car pull to one side when you drive or brake?
Does the car vibrate at certain speeds or when you brake?
Are there noises when you brake or turn or drive over bumps?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the car may need brake or suspension work.
• Look for other areas that need repair. Wear clothes that will allow you to look at the car inside, outside, and underneath.
• Check the body for rust. Avoid cars that have it. Most of the newer cars are “unibody” construction. The body parts are used for structural strength in several areas. When these parts rust, it is generally too expensive to repair them completely. Fender rust can be cosmetic but usually is a sign that structural areas also have rust. Look underneath the car for rust. Be wary of new paint jobs; the car could be a whitewashed grave.
• Look for accident damage. Check for concealed accident damage under the hood and in the trunk. Do the doors, hood, and trunk fit? Are there signs of paint sprayed where it doesn’t belong, such as in doorjambs? Are there leaks in the trunk or in carpeted areas? These leaks can cause rust.
• Check the engine oil. Look at the oil dipstick. Is the oil level low? This could be the result of excessive oil consumption or leaks. Is the oil very dirty or black? Does it feel gritty? Look for signs of wet oil around the valve covers. Get in the car, and turn on the ignition switch, but do not start the car. Does the low-oil-pressure warning light come on? If the car is equipped with an oil pressure gauge, this should read zero. Now start the engine, keeping the engine at a low idle, and notice how long it takes for the oil pressure light to go out or for the gauge to read normal engine pressure. More than a couple of seconds for the light to go out or for the gauge to read normal pressure could indicate major engine wear. On some newer cars in the United States, a “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” light should come on when the key is on but the engine is not running. The light should be off when the engine is running. If the light stays on with the engine running, this usually indicates an engine problem, perhaps with the emission control system or the fuel delivery system.
• Check the automatic transmission fluid. Is it low or burned? Look for leaks under the transmission. These conditions can indicate a need for major transmission work. If the car has front-wheel drive, look underneath it to see if the rubber constant velocity joint boots are torn. If so, the grease can be thrown out, and this can cause rapid damage to the joints, which are expensive to replace.
• Check all four tires. If they are severely worn, count on replacing them. If there is an unusual wear pattern on the tire tread, it may be that there is a need for alignment or replacement of steering parts.
• Check the power-steering system. Does the fluid appear burned or low? Start the car and turn the steering wheel several times from side to side. It should require equal pressure to turn right or left. Is there any grabbing motion as you turn the steering wheel? Operation of the power steering should be fairly quiet. Any problems with operation could mean costly repairs.
• Other checks.
Check the condition of the belts and the hoses.
Check the operation of the parking brake on a hill.
Check for an unusual amount of wear on the brake pedal.
Check the condition of the exhaust system. Is it noisy? Is it loose?
Check shocks and springs. Does the car sit low, or when you push down on each corner in turn, does it bounce more than three times?
If there is an air conditioner, does it work on all blower speeds?
Do the lights, wipers, horn, seat belts, and windows work?
Check underneath the rear of the vehicle for any telltale signs that a trailer hitch was installed. If so, caution is recommended, as towing may have put excessive strain on the transmission.
If you are unsure of any of the checks mentioned in this article, it might be wise to have the car assessed by a professional mechanic before buying it. Ask him to look the car over and make a list of the following:
1. The repairs the car needs immediately and an estimate of the cost of parts and labor.
2. The repairs the car may need in the next year and an estimate of the cost of parts and labor.
This inspection by a professional mechanic should take less than an hour. While this may cost you the price of labor for an hour, the expense is small compared with the unknown cost of needed repairs. Find out from the seller what work has recently been done on the car. Ask to see service records. Were the oil and the oil filter changed regularly? Has the automatic transmission ever been serviced? When was the last time the car was tuned up? Remember, a good car is one that has been maintained well and does not need a lot of work.
Sit down and calculate the expense first—with all the facts and figures about the car. Then decide if the car is worth it and if you have budgeted enough money to cover not only the purchase price but also other expenses.—Contributed by an auto technician.
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
How can you be sure the used car you buy is a good one? Illustrated here are a few of the many things you should consider
Have an auto technician inspect the car before you buy it
Have the oil and the oil filter been changed regularly?
Look for accident damage. Do the doors, hood, and trunk fit?
Unusual tire wear may indicate serious alignment or steering problems