Used cars shopping entails some work and let's face it: it's not easy. As mentioned elsewhere in this used car buying guide, buying a car is a big investment. Used cars are big-ticket items. Whether you go to a used car dealer or a private individual, ignorance of the steps to take could be costly.
You don't have to be a mechanic to spot issues with a car, whether at a dealership or at the driveway of a complete stranger. Sensible, simple steps to bear in mind could save you thousands of dollars. Remember that after the exchange of money, after you take possession of somebody's used car, finding later that you have a lemon in your hands is a little too late. You're stuck! You have no recourse because existing "lemon laws" only apply to dealerships.
How To Spot Troubles with Second Hand Cars:
- Always run a Vin check. Before you travel to check a used car that you saw online or a classifieds, ask the seller for the VIN number and pay for it. Experian can look up a car's accident and service history and reveal serious problems like flooding, odometer roll back, fire damaged title record, no manufacturer buyback/lemon title record, no salvage title or salvage auction record and other crucial information.
Some more used cars shopping tips:
- Check the vehicle's identification number. Each car has a unique VIN. There's always one on the driver's side of the dashboard, visible through the windshield. In other models, there are VIN stickers on the car's body panels.If none have it, don't worry, but if most do and some don't that could be a sign of major repairs. During inspection, compare the VINs; they should match.
- Take a whiff. Your nose could be very important in your used cars shopping. Sit in the car with the door and windows closed and inhale through your nose. If you smell mildew or anything musty, the car might have been flooded, a big problem.
- Look for signs of flooding. Check the bolts holding the seats to the floor. If there was flooding, they'll probably show signs of rust. Next, inspect the seat belts. Pull them out
all the way and examine them for dried silt or water lines. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 totaled and flooded tens of thousands of vehicles in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. You don't want to own one of those damaged cars in your used cars shopping.
- Listen carefully to the engine. Start the motor and let it run a few minutes. Lift the hood and continue to listen. If the engine idles smoothly without any inconsistent running, grinding or knocking sounds, that's good. You can easily tell if there's metal to metal contact.
- Watch for signs of big repairs. Another of those big issues that can jeopardize your used cars shopping. While the hood is up, look for structural repairs. Check the bolts that hold on the fenders. If they show signs of being turned, such as scuffed paint, that may indicate work was done.
- Look under the car. At the bottom of the motor and transmission area, if you see dents or major scrapes, it could mean the car drove over something too high, and could have caused serious mechanical damage. Check the metal rails near the sides of the passenger area. They're used to attach frame-repair machines used to straighten a damaged chassis. You'll see any visible signs of it with marks or gouges in the metal.
- Test drive the car. Drive the car a few miles so as to check all the little systems like windshield wipers, heat and air conditioning, headlights, radio, odometer. If the odometer is stuck, don't buy it. Who knows how long the owner had driven the car after it happened.
- Ask for service records. Having scheduled maintenance records and anything as simple as records of oil changes assure you that the car is well cared for. Your used cars shopping will be more assured if the used car seller is conscientious of needed car maintenance.
- Ask to open the trunk. The trunk is where the spare tire and jack is kept for most cars. Remove the carpeting to inspect the metal below. Visible damage is evidence of a rear end collision. Check the body panel welds by lifting the carpeting on the trucks sides for signs of rewelding if the welds have been broken.
- Kick the tires. Are the tires worn out evenly? You can detect alignment or suspensions problems if the tires show uneven wear. Note that those are expensive to fix. Drive the car and see if it pulls to one side.
- Have a professional mechanic thoroughly check the car. With the seller's permission, bring the car to your mechanic and at $50 to $150, have him check it. Nothing assures you more in your used cars shopping than a professional checking the car of your choice.