If you want to buy a used car you need to take some precautions as it will probably be your second largest purchase you will ever make, after a house. Most of us borrow money from a bank, a credit union or other financial institutions. For this reason, it would be best to do some shopping around before making a final decision.
First of all you need to decide how much money are you willing to pay for the car and don’t go over your pre-established maximum. In addition to the actual value of the car, you need to think about the sales tax, the insurance and registration costs as well as mechanical inspection. Also, an extended warranty contract could do a world of good.
Second of all you, being a second hand car, it will probably come with a couple of flaws. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for you but you should however avoid at all costs the cars that have major body or mechanical issues. For this reason you must ask the current owner about the vehicle’s accident record, history of ownership as well as service records. If the seller of the car is answering your questions without hesitating and if he is co-operative, it means that the car should be in a pretty good shape and he is not hiding anything.
When you start looking for used cars you must read the odometer and keep in mind that the average distance per year ranges from 22,000 to 25,000 miles. Also, the odometer must correspond with the actual shape and condition of the car. Look at the upholstery, pedal rubbers and carpeting – if they look worn out, it means that the car is pretty used. Check the body of the car by taking a closer look along the sides in order to spot any possible ripples, dents or repainting signs.
Don’t forget about the rust. Check the bottom of all the doors, the lower body panels and the wheel openings as these are prime locations. Paint cracks or blisters are a sign of rusting under the paint or even worse than that – rust perforation from the other side of the panel. Remember to take a closer look at the tires and see if the treads are worn out. If they are, it means that you will have to pay a couple of hundreds of dollars for a new set.
If you want to buy a used car that is in good condition you must also check if the doors, hood and trunk close snugly. For this reason you must try the car’s door lock mechanism as well as the window regulator to see if they work as they should. Verify if the vehicle has damp carpets or a damp smell inside and if it does, it means there is some sort of a leak. If you press down each of the car’s corners and it keeps bouncing, it means that the shock absorbers need to be changed. If the power unit is cold you must remove the radiator cap and check the condition and the level of the coolant. Never remove the radiator cap while the power unit is still warm.
If you have checked out all of the above and you find the car to be promising, you need to take it out for a test drive. A silent, residential area or any other type of open space is the best environment for test driving a car. Avoid cars that don’t start immediately or don’t idle smoothly. Check all the warning lights and the engine gauges to see if they all work. In addition, verify the state of the switches, buttons and all of the other accessories. Also, make sure that you check the park brake and see if the warning light will come on.
Once you get on the road with it, listen for unusual noises. You also need to make a couple of sharp turns running at low speeds. The steering of the vehicle should not stiffen up and bind. If the car is equipped with power steering, there shouldn’t be any squeaks or a sudden increase of the steering effort. Make a couple of emergency stops and make sure that they feel firm and not spongy. One of the most important things to do is to verify the transmission of the gearbox and see if the car will get in all of the gears. The cars fitted with manual transmissions should change the gear without any grind. Those that have automatic gearboxes should not have excessive engine speeds between the gears. You need to know that for the vast majority of the cars out there, the play in the steering wheel should be less than 2 inches.
Once you have found the car, you need to sign all the necessary paperwork. The dealer “conditional sale agreement” is a binding and legal document and should specify all the conditions of the sale, including: full purchase price, full description of the car, payment terms, trade-in allowance (if applicable), any guarantee or warranty agreed upon and repairs agreed upon by both parties involved.
Don’t forget to have the car checked thoroughly by a mechanic.