If you’ve ever put off an oil change, a tune-up or getting your brake pads replaced, you may have well thought, “Well, what’s the big deal, really?” Maybe it isn’t a big deal, depending on how long you have put off your car maintenance. But if you’ve ever bought a used car, what’s the first, beyond the price, thing that you find yourself wondering about? “Boy, I hope the person who owned this car before me took good care of it…” That’s something to keep in mind, the next time you ask yourself, “Is it really a big deal that I’m putting off getting my tires rotated and that I’m going to hold off on the oil change I’ve been putting off for a while now?” Yeah, it kind of is. It’s a big deal for your car and for you, as the paper work on maintaining/repairing your vehicle will have an effect on much the car is worth and how much you’ll likely be able to sell or trade your car someday. The alternative is not to stay up with the maintenance which moves in the direction of a car that is unreliable, shows it’s age and will be harder to sell for what you think it is worth. As the old saying goes, “You can pay now or you can pay later.”
If you are buying a used car, you’re in luck. We happen to have a few ideas on what you should look for, before you negotiate the deal and then sign the papers.
Look at the tires. Even at a trusted dealership, the tires should be inspected carefully. You’ve heard of people kicking the tires before buying a car, well, no need to do that, but that’s the premise behind doing it. The dealership is likely going to offer you a car with tires that are adequate and with the proper tire pressure, but check the tread. You can always use the famous penny test, where you stick a penny, with Lincoln’s hair downward into the grooves of the tread at the top of the tire. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you’re buying a car with tires that need replacement. Now, if the car is otherwise awesome, that may not be a big deal to you. This would be a great point of negotiation with the seller to lower the price or put new tires on the car. Or if you have to have this car, you could buy the car and then buy some new tires. But whatever you do, it would be nice to buy a car that doesn’t have a tire go flat a few hours after you drive off the lot.
Look under the hood. Even if you don’t know a spark plug from an oil filter, take a look at the engine. If you see corrosion, or oil leaks or a cracked belt or radiator hose, those would be bad signs. Most dealerships are going to have the engine looking just fine, so there’s no guarantee that a bright and shiny engine means that this is a great car. But take a look, anyway, just for your own peace of mind. And if you have time, as we’ve said before, feel free to test drive the car over to Milex Complete Auto Care / Mr. Transmission, and we’ll tell you if we think you have a winner or a possible lemon.
Check out the Car Fax. Those CarFax reports, which come free with used cars, really are handy. If it looks like your used car has been to the shop for regular maintenance, like oil changes and tune-ups, or maybe a new set of tires, that’s a good sign. The previous owner has been taking care of this car. If the CarFax has little to no data on it, that could be one of three things; the previous owner did the maintenance themselves, the work was done through a local “shade tree” mechanic or it could indicate the vehicle was not properly maintained. Ask about any documentation that goes with the car. It will give you an indication of how and when it was serviced, where it was serviced and what issues it had over its history. You still may want to buy the car, but it might be a good idea to drive the car over to Milex Complete Auto Care / Mr. Transmission beforehand, so our mechanics can explain the condition of the vehicle. The more you know the less you will buy a car that will give you problems.
Be Careful about buying an “as is” car. “As Is” condition means you’re buying the car with any and all potential mechanical, electrical or other problems that may exist. This is a car you will definitely need to bring by Milex Complete Auto Care / Mr. Transmission so that we can give you a fair assessment of what you are getting yourself into. With an “As Is” vehicle you don’t get any warranty. Just remember, when you buy from an individual you are buying an “As Is” vehicle. So, it’s critically important to get your car checked out before you buy it. Yes, all states have “lemon laws,” but a majority of those laws apply towards people buying new cars. Only a handful of states actually have lemon laws that involved used cars.
Check to make sure the car hasn’t been recalled. If you really want to be safe, all used cars (as long as, you’re buying something manufactured in 1981 or newer) should have a VIN (vehicle identification number). The VIN has 17 numbers and letters. With the VIN, go to www.safecar.gov, and you can see if the vehicle has been recalled. For instance, you don’t want to end up buying a car that was involved in that air bag recall (unless, of course, the air bag problem was fixed).
Take a test drive. It’s definitely not something you want to skip. If you are buying a used car, drive it around for a little while, don’t assume that just because it looks shiny and new that everything is right with the car. Get the engine and transmission up to proper operating temperature so you can truly see how they operate. Drive the car in different roads conditions. Some in town traffic, some highway and some parking lot driving. Doing these things will put the car through it’s paces and will also keep problems from staying hidden. Look for lights on the dash, noises, smells and the overall feel of the vehicle. Anything that you observe is something that you can bring up with the seller. These items are your negotiating tools.
After all, while we hope to see you around with your car, we want it to be on your terms, when you decide to bring it in to have it serviced. We’d like you to be able to avoid having to bring in your car in soon after you buy it because something has gone wrong. So, yes, the price of a used car is attractive, but how it’s been treated by the previous owner or owners may justify or affect the final value and what you should be willing to pay for the vehicle.