Planning on buying a used car? Good! Deciding to buy a pre-owned car gives you plenty of choice, even with a limited budget. For instance, you’ll be able to find a bigger used car for your family at the cost of a small new car. You can even purchase a luxury brand for less if
. When you buy used, you also get to avoid the hard blow of depreciation as new vehicles decrease the most in value in the first three months of use.
There’s a big risk, however, when getting a used car. Since you’re not the first owner, how can you be sure the car you’re getting isn’t defective? Granted, there are so-called lemon laws that protect car buyers, but proving that the vehicle’s problems existed prior to being bought can prove to be difficult, especially for used-car buyers. To avoid being stuck with a car that turns out to be unreliable, you have to be meticulous in checking the car’s condition to be sure you’re not getting a lemon.
Before closing a deal, shop around and follow these tips:
A used car for sale should have a copy of the service history manual along with the user manual. Checking out the service history can give you an idea of how often the car has been checked by professionals and the repair work that has been done. It can also show you whether a car has any recurring problems, helping you decide whether you can still buy it or not.
Many websites offer a printable checklist you can use to assess a car’s condition. Use the acronym BELT—Bodywork, Engine, Leaks, Tires—as a general guide when inspecting a car. You can also verify the information contained in the service history when checking the car’s physical condition.
- Bodywork – look up, down, and underneath! Check for rust, and don’t be shy to feel up the car with your hand. A small amount of rust on the surface is a sign of worse things underneath.
- Engine – check under the hood! If the engine looks like it hasn’t been cleaned or maintained, be suspicious. Check the oil; if it looks black, it may mean it has not been changed on a regular basis, and the car itself may not have experienced engine maintenance in months. Race the engine and listen to the sound it makes. If you hear rattling, it could mean trouble. Observe the color of the exhaust—black bluish smoke means the engine has been badly worn.
- Leaks – stains are a dead giveaway! Bring a flashlight along and check the car’s underbelly for signs of leaks. If a telltale glimmer of fluid shows up, consider getting another car—unless you’re willing to part with your money for repairs.
- Tires – can you drive in them? Sure, you can replace tires, but it’s a costly business. Check the spare as well for bulges and cracks. Examine the treads—the deeper they are, the longer they’ll last.
Start the engine cold to see if there are problems with the ignition. You need to have the engine run for at least ten minutes to check for running problems. Out on the road, observe the vehicle’s behavior during shifting, braking, idling, and while running it at different speeds. Test the suspension on rocky or bumpy roads, if possible. Try all of the lights and check the gauges if they’re working.