Buying a Used Car

Don’t get scammed the next time you buy a new car! Follow these steps to steer clear of used car ripoffs.

Buying a used car makes good financial sense. New cars depreciate immediately after you drive them off the car lot. In fact, it has been said that a new car depreciates by an average of 15 percent of the purchase price as soon as you drive it off the lot. That’s a lot of money to give away before you have even enjoyed your new car.

That’s why many consumers prefer used over new cars. A used car can actually feel like a new one and give you just as much use and enjoyment. Be smart when buying a used car. There are many used car scams perpetrated against unsuspecting buyers.

Here are some steps you can take to avoid getting scammed.

  • Pick the car that is right for you – It is always wise to know what year, make and model car you want to buy before you start shopping. If you can decide on a car you like before you start shopping, you will have a better chance of buying a car you want rather than a car that somebody else wants to sell you. The best bet is to look for a late model used car with low, low miles. These cars have plenty of miles left before that start costing money in maintenance and repair bills and somebody else has incurred the depreciation when they, not you, drove it off the new car lot.
  • Know how much to pay – Many people go car shopping without the slightest idea of how much they are willing to pay for a car. In fact, they usually don’t even know what kind of car they want to purchase. There are some excellent resources on the Internet for finding information about cars, including available options and prices.

    If you want a down and dirty method for valuing a used car, try this trick. First, buy an issue of your local automotive classifieds. If you are looking for a popular model, the Sunday classified might even work. Find several examples of the same car that you want to purchase in the trim package (example: XLE) that you desire. Now, add the costs of the individual cars and divide by the number of cars to get an average price of these similar cars. Next, go to Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com) or a similar site. Add the average price that you determined in the previous step to the price you find at Kelly Blue Book and divide by two. Finally, deduct 15 percent from this price. This will be your target price for the car you want to purchase.

  • Buy a car with a proven track record – Certain models of cars have much better reputations than other models. These reputations are earned. Once upon a time, Toyota and Honda were known for their junky little subcompact cars. Now, those same auto manufacturers top the list of car makers based on quality, value, reliability, styling, etc. Each year, automakers come out with new models of cars. You should refrain from buying any car until it has established a solid track record with regard to reliability.
  • Buy from a private party – You will always get greater value when you buy a car from a private party than you will when you buy from a dealer. A private party who sells a car is just looking to get a fair price for the car. A dealer, on the other hand, is in business to make a profit. This means that they will do anything and everything to squeeze the last dollar out of a sale, often at your expense.

    People often purchase cars from dealers because they see it as a much more streamlined process as far as getting financing, transferring ownership, and the like. This used to be true. Now, however, it is extremely easy to get auto financing through excellent, consumer oriented lenders such as Capital One Auto Finance. Capital One’s Blank Check allows you to literally “apply today, drive tomorrow.”

  • Inspect the car’s records – When considering a car for purchase, always ask to inspect the maintenance records. If the records are not available, then assume (most likely correctly) that the car has not been regularly maintained and look elsewhere. Always remember, used cars are a dime a dozen.

    We recommend running the VIN number any car that you are considering buying through a service like CarFax. When you receive the vehicle’s history report it will contain a wealth of information about used cars including an odometer check, title check, registration check and a check for any problems the vehicle may have such as accidents or theft.

15-Point Used Car Inspection Tour

Contrary to what is often reported, buying a used car can actually be a painless and financially rewarding experience. The trick to finding a quality used car is to know what to look for when inspecting a car for purchase. If you have a reliable mechanic or other person who is highly knowledgeable about cars, this is easy. Just take it to them and let them do their thing. For the rest of, we can employ a comprehensive 15-point inspection that will help us spot a lemon from a mile away. Come along with us on our guided tour of a used car.

Interior Inspection

  1. Interior – The interior of a car is the most telling part of a cars condition. Owners who fail to take care of a cars interior are certain to neglect other areas as well. How does the interior smell? Is the carpet clean? Is the dash board cracked? Check the condition of the seats. A car with a well-worn interior is a car that is worn out all over.

    Mechanical Inspection

  2. Electrical – The electrical system is very easy to check. The best thing is you can do it without even starting the car. A faulty electrical system is a very expensive repair – electrical components on late model cars are controlled by computers that are very expensive to replace – so don’t skip this step. Check the charging system by turning on the headlights on. Leave the lights on for a couple of minutes before starting the car. If possible, start the car in a garage where it is darker. What you want to happen is for the engine to turn over very quickly and for the lights to brighten.
  3. Engine – Turn the key and start the engine. Does it start right up? Take note of the dashboard lights and gauges. The oil light should go out right away, as should all warning lights. The oil pressure gauge should go to the middle range or higher. Does the engine sound smooth? A good engine will not make unusual sounds once it is warm. Let the engine idle for awhile. The idle should be quiet, smooth and the range should stay within a few hundred RPMs on the top and bottom.

    When driving the car, look for excessive exhaust. Let the car coast down a hill for a while then give it some gas. If there is a lot of smoke, you’ve got a serious problem. A lot of smoke means that you need to replace piston rings, valves and more. Pull over to the side of the road and let the car idle. Next, rev the motor while looking out the rear view mirror. A little smoke is okay, but once again, a lot of smoke if a sign of imminent trouble.

  4. Clutch – Manual Transmission – Clutches are very expensive to replace, so make sure that you buy a car with a good one. To test a clutch, drive a steep hill. Does the car do up the hill easily in 2nd or 3rd gear, or does it sound like the clutch is slipping? If the engine speeds up more than the car, you could have a bad clutch. Also, pay attention to the stiffness of the clutch pedal and how far from the floor the clutch catches. If the clutch is catching very close to the floor, this could be a sign that the clutch is bad.
  5. Automatic Transmission – Replacing an automatic transmission is a cost that you do not want to incur. To test the condition of the transmission, do the following. First, warm the car up. This should already be done because at this point you have already test driven the car and checked the engine. With the car parked, put the transmission into Drive while keeping your foot on the brake. Press down hard on the brake, while at the same time pressing on the accelerator. It is a good sign if the car tries to move forward immediately then stalls out. If it does not, beware! Now test the other gears. While parked, and with your foot on the brake, shift from Drive to Reverse, Reverse to Park, Park to Reverse, etc. The shifting should be smooth without any loud clunks, thuds or other bad noises.
  6. Steering – Steering wheels should not have much “play.” Play is the looseness or tightness that a steering wheel should have. Steering wheels should have little play, or looseness, in them. Loose steering means loose suspension, which means major repairs. The other thing to check with regard to steering is front end alignment. When the wheels of the car are pointed straight ahead, the steering wheel should be centered. Better still, test the alignment while driving the car. The wheels on a car will always try to straighten themselves automatically. After rounding a corner, let go of the wheel to see if this occurs. There are degrees of steering issues, but you should be wary of any car that does not have excellent steering and alignment.
  7. Drive Shaft and Axle – Problems with the axle or drive shaft will manifest themselves in vibrations and a variety of noises. The noises could be clunking sounds, high pitched whines, or anything in between. Any type of noise coming from the drive shaft or axle makes the car an immediate pass.
  8. Brakes – Brake problems aren’t usually that difficult or expensive to fix, but you still don’t want to pay if you don’t have to. Brakes in good condition should cause a car to stop smoothly, without grinding, pulling or vibration. The best way to test brakes is to drive on a road with little traffic. Accelerate to about 30 mile per hour or so then take your hands off the steering wheel while braking firmly. The goal here is not to slam on the brakes, nor is it to come to an extremely gentle stop. What you want to do is simulate a normal stop and be sure that the car you are considering purchasing will get the job done. If you have the time, take the car to a tire and brake garage such as Les Schwab. They will usually inspect brakes, shocks and tires free of charge.

    Exterior Inspection

  9. Oil and Fluid Leaks – After test driving the car, park it on concrete. Let the car sit for a few minutes then look under the oil pan, transmission, and especially on the back of the engine. Anything more than a drop or two of fluid of any type is a sign of trouble to come.
  10. Tires – New tires are very expensive. For this reason, you should find a car that has tire in good overall condition with plenty of tread left on them. The best way to judge the condition of tires is to examine the outer edge of the front tires. Cars with good alignment and that have not been punished will have sharp edges. Cars with poor alignment or that have been cornered very hard will have rounded edges. To gauge tread wear, place a penny in the tread with the top of Lincoln’s head down in the treads. If you can see the top half of Honest Abe’s head, then there is substantial tread wear.
  11. Shocks and Suspension – Step far back from the car and look at the cars stance. A car with goods shocks and springs should not sag in the rear. Press down on the back of the car as hard as you can. The car should rise back up very quickly. A car that bounces up and down before settling has bad shocks. These can be replaced fairly cheaply, but you should still get a price break from the car’s owner.
  12. Rust – any rust – on a car is a very bad thing. Rust spreads very quickly and causes a lot of damage to a vehicle. The most likely places to find rust on a used vehicle is on the floorboards (check under the floor mats and under the car), in the trunk. If you find any rust, no matter how small, do not purchase the car.
  13. Under the Hood – This is perhaps the most difficult inspection for a novice car buyer to make. Engine compartments are dirty by nature. There are a few tell-tale signs of trouble that you should look for. First, pull the oil and transmission fluid dipsticks. Black oil on the oil dipstick is a bad sign. Transmission fluid should be pink. The battery terminals should not have corrosion on them. Inspect wires and belts for wear. Wires should not be frayed or cracked. Check the engine block and power steering pump for excessive oil spots. This indicates fatigue and a motor or pump that is near the end of its life.
  14. Body Repairs – Cars get body damage. This is not something to be overly concerned about. What is of concern is how body damage is repaired. Body repairs should be made with a metallic material. Non-metallic materials, such as Bondo, indicate cheap repairs. The easiest way to check for body filler is to run a magnet over the car. If the magnet fails to pull, there is a non-metal surface beneath the paint. Check the gaps around the doors, trunk and hood. Ill-fitting doors indicate cars that have been struck and poorly repaired.
  15. Detailing – When buying a car from a used car dealer you can expect that the car will be detailed. This is, after all, part of their justification for a premium price. A private party, however, may be trying to hide something with that pristine detailing. This isn’t always the case, but is just something to keep in mind when inspecting a used car.

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Just follow the steps listed above and you will find a good car.

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