As new car prices have brought loan payments to $766 a month, used cars are cheaper than new vehicles and can be an excellent choice for drivers in need of saving some money.
The trouble is that sometimes used cars come with expensive issues, and many of them may be unnoticed by consumers who don’t know what to look for.
The Vehicle’s Inspection Report
“You should always request to see the vehicle’s inspection report before making the purchase to ensure the previous owner performed routine maintenance,” said Moshe D. Pourad, CEO and co-founder of 26 Motors.
“The inspection report will also provide information about how many previous owners the vehicle has had. A vehicle with fewer owners is preferable as different people have different driving habits, which can affect the wear and tear on the vehicle. A well-maintained vehicle will preserve the engine’s performance and the life of the vehicle.”
“Park the vehicle on flat ground pavement and have it run for at least 10 minutes,” said Edward Cole of Vehicle Unleashed. “This allows the vehicle to pump all fluids throughout. Next, move the vehicle and see if any fluids are leaking where the vehicle sat over. Inspect any fluid puddles… You’d be on the lookout for red, blue, black or green fluids. Not a good sign if they are present.”
“The odometer of an 8-year-old car should have more than 20,000 miles, while that of a 1-year-old car shouldn’t have over 50,000 miles,” said Ian Lang, senior car advice editor at Bumper. “There may be a problem if the mileage averages out to less than 8,000 or more than 20,000 miles per year.”
Smog Check Certificate
“A smog check is required in at least one county in 33 states,” Lang said. “If your state requires an emissions test to register a car, ask if the vehicle has already been certified. You might want to make the test a condition of the sale if it hasn’t already been done.”
“Be on the lookout for heavy rust damage and hanging parts,” Cole said.
Wheels and Tires
“As the only part of a car that touches the road, tires are your No. 1 safety item,” Lang said. “Tires and wheels should be examined closely.”
- Check the rims and hubcaps for curb rash, which could indicate suspension or steering damage.
- Ensure that the tread depth is at least four-thirty seconds for safe driving.
- Ensure that all lug nuts are present and tight. A lug nut that is missing or loose may be a sign of poor workmanship.
- Check the tire pressure all around the vehicle. In many cases, uneven pressure is caused by leaks or poor maintenance.
- It is ideal to have the same brand and model of tires on all four wheels. When tires are mismatched, they can handle differently, compromising safety.
Body Panel Gaps
“You can check the individual panels of the car for signs of damage that may have gone unreported to the insurance company,” Lang said. “Body gaps should be consistent all around the car. Having a wider gap on the left side of the hood than the right side, for example, could indicate that a front-end collision has been repaired.”
“As paint ages, swirl marks and scratches will appear,” Lang said. “In spite of this, the paint should appear consistent throughout the exterior. The panels of a car that appear worn or the color is a little off may be hiding body damage that has been repaired.”
“The exterior bulbs should all be working,” Lang said. “The plastic housings will also fade and yellow with time and exposure to the sun. It is likely that one of the headlamps or tail lamps was replaced if they are mismatched in color or yellowing. Yellowed and cloudy headlamps are a sign that the car has spent much of its life outside in the sun, which will affect its paint, trim, tires and interior.”
Window Motors and Switches
“Roll the windows down one at a time,” Lang said. “Ideally, the master switch on the driver’s door and the individual switch on the passenger door should be able to control them smoothly. Stuttering or inconsistent movement may indicate a faulty window motor, regulator or switch.”
Driver Control Buttons
“Most late-model cars come equipped with convenience features like Bluetooth, cruise control and steering wheel audio controls,” Lang said. “Try each button like a kid playing around to see if everything works. Something as simple as a non-functioning button can mean an expensive repair or even a safety concern in a collision.”
Hidden Frame Damage
“When looking at purchasing used vehicles, ask about frame damage and ask the dealer to walk you through the various places on the vehicle where there could be hidden frame damage,” said George Chamoun, CEO of ACV Auctions.
“It’s one of the more costly repairs and worth extra inspection. Some dealerships use third-party inspection companies to review the used vehicles they take in to protect against missing these costly problems.”
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