Not everyone can afford a new car, and some people prefer to get a “better” used car rather than a lower quality new car. For most people, their biggest issue with buying a used car is the fear of biting into a lemon. Here are a few methods you can employ that’ll help you identify if the used car you’re looking at is a winner or a loser.
Take a close look at the paint job.
A lot of unscrupulous used-car sellers will paint a car that’s rusting in order to hide it, just long enough to get it off their hands. If the car you’re looking at has undergone a recent paint job, you may want to proceed with caution. Many times, looking underneath the car or in the wheel wells is a good place to find evidence of rust that otherwise wouldn’t be hidden by an exterior paint job. If there’s rust on the undercarriage or wheel wells or around the bumpers, this could be indication the car’s exterior was painted over to hide rust.
Look closely for evidence of major body work.
Often, one of the dead giveaways that major body work has been performed can be seen if the car’s door panels don’t align neatly with the car’s side panels or bumpers. You may want to bring in an expert to look at this for you, since determining if a car has been in a bad accident in the past can give you a lot of insight into any structural problems the vehicle may still have as a result.
Take the car on an extended test drive.
We’re not talking about asking to borrow the wheels for a weekend getaway. But the last thing you should ever do is buy a car without ever having driven it – and if you do take it on a test drive, don’t just limit yourself to going around the block. If you aren’t allowed by the current owner to test drive the car on the freeway as well as in the city, they could be trying to hide something from you. Insist on this. You don’t want to plunk down your hard-earned cash just to discover the car has no pickup when trying to get up to freeway speeds.
Take the vehicle in for an inspection at a mechanic you can trust.
This will give you an unbiased third party opinion and can save you from buying a car with problems that have yet to show themselves. By putting the car on a lift for a closer inspection, a mechanic can check out the front suspension, drive train, check for leaks, brake and tire wear and other inspection points. Ask the shop to generate a price estimate for any areas that need attention. See if the seller is willing to deduct a reasonable repair cost from the sale price. If the price to repair the items is astronomical, return the car and tell the owner to have a nice day!
Get the Carfax.
All you need to do this is the car’s VIN number. If the car was manufactured in 1981 or later, you could find out a lot about the car’s history that the current owners may not want you to know, including history of flood damage, who’s owned the car before you, past accident reports, or how the car was used. This is a big one, because it could tell you if the car had been used as a rental, in which case the odometer could have been reset.
Having a good friend or family member who knows a lot about cars can be a huge help in buying a used car. Happy car shopping!