How to Buy a Used Car
Remember when buying a used car ranked right up there with a trip
to the dentist? Fear not, for times have changed and buying a used
car is not what it used to be. Today's consumer has so much
information as to render the experience of buying a used car far
less stressful and even, dare we say, enjoyable. This secret
transformation will only occur, however, if you obey the first rule
taught to every first grade student: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
What Can You Afford to Spend?
considering the purchase of a used car, it is wise to establish the
amount you are willing to spend or, if taking a loan, calculate the
monthly payment. Don't forget that after negotiating the final price
of the car, you will need to allow some extra cash to cover tax,
title and sticker. Once you've established a price limit, steer
clear of vehicles that barely squeeze under it. Leave yourself some
wiggle room and shop for a less flashy vehicle with lower mileage or
one in tip-top shape.
What's the Right
Figuring out the how much you want to spend was the
easy part; now you have to find the vehicle that's right for you.
The problem is you're not really sure what's out there or even what
you want. Here is what we suggest.
Be certain the car you desire can accommodate your
First, make a list of all the things you need your vehicle to do
(haul kids, go off road, get good gas mileage) and then make a
second list of all the things you admire in a vehicle (body style,
colors, luxury options). Cross-reference the two. You should end up
with a list of qualities from which to eliminate models that won't
work for you (can't haul kids in 2-seat sports car or run a full
size SUV on a shoe string fuel budget)
Still not sure? No
problem. We've developed a couple of decision guides to help refine
your search. Just answer a few quick questions (like desired Price
Range and Body Style), and the Recommendation Tool will produce a
list of suggested vehicles which meet your criteria! The Side by
Side Comparison will put up to four new or used vehicles side by
side for you to compare!
You Know What
You Want, Now What?
OK, if you made it this far, we are
assuming you have a year, make and model in mind. Now let's go
shopping. If you haven't already done so, it's time to empower
yourself by visiting the book Used Car Retail Values. Here you can
find out how much your desired model is likely to cost at the
dealership. We provide the 'Book Suggested Retail Value' of models
dating as far back as 1980. While you're there, take the opportunity
to get a 'Book Trade-In Value' for your own car. You will see how
various options, mileage and overall condition will affect the value
of your vehicle.
If you need help assessing the condition of
your car, we can help you "rate it" with the Virtual Walk around. By
filling out a series of questions, we help you determine whether the
car is in excellent, good, fair or poor condition.
of your dreams is almost within reach, but how to find it? You can
start by searching the Internet to buy a used car. We have partnered
with companies that can help you in this process. They even feature
listings for vehicles from all over the nation.
Utilize all resources when shopping
You'll also want to check your local classifieds and
shop the local dealerships. You can use our Web site to search for a
list of dealer Web sites or to seek out an individual dealer in your
area. If you are contacting a private party, be sure the first
question you ask is, "Why are you selling the vehicle?" Ask them to
describe the condition of the car and how it was used (e.g., second
car, daily driver, college kid's car, etc.). Ask them if they have
all the mechanical records for the vehicle and if they would have
any objection to you taking the car to a private mechanic for an
inspection. This is extremely important as private party sales are
usually "AS IS" and once you've bought the car, it's yours; no ifs,
ands or buts. If your AREA requires a EMISSION TEST, insist the car
pass inspection before you go to view it. EMISSION TEST should be
the seller's responsibility; don't allow yourself to get to the
point of falling in love with a car only to find that it fails
EMISSION TEST. Also the current owner should get the transfer
package, and you will also see the RETAIL & WHOLESALE VALUE.
If the seller says all the right things, set up an
appointment to see the vehicle. Always try to view the vehicle while
there is still daylight and bring a friend along. If you have to go
alone and are feeling a bit uneasy, ask the owner to bring the car
to a convenient location, a local shopping center parking lot or the
INSPECTION STATION for instance. One last word on private party
sales. A private party in this context refers to an individual
selling his or her personal car. You must be very alert to private
party ads placed by professionals. These are individuals that
purchase used cars, usually in poor shape or salvage titled and then
sell them cheap without disclosing their past problems. Also
referred to as "Curbstoners," these shady characters can often be
found with a few vehicles parked in a shopping center parking lot or
in front of their business. Do not confuse them with a reputable
dealer. They cannot provide the warranty, inspection and
accountability of an established used car dealer.
event that the car or truck you desire is on a dealer's lot, there
will be no way to ask many of these questions, in which case you
will have to let the car do the talking.
First, write down
the Vehicle Identification Number (a 17-digit code usually located
on the dash at the base of the windshield). With the VIN in hand,
you can take full advantage of the services provided by the Ministry of
Transportation (for a small fee), such as the vehicle history report which will provide information such as the
number of owners and whether the title is clean.
The VIN # is located at the base of the dash and/or
inside the drivers side door.
A physical assessment of the
vehicle is absolutely paramount before the purchase. Take your time
and be thorough with your examination .While a private party may let
you take the car to your own mechanic, a dealer may not be so
obliging, insisting that his own mechanic perform the inspection.
Don't let this stop you from doing some inspecting of your own.
Again, if the seller objects or tries to belittle you for your
effort, walk away. An honest dealer should stand behind every used
car he sells, and there are plenty of good dealers out there: A1
AUTOMOTIVE CONNECTION can help you in your search.
Here are a few checks
you can do with relative ease.
Stand away from the
vehicle and look at its seams. Do they all line up? Now walk around
the vehicle. Are all the body parts the same color? Check the tires
for wear. Uneven tire wear - balding on the sides or in the middle -
could indicate the need for a front-end alignment or a more costly
repair to a suspension component.
Bring along a small refrigerator magnet and
place it gently (as not to scratch the paint) along various body
panels (lower door, front fender, etc.). If there is any plastic
body filler the magnet will not stay in place, indicating the
vehicle has been involved in an accident or repairs have been done in
Open the trunk, hood and doors. Look for paint
specs or over spray, a telltale sign all or part of the vehicle has
Check the radiator fluid. If it is foamy or has oil
droplets in it, there is a good chance the car has a defective head
gasket (coolant and oil are mixing together) / or worse, a cracked
block or head.
Reach up under
the car and feel around the top of the gas tank. If you find mud or
leaves up there, chances are, the vehicle was involved in a flood
or, in the case of an SUV, taken off road with some frequency. You
can perform the same test inside the car by carefully reaching up
under the dash.
Off road or flood inspection
inside of the car. Look in the ashtrays and under the seats. Listen
to the radio. If the buttons are all set to stations in another
area, you know the car is not local. Likewise if all the stations
are set to heavy metal vs. classical, you'll have some indication of
who the previous owners were (or at least what the car jockeys are
listening to when they move the cars around the lot).
at the condition of each foot pedal (gas, brake and clutch). Do the
rubber foot pads show heavy wear? Likewise, if the steering wheel is
leather, does it show excessive wear? These patterns on a low
mileage car may indicate that the vehicle has seen more mileage than
the odometer indicates. Trust your sixth sense on this one. If you
feel the odometer has been tampered with, politely tell the seller
you have another car to look at and beat it out of there. If
everything checks out and you feel you have a good deal before you,
do yourself one more favor. Contact the manufacturer. If the car you
are buying is a late model vehicle, find out what the warranty
stipulations are. VW, for example, offered a 10-year/100,000 K.M.
warranty on its cars after 1994, but only to the original owner. If
you buy a VW used, the warranty is reduced to 5-year/50,000 K.M. If
the lack of a warranty is holding you back from buying a used
vehicle you will want to visit our Warranties page for additional
It looks hot, it sounds great and everyone
stares as you drive by. But is it comfortable? Enter the all
important test drive. The test-drive not only affords the
opportunity to gauge a vehicle's driving characteristics but also
minimizes the chance that buyers remorse will rear its ugly head.
Most people take only a few minutes to test-drive a car;
this is a big mistake that often comes back to haunt them. Spend as
much time as you can inside the car. Ask to sit in it for a while,
say 20 minutes. If 20 minutes seems an eternity to you (you know who
you are) bring along a CD or Tape.
Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty
seat, and we mean really feel it. Is it too hard or too soft? Does
it hold you firmly with good lateral and thigh support? Do your legs
start to cramp? Does your lower back feel like it needs more
support? Take a good long time to sit, because really, the seat is
one of the most important parts of the car. It's the one feature you
use constantly from the minute you climb into the car until you
reach your destination. Imagine shelling out $15,000 for a car only
to find after the first hour on the road your back (and backside) is
in agony. So sit there a while and play around inside.
about the steering wheel? Is it too high up or too close to the
dash? When adjusted comfortably, does it cut off your view of any or
all of the gauges? Look at the layout of the radio and heater
controls. Can they be easily adjusted without taking your eyes off
the road? Look over your shoulder, are there any blind spots that
you cannot compensate for by using your mirrors? Climb into all the
seats and check the head and legroom for future passengers. Do the
headrests come up far enough? Do they touch your head or are they
raked back at an angle away from you?
Does the seatbelt have
an adjustable anchor or does it cut into your neck? Are there child
seat anchors? Check to see how far the rear windows roll down. Some
models have windows that only go down a few inches or are sealed in
place and don't roll down at all. Take your time to explore all
these areas. Then take it for a drive.
Are head restraints angled or too far
Before starting the car, turn the key to the Accessory
position (the last position before the starter motor is engaged).
All the dash warning lights should light up.
Be sure both
the "check engine" and, if equipped with anti-lock brakes, the "abs"
lights illuminate. If they do not, the problem could be as minor as
a burned out bulb or as serious as tampering to disguise a problem.
In either case, insist the problem be corrected or inspected before
Upon first turning the engine over, listen for
any tapping or ticking sounds. A prolonged tapping could be valves
needing adjustment or a bad hydraulic lifter. If equipped with power
steering, turn the wheel from side to side, and listen for belt
squeal (you'll know it, everyone on the lot will know it!). Pump the
brake pedal a few times and then press hard with your foot. If it
slowly sinks all the way to the floor, there is either a leak in the
line or the master cylinder/brake booster is dying. Shift into gear.
If the car is an automatic, the transmission should engage
immediately and shifts should be crisp and quick. There should be no
grinding or groaning sound of any kind from the transmission when
you select gears. With your foot firmly on the brake, shift from
drive to reverse; clunks or grinding noises could indicate worn or
broken engine transmission mounts, bad u-joints or differential
As you drive along, does the steering wheel shake or
vibrate? It shouldn't. Vibration in the steering wheel can mean
anything from an unbalanced tire to a loose steering rack. If the
steering wheel shakes but only when you are braking, this could
indicate a warped rotor or sticking caliper.
Cars with ABS
(anti-lock brakes) will have a slight pulsating action in the pedal
when the brake is applied with great force (panic stops for
example). Cars without ABS should not have pulsating brake pedals
under any circumstances. The car should also continue in a straight
line when the brakes are applied. If the car pulls noticeably to the
left or right, it could indicate a problem with the front brake
calipers, suspension or steering gear.
If the car fails on
any of these points, take it to a mechanic to evaluate repairs. It
is then your call whether you want to walk away or re-negotiate the
price based on the repair estimate.
We recommend that you
contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Ask them what forms
are required to transfer the title as well as any other information
you need to provide them. Examples: Bill of Sale/Emission
Test/Safety Certificate etc.
Lastly, what ever you do, get
everything in WRITING. This means if you settle with a private
party, write up a contract stating what you are paying for the
vehicle and under what terms it is to be delivered. Likewise with a
dealer, any work they promise to do or options they intend to add,
get it in writing before you close the deal.
Dealer vs. Private Party
A word about buying
from a dealer vs. a private party. There are advantages and
disadvantages to both. With a dealer, you get a warranty (usually 30
days) and some dealerships now offer a certification program for
their late model cars that extends the warranty. The advantages with
a private party are the vehicle can cost less, you will have all the
repair records and you know the previous owner, should any questions
come up later.
*Thank you for choosing A1 Automotive Connection
for all your automotive needs.
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