Used cars can be easy on the wallet, but they can also be risky. If you’re taking mechanic courses, chances are that at some point you’ll be called upon to help inspect used vehicles and determine if they are a good purchase or not. Likewise, auto sales college graduates who hope to sell pre-owned cars should be ready to check out the merchandise before they purchase it for resale.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to purchase a second-hand car:
Before bringing in an automotive service technician to inspect a potential lemon, there is some very simple preventative homework you can do to establish whether your amazing deal is a stellar find – or too good to be true.
Every year Consumer Reports issues a list of the most and least reliable models of car. You can use this as a guide to see if the used car is worth your while and to identify what particular problems to look for.
It’s also important to work with licensed dealers who have the paperwork to prove it. When dealing with a private seller, you should verify they are actually the owner, otherwise you could be buying from a “curbsider” or an unlicensed dealer pretending to be a private seller.
Outside the Vehicle
When you look over the outside of a used car, make sure to check for signs that it may have had work done that you weren’t told about:
- The bumpers and panels should line up, otherwise it could indicate a collision
- An uneven paint job as well as fresh undercoating could also indicate trouble
- Make sure there are no leaks. Puddles underneath or near the car as well as unusual odours can indicate problems
- Tires are a good indicator of how hard the previous owner drove the car. If the outside shoulder of the front tires show heavier wear, it may have fallen victim to an aggressive driver
- Check the tailpipe for excessive rust buildup.
Inside the Car
You should also do a thorough check of any second-hand vehicle’s interior before purchasing. Here’s some of what to look for:
- Check the rubber on the pedals to get an accurate idea of how much the car has been used. Rubber wear can be used to help either verify or disprove the odometer
- Check the headliner and roof trim for sags and stains which could indicate leakage
- Smell the interior. If it smells heavily of air freshener, it could have been used to mask the smell of mildew or cigarette smoke
- Verify that all the controls light up when you put the key in the ignition and make sure that they all work
Under the Hood
It’s what’s inside that counts. Checking under the hood is an important step in deciding whether or not to purchase a used car. Here’s some of what to look for:
- Oil should be dark brown or black and transmission fluid should be pinkish and smell like oil, not burnt
- Make sure the radiator coolant is greenish or orange and there is no greenish stains on the outside of the radiator (could be a sign of pinhole leaks).
- Hoses should not be cracked, rock-hard or mushy and belts should not be frayed
Also, don’t forget to take a test drive. If you hear a banging sound coming from the engine, check the tailpipe because it could indicate a coolant leak.
These are just a few suggestions you should follow. If you have any other clues to look for when purchasing a used car, please let us know in the comments.