So you’re buying a car! Exciting! You’ll have the freedom and power to go anywhere you choose on a whim, and to take your friends along for the ride. It also means you’ll be able to go grocery shopping, buy more than three things at a time and not have to worry about throwing out your back. But if you’re trying to be price conscious, you’ll most likely be looking for a used deal, and there are some extremely important things to keep in mind. Here are 10 things to look for when buying a used car.
You may have no idea what they do, but you do need to know what they should look like. Hoses and belts shouldn’t have any cracks, and the radiator hose cannot be soft. If it is, you’re in for a world of hurt (and expenses) as soon as you take that baby on the road.
One of the most important parts of a car – and one of the first to go – is the break pads. On your test drive, be sure to try pressing down on the brakes at different speeds to ensure there are no strange noises and the car responds quickly and efficiently. If the brake vibrates or pulsates, there is definitely a problem, so move along.
When you take off the oil-filler cap, check to see if there is any foam residue on the inside. If there is, step away from the car and don’t go back – it means there is a leak in the head gasket, something that can mess up your new ride in a hot second. The coolant in the overflow jar can also be a tell. If it’s gross and brown, it’s never been flushed and you have a similar problem.
Make sure the tires are worn evenly, meaning they’ve been rotated through the years, and that they’re the same brand. Different brand tires wear differently, so it’s key that each one is made the same way and aligned correctly.
Is there a spare?
Never buy a car without a spare tire! If the spare is missing, it means that one of the tires on the car is most likely the spare, which are not meant to be used long term (they’re intended to get you to a mechanic to get it replaced with a proper tire). It also means that you may find yourself on the side of a road with a flat and no way to help yourself.
When you’re doing your test drive, put the car through its paces: 90-degree turns, high speeds, quick intervals, starting and stopping quickly. If at any point you hear weird noises or the mysterious clunk, beware. This often means there is joint damage, and it will cost you a pretty penny to repair.
Newer cars often have computers, and they can be very telling. When you first turn on the car, watch for any type of warning or cautions on the computer. They often will tell you of any mechanical problems straight off and save you the trouble of checking manually. Additionally, a dysfunctional computer is an enormous pain to deal with, and massively expensive to fix.
Sure, a broken radio isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re on a 20-hour road trip with nothing but your warbling, window-cracking voice for company, you’re going to wish you had double-checked the sound system. A minor thing, but it can make a big difference.
History, history, history!
NEVER buy a car without checking out its history. Different websites are usually able to provide this, but if you’re buying from a legitimate seller, he/she should have it as well. It’ll show you everything from the time the car was driven off the lot for the first time – performance, repairs, problems, accidents. So if the car was in a 10-car pile up less than a year before, be sure that it received the proper care and attention afterwards.
No matter how good-hearted car dealers are, they’re always going to try get the highest price they can. So be sure to check around to make sure you’re getting a fair deal and paying in the same range as the other options out there. Condition and mileage will impact the price, but you should still know the ballpark going in.
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