investigate a used car

Investigating A Used Car

Buying a used car can save you a considerable amount of money over new vehicles but they come with an inherent risk. You never really know how the car was treated before you got it. You can, however, minimize the risk if you take some time to investigate the vehicle you intend to buy. Here are some things that you need to know.

What is the vehicle worth?

First and foremost, you need to determine the value of the vehicle before you go see it. There are a lot of resources online that can help you do that like Kelly Blue Book, NADA and Carfax.

Be sure to have as much information as you can on the vehicle when you figure the value. You will want the mileage, engine type, transmission, trim level and you want to know as many options as possible.

Once you have a number, the actual value will depend on the real condition of the vehicle which you will see when you can examine it. The used vehicle value calculators give you a great starting point but the price can vary a bit, up or down.

Is The Vehicle Well Liked?

Some cars and trucks were just not very popular. This could be from design problems, reliability issues or just poor drivability. These days, it is very easy to determine this.

Do a search for the year, make and model of the vehicle. This should bring up numerous reviews, particularly from websites like Car & Driver, Motortrend, etc. See how the vehicle was reviewed when it was new. If it was a poor vehicle new, it certainly will be an even worse one new.

In addition, check out forum posts to get some real world experience on the vehicle and to hear potential issues. Search again for your vehicle year, make and model but this time, add the keyword forum to the list. This should bring up real life posts about the vehicle. Take a few minutes and review them.

Is The History Clean?

A Carfax report can be your friend here. It will show you if the car has a clean title or if it has, for example a rebuilt title.

It will also show whether the vehicle has been in a flood, if there were any major accidents and ownership history.

If you are looking for a used car from an individual, you will probably have to pay for the report yourself. The cost is worth it for the piece of mind. If you are looking at a dealer, many of them now partner with Carfax and offer the report for free.

Is The Inspection Current?

You will want to check to see that the vehicle is current. If the emissions and safety sticker has lapsed, there may be a reason for it.

Perhaps it will not pass and the owner is desperately needing to sell it to avoid the expenses. Bringing a vehicle current on emissions in particular can be very expensive. It can run into the thousands of dollars if there are major problems.

Never buy a vehicle without a current inspection sticker unless you are willing to take on this level of risk.

Is The Car Under Warranty?

An existing factory warranty can be a very great thing. It takes a lot of risk out of buying a used vehicle if you know that the factory still has it covered.

Whether is actually has a warranty though is not so cut and dry. Kia, for example, has a 10 year 100,000 mile warranty. You might think that buying a used Kia would be a good deal then, nut wait. The warranty only applies to the original owner. It drops down to 60,000 miles once the vehicle is sold.

Every manufacturer has different policies regarding their warranties. So, before you assume that your vehicle is still covered by the factory, you need to investigate further. You can look online or simply call the dealership to find out.

Does The Vehicle Need Any Maintenance?

If you have to put money into the vehicle immediately in the form of maintenance, this can be a problem for two reasons. Obviously, it will cost you money but in addition, it might indicate that the vehicle has not been taken care of in the past.

Two of the biggest maintenance items are tires and brakes. Look to see if the tires need replacement which can easily cost you an immediate $500 or more. Also look at the pattern of wear on the tires. Uneven wear or cupping could indicate suspension issues.

If you can get a look at the break calipers, take a note of the thickness of the brake pads. If you can’t pull a wheel or see the calipers through the wheel, listen for squeaks that could indicate that the pads are at the end of their life. Grinding is also a dead giveaway and could indicate sever brake problems.

It is also a good idea to take a look at fluids. It is often hard to gauge the condition of oil, power steering fluid and brake fluid by looking at it but make sure that the levels are correct. Transmission fluid is another story. It can tell you a lot. Transmissions are often severely neglected and a burnt look and smell to the fluid could indicate some issues that may cost you in the near future. A rebuilt transmission could easily cost you 2000 dollars or more.

What’s The Best Way To Pay?

Are you looking to pay cash for a vehicle or are you going to finance.

If you are going to pay cash, you simply need to stay in your price range and if dealing with an individual, think security. Meet during the day in public places and it may be better to pay with a money order than with a stack of hundreds.

If you are going to finance, you should arrange your financing in advance. Luckily personal loans for fair credit or even bad credit are fairly easy to arrange. If working with a dealership, it is often best to arrange your financing in advance. Even if you intend to use their finance department, it can give them something that they have to beat which could save you money.

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James Car is a finance, loan and budget expert based in the United States. After attending Brookhaven college, he went on to become a successful entrepreneur. He now enjoys writing articles that help people save and make the most of their money.