By: Jack Sackman
Second hand cars can be inexpensive when compared to a brand new vehicle. However, buying a used car is always a gamble. People who buy used need to be savvy to ensure that they don’t get ripped off by an unscrupulous seller who is trying to unload a car with a lot of problems on another person. Knowing what to expect, and what to look for, when buying a used car can help protect your wallet and get you into a reliable vehicle that is safe to drive. Because when it comes to buying a used car, it really is “buyer beware.” Here are 11 things everyone should know when buying a second-hand car.
11. There’s No Warranty
Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way first. When you buy a used car, there is no warranty on the vehicle, which means you’ll be paying out of pocket for any problems that arise with the car once you pay for it. If the engine breaks down on your way home from the used car lot, it’s likely your problem not the dealership’s. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a used car dealer that offers a 30 day guarantee on the cars they sell, or a dealer who will agree to split the cost of repairs with you should anything happen to the car in the first 90 days that you own it. But even these offers are rare and hard to find. In most cases, once you buy a used car, you assume all the problems that come with it—no matter how expensive they are.
10. There Will Be Things You Cannot See
When it comes to the five senses and used cars, the sense of hearing is your best friend. More than anything else, you’ll be able to hear if there are any problems under the hood of a used car that you’re thinking of buying. Somewhat ironically, the sense of sight is often the least helpful to people buying a second-hand car. This is because it can be extremely difficult for people to see problems in the engine or underneath the car. Sure, you can spot rust on a car’s body and see liquids pooling underneath the car, but chances are you won’t be able to see if the engine block is cracked or the catalytic converter is about to shut down. To help with this issue, bring a flashlight with you and a friend or relative who has experience dealing with cars and knows where to look for trouble spots. Still, seeing everything on a car you’re considering buying is almost impossible.
9. Road Test the Car…Several Times
Taking a used car on a road test is critically important and not just one time. Take a car you’re interested in on several different road tests at different times. This is the best way to determine how it drives and if it is reliable. Be sure to take the car on the highway and drive it through city streets. On the highway, push the car to the speed limit and beyond to see how it drives at high speeds. Also, be sure to test the car in reverse in a store parking lot or while parallel parking. Putting the car through its paces as much as possible before buying it is the best way to ensure that you are not buying a jalopy. Just hope that you’re dealing with a patient and understanding seller.
8. Be Aware of Smells—Good and Bad
Back to our trusty senses, and the sense of smell. Every car has a smell to it, and it is usually pretty strong. So, what do you smell in the used car you’re considering? Do you smell gasoline or oil? If yes, this could be a sign of some problems with the vehicle. Does the car smell nice? Does it smell like it has been sprayed with a scent? Does it almost smell too nice given the age of the car? If yes, this too can be a sign that something is amiss and that the person selling the car is trying to cover the problem up with some scented smells. Always be attuned to the way a car smells. It should always smell as you expect. Any strong odors—good or bad—should be taken as a sign that something isn’t right.
7. Get the Paperwork
It isn’t always possible, but you should try to get any and all paperwork associated with a vehicle. This should include the history of repairs and maintenance done on a car—right down to every oil change, as well as the original purchase agreement for the car from where it was bought. Again, this isn’t always possible, but it is the best way to know the history of the car you’re buying and what problems it had over the years, and which problems were fixed. From new tires and wiper blades to a new battery and radiator, having the paper work in hand is always preferable. Buying a used car from someone who kept all the paperwork on the vehicle is also a good sign that the person you’re dealing with is above board and conscientious.
6. Avoid Buying a Car Online
It’s the way of the world nowadays, but buying a car online is never advisable. When it comes to a big ticket item such as a car, it is always best to buy it in person. Shopping online might be convenient, but it is how the most scams take place. Going in person to a dealership or meeting the person selling a car in the flesh is always the way to go when buying a second-hand car. Not only will this allow you to see the car up close, but it will also enable you to meet the person selling it and get a sense of whether they are on the up-and-up. And it should go without saying that you should never buy a car online without seeing it in person or taking it on a test drive first. This is the height of stupidity and how people end up losing their money with no car to show for it.
5. Resist Pressure Tactics
Don’t be pressured into doing anything you’re not comfortable with when it comes to buying a used car. Beware of a seller who is overly aggressive or pushy. Never turn over any money or a credit card until you have decided 100% that this is the car for you and you’re ready to buy it. Take your time and try to get to know the car before you agree to purchase it. Take it for multiple test drives and don’t be afraid to come back to a seller or dealership multiple times. Never agree to buy a used car because you’re being pressured to do so. In fact, take these pressure tactics as a sign that something isn’t right and walk away. You’ll be doing yourself a favor in the long run.
4. Pay Attention to the Body of the Car
Of course you want to be on the lookout for rust, dents and scratches on the body of a car. But also pay attention to the panels and bumpers on a car. Do they line up? If not, it could be a sign that the car has been in a collision and been repaired. Other signs that a car has been extensively repaired include different colors on the body, trim pieces that look newer than the rest of the vehicle, paint overspray and ripples in the body. If you see any of these signs, chances are that the car you’re planning to buy was in an accident and underwent major repairs. Ask the seller about any collisions. If they seem like they are lying to you, turn and bolt. You’re dealing with an untrustworthy individual.
3. Beware of Fresh Undercoating
Freshly sprayed undercoating beneath a car is often a sign that a problem, or multiple problems, are being covered up. This is because undercoating can hide problems on the bottom of a car, making it very difficult for you to see if there is rust or other issues with the vehicle. Never mind what the seller tells you. If you see fresh undercoating sprayed beneath a car you want to buy, then it should cause your radar to go off and you should start asking a lot of important questions about the car and its true condition. If nothing else, these questions will show that you are a savvy car buyer and not someone who can have the wool pulled over their eyes.
2. Avoid Unlicensed Dealers
Most U.S. states and Canadian provinces require that car dealers be licensed and registered with a local motor vehicle council or association. If the dealer you’re negotiating with won’t show you proof of their license and/or registration, take this as a red flag and move on. Of course, it is different if you are buying a car from an individual. But if you’re buying from a car dealer, make sure they are licensed and registered. Unregistered dealers masquerading as private sellers are called “curb siders,” and they are to be avoided. In some, but certainly not all, jurisdictions, licensed used car dealers contribute to a compensation fund that you may be able to tap into if your purchase turns out to be less than ideal and you suffer financial losses as a result. This is likely the best insurance you will get when buying a used car.
1. Get the Car Inspected
It will cost a little money, but it is always advisable to have a used car you’re considering buying inspected by a licensed and professional mechanic. This is the very best way to identify any and all problems with a used car, and to know if you are buying a decent car or a lemon. Mechanics can see things that you are not able to see, and they have the knowledge and experience to identify problems, and potential problems, with a second-hand vehicle. While many people are reluctant to spend this money upfront when buying a used car, it is money well spent in the long run. If you have a friend or family member who is knowledgeable about cars, all the better. And if you have a mechanic you’ve been going to for a long time and trust, then take advantage of their expertise. This will help to protect the investment you make in a used car.