Auto Repair Help
Carl’s Corner – Auto Repair Help

By Carl O’Reilly

Buying a used vehicle can save you a lot of money. However, when you buy a used vehicle, you may be just getting someone else’s “problem”. Therefore, it is critical to find out how reliable a particular vehicle is. New vehicles lose on average 30% of their value within the first year alone. With each succeeding year, they continue to lose value. You can use this fact of life to your advantage and save yourself a bundle. For example, suppose you’re interested in a certain make/model that sells new for $23,000.00. If you buy the same make/model that is a year old, you’ll pay (on average) somewhere around $16,100.00 … a savings of $6900.00! If you look at the same make/model that is say two years old, you’ll save even more. Also know that most new vehicles come with at least a 3 year parts and service warranty that is transferable. So, for example, if you buy a two year old vehicle, you’ll still be able to use what is remaining on the vehicle’s warranty.

Before you begin shopping for a used vehicle, you must have a good idea as to what the certain year, make, and model you’re interested in is worth. A good start for determining this is to check either Edmund’s Used Car Prices or VMR Used Car Prices (both available at most bookstores or online). Also, it’s important to check your local newspaper’s classified ads for any used vehicles for sale which match the year, make, and model you’re looking for. Call each seller and ask more about the vehicle. The more sellers you talk with, the better grasp you’ll have of what these certain vehicles are selling for.

There is almost no doubt you’ll spend more for a used vehicle if you buy from a used car dealer as opposed to a private party. Some used car dealers are pros at deception and will do everything possible to inflate the sale price of a used vehicle. Further, some used car dealers have even been known to roll back the odometer so they may ask more for the vehicle. Certainly not all used car dealers practice deceptive or fraudulent tactics. Many are indeed honest and run a legitimate business. However, you as a consumer should be aware of what sometimes goes on “behind the scenes”.

The expression “let the buyer beware” applies best when it comes to used vehicles. Ask the seller the following questions in order to learn more about the vehicle…

1. Why is the vehicle being sold?
2. Are you the original owner?
3. Where was the vehicle serviced?
4. Do you have all service records/receipts?
5. Has it had any major repairs?
6. Does it need any repairs?
7. Was it ever in an accident?
8. Was the oil changed every 3,000 miles?
9. Has it had all scheduled maintenance?


Interior- The interior gives you clues as to the vehicle’s value and condition. If the interior has been neglected, the engine has probably been neglected as well. Here is a checklist (Note: some vehicles may not have one or more of these items)…

– Upholstery and carpet clean?
– Door latches work?
– Doors open and close smoothly?

– Gas, brake, and clutch pedals work well?
– All windows work?
– All locks work?

– Radio/stereo works?
– All gauges light up and work?
– Horn works?

– Power seats work?
– Parking brake works?
– Rear window defogger work?

– Owner’s manual in glove box?

Exterior – Inspect the exterior very carefully. You should be able to tell if the vehicle has ever been in an accident (even if the owner says it hasn’t). Always make your inspection during the daytime in order to see dings clearly.

– Look carefully for dings and dents
– Check muffler and exhaust pipes for cracks
– Check body for rust

– Windshield wipers work?
– Turn signals work?
– Brake lights work?

– Emergency blinkers work?
– Backup lights work?
– Headlights and brights work?

– Door handles work?
– Check for oil and transmission fluid leaks
– Check tire tread depth

– Check windows for cracks
– Make sure jack and spare tire are in good shape
– Check inside of tail pipe for a black, gummy substance

Road Test – During the road test, check for the following things. Make sure you drive both in city and highway conditions.

– Make sure engine starts quickly
– Make sure vehicle does not pull to one side while driving
– Make sure oil light does not come on

– Make sure “Check Engine” light does not come on
– Make sure engine does not make a pinging or knocking sound

– Make sure transmission shifts smoothly
– Make sure all gears work
– Make sure no unusual smoke is coming from exhaust

– Make sure engine idles evenly
– Make sure brakes stop vehicle well
– Make sure brakes don’t grind or squeal

– Is engine’s power what you’d expect for this vehicle?
– Air Conditioning works?
– Heater works?

– Does the speedometer work?
– Make sure temperature gauge does not go beyond the middle marker
– Make sure engine does not “run on” when you shut it off

If the vehicle passes your inspection, ask the seller if he wouldn’t mind you taking the vehicle to a local garage for a mechanical evaluation inspection. Many mechanics charge somewhere around $120.00 for such an inspection; this will tell you what problems (if any) the vehicle has. Spending for this inspection may seem like a waste but it may save you a lot of grief if the mechanic tells you the vehicle is near its end or not what the seller claims. Also, another benefit is that a mechanic can pretty well determine if the vehicle’s odometer reading is consistent with the condition of the engine and transmission. In other words, he’ll let you know if the odometer has been rolled back.

Carefully inspect all service records/receipts so that you know what type of problems (if any) the vehicle has had in the past. If the seller tells you he doesn’t have any records of past work done, you should be very suspicious. Either the seller is lying to you in order to hide something or he has neglected the vehicle by not bothering to have needed service done (including regular maintenance work such as oil changes).

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