From car dealerships to auctions, buying a used car can come with a whole heap of traps. Whilst purchasing a used car is a great way of cutting the cost of your driving (as most new cars lose around 40% of their value in the first year), there’s still risks and hidden costs involved.
Unfortunately buying a car is rarely an easy process. It’s easy to get ripped off or make the wrong choice when faced with pushy salesmen, untrustworthy car owners or feeling the pressure of car auction. With the right information though, price and vehicle comparison and a hell of a lot of research and shopping around, you can avoid the common used car buying mistakes. Here’s what to be weary off.
1. Choosing the Wrong Car for Your Needs
It seems like a fairly obvious point but you’d be surprised at how many people think they need it all, when really they don’t. Before you step foot out of your house to begin the used car search, really (and I mean really!) consider what you need. You can add to the list the ‘nice to haves’ but be clear in your driving needs.
There’s no need to be shopping for a huge SUV because you want to be prepared when the in-laws visit, when they don’t even visit often. And don’t be persuaded by the nice looking convertible when you’re needing a family vehicle. If you are only using your car to get to work and back, be smart about size and fuel efficiency. If you are needing the boot space for sport or music equipment, don’t opt for something smaller because you thought it was the better deal. Make sure your needs are realistic and met.
2. Not Checking Under the Hood
When buying a used car, it’s absolutely imperative you ask the seller about the mechanical condition of it. This problem tends to result from lack of confidence, lack of research or both. But asking isn’t always enough – be prepared to check under the hood too.
Do your inspection in broad day light on a dry day so you can see everything well. Only make these checks once the engine is cool and inspect the general condition of the engine. Whilst dust and dirt is normal, be weary of oil splatters under the engine compartment and check the car batteries to ensure they aren’t covered with corrosion or have any wires and hoses hanging loose.
Check the engine fluids – the oil should be dark brown or black, not gritty. Inspect the oil dipstick for water droplets or a grey foamy oil too as this can indicate a cracked engine block or head gasket. Be wary of cars that smell like burnt oil when you lift the hood. Check the radiator coolant which should be a greenish or orange colour, not a rusty colour. Some car batteries have a built-in charge indicator which can help to determine whether it’s in good shape or not. A green light shows is positive, yellow or black usually means it’s dying or dead. Make sure you check the liquid electrolyte level of the battery too by unscrewing the caps. Low levels can mean it’s been overworked and it can be a wise move to have a mechanic check the charging system for a ‘load test’.
3. Skimping on the Test Drive
After you have checked under the hood, it’s time to take the car for a test drive. It’s not unusual for first time car buyers to be worried about taking it for a test drive so it can be a good idea to bring someone with you too. Test driving the vehicle will enable you to really get familiar with its performance and discover any potential problems. During the test drive, listen out for engine noises and watch for lack of power, vibrations or other driveability issues.
When you start the vehicle, the engine should run smoothly. Pay attention to how the engine reacts to acceleration and breaking, you don’t want it to be stumbling or buckling. Make sure you test drive the car at variable speeds if possible go on the freeway and down side roads to really get a feel for the vehicle.
4. Thinking with Your Heart Instead of Your Brain
For some people, it can be easy to get tempted by sweet deals and shiny ‘new’ cars. Regardless of whether you’re at an auction, a private sale or a car yard dealing with professional salesmen, it can be really easy to believe everything they are selling you. Don’t get sucked in to buying something you cannot afford or that doesn’t meet you specific needs.
Be smart about your choices and don’t feel the need to decide on the spot. Go away and discuss the options with someone else and weigh up the pros and cons of each before you say yes. If any vehicle owner is trying to push you into making a decision straight away, it’s probably not a good idea anyway.
5. Failing to Consider Every Option
Whilst you want to take your needs into consideration, stay away from being personally bias against certain cars. Personal preferences will always be there but don’t let them lead you to bad decisions. You may not like the idea of buying a Ford, but perhaps it’s the best deal and fits your needs perfectly. You may want to refuse to buy a car because you wanted black, not white but what if that car is a great option? Be open to every option and suggestion and don’t rule out a decision just because of its brand or colour, unless there’s a really good reason to.
6. Forgetting to Ask About Service History
You’ll want to see records of regular servicing to guarantee the mechanical safety of the car you’re about to purchase. If there’s no service history, then ask why. When checking the records yourself look out for any problems that may be a persistent fault or if there’s a consistent story there that may cause issues down the track.
Used Car Buyer Checklist
- Accident damage and rust: Check the boot, doors and floor wells for dark stains or bubbled, dimpled paint.
- Hail damage: Check the bonnet, roof and boot lid. Some insurance companies won’t insure if there’s damage so it’s important to inspect and ask.
- Paint: Look for colour variations, dents and over spraying.
- Engine number and VIN: Ensure the numbers match the Certificate of Registration and check for signs of interference like drill holes.
- Manufacture details: Check the year and month of manufacture and make sure they’re compliant with the plates and vehicle build.
- Engine appearance: Build-up of dirt or oil may indicate poor maintenance or mechanical problems.
- Engine at idle: Listen for irregular running, feel for vibrations or any knocking and rattling noises.
- Engine oil: Smell of burning oil or dirty and thick oil can indicate lack of maintenance. Grey or milky colour oil may signify the presence of water which can lead to serious engine problems.
- Oil fumes: Remove the oil filler cap while the engine is idling to check.
- Battery: Check for acid corrosion.
- Radiator: Check the coolant is clean and brightly coloured and any visible damage to the cooler fins and tubes.
- Underneath the car: Inspect tyres (including spare), oil leaks and exhaust system for rust and excessive noises.
- Inside the car: Inspect seat belts for fraying or damaged parts, make sure everything is good condition and safe. Check operation lights and whether the vehicle is fitted with an airbag. Check equipment, accessories and jack and tool kit.
- Road test: During test drive, inspect steering for excessive ‘free travel’ or wandering, feel that the brakes are smooth and not sinking to the floor, check water temperature gauge whilst driving, gear changes and suspension.
This article is written by Jayde Ferguson, who writes for Autospark – Perth’s leading auto electrician that stock high quality car parts and batteries with full length warranties. You can catch Jayde on Google+ to discuss this piece.