Purchasing a car is a daunting experience. There are countless car dealerships that offer an inventory of brand-new vehicles or used vehicles.
For those who want to purchase a vehicle, there are a few things to do to reduce the risk of purchasing a lemon. Being informed and prepared as you head out to car shop means (hopefully!) a lot less hassle down the road.
Vehicles are an expensive investment. It pays to take one’s time and be prepared to sign on the dotted line.
Below are some recommendations for a savvy car buyer:
The Internet is a god-send in a variety of ways. One of those beneficial improvements on days gone by is the sheer number of websites that can be accessed, offering used and new vehicles for sale, current prices at different dealerships and also ratings on a specific make and model of a vehicle.
Check out Edmunds.com, ConsumerReports.org, KBB.com, or CarandDriver.com. These all can provide preliminary information if you start out with a specific vehicle type or model in mind.
The next stop on the internet would be Autocheck.com or CarFax.com for history of a used vehicle, based on that vehicle’s title. This can be accessed if you are willing to spend a little bit to save a lot down the road.
This type of website shares information on previous accidents, maintenance information or situations where the odometer has been tampered with, to name a few scenarios worth noting.
Consumer Reports offers an annual subscriber survey, which provides reliable and real-world information on the best and worst used cars. A quick reference list is also available, along with vehicle profiles that offer a reliability history chart for that specific model. It covers 17 trouble areas and the overall reliability of the vehicle in question.
Finally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (nhtsa.gov/recalls) lists all official recalls. It’s worth knowing if the vehicle you are about to purchase has a list of parts that need replaced and no one has kept up with the recalls for it.
A vehicle may look great on paper: features, comfort, safety and reliability. It may look great in the photo on a website. Some people fall in love. However, there is a lot you can learn about a vehicle by taking it for a test drive. Feeling the tires on the pavement and determining if the A/C or the seat settings are to your satisfaction are another key element of finding the perfect vehicle for you.
It is also important to make sure there are no obvious issues with the vehicle at the time of purchase. Slack or play in the wheel can mean issues. A pull to one side can mean trouble to come as well.
If they are found during a test drive, it might be possible to negotiate for them to be fixed. In fact, some states have a law prohibiting a vehicle’s sale with certain things wrong. This is another reason a test drive comes in handy.
Some buyers believe the dealer will check the vehicle to make sure it is road ready. That is not the case, and many vehicle owners end up dealing with a problem immediately that might have been avoidable if a test drive was conducted.
It is also important to look at any after-market accessories or systems that have been added. An especially enhanced stereo system or custom parts may interfere with the vehicle’s reliability or put the electrical system at risk of issues sooner rather than later. These are things to look into while taking the vehicle for a test drive.
Certain additions also void a warranty. This is not helpful to a new vehicle owner. Also beware of the window sticker that sells the vehicle “as is.” Know your state law, as many states do not allow as-is sales on vehicles selling for more than a certain price.
Up close and personal: give it a once over
In addition to taking the vehicle out on the road, seeing how it handles and if it feels the way you expect, it is important to look at the various parts of the vehicle to see if potential problems are visible.
Check the exterior for signs of rust, for example. It is also important to look for chipped paint, anything broken and mismatched parts. Signs of paint overspray may mean body-panel repair, which is worth noting prior to purchase.
Body filler can be found by using a small magnet. It is also worth checking for doors, a hood or trunk that won’t seal properly or welds that are not consistent (these can be found around the doors, hood or trunk of a car).
Check the tires for signs of uneven wear. Aggressive driving can be an indication of issues to come, and that can be determined by heavy wear on the outside of the tires. Meanwhile, wear in the middle that is notable compared to the rest of the tire means it was driven by someone who tended to over-inflate the tires.
Look under the hood for wet spots, which can indicate leaking oil or fluids; melted wires, tubes, or lines or any worn spots on the belts and hoses.
Check the interior for cracks, missing handles or knobs or a headliner that isn’t flush with the vehicle roof. Pedals that seem overly worn can be a sign the vehicle has seen a lot of miles. Meanwhile, a water leak could mean a smell of mildew. Any warning lights that remain on should be addressed with the dealer before jumping into the purchase.
Visit a mechanic
An independent mechanic (i.e. one that does not work for the dealership where you are considering a purchase) is a wise visit before committing to a vehicle. A visual inspection should be good if you are looking at a new car, but always have a mechanic look more closely at a used vehicle.
It will cost money, but again, spending now to save more later and provide peace of mind makes it worth the cost.
The warranty is an important part of a vehicle purchase. With any new car, there will be a manufacturer’s warranty in place. This covers repair to defects in materials and workmanship within a certain amount of time or miles driven following the vehicle purchase.
Dealerships tend to offer a limited warranty even on used vehicles. Again, I know we said this above, but be leery of a purchase when the vehicle is sold “as is.” This means the dealer is hesitant to stand behind the product, which is always a red flag.
It is preferable to get a 90-day warranty, at minimum, when purchasing a vehicle. If that 90-day warranty (or a longer one) is provided in writing, there are implied warranties that go with it. These, according to the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, mean that you can make sure that your vehicle is functional and safe following the purchase. This will not leave you without recourse if there is an issue that becomes obvious shortly after purchase.
It is also worthwhile to look into the warranty history of a used vehicle. There is a computer system, available at any car manufacturer dealer, that can use the vehicle identification number, or VIN, to bring up a warranty history report on that specific vehicle. This covers repairs done previously, including if the vehicle has been to the mechanic for the same issue more than once.