Used cars are a smart investment (as long as you do your due diligence). Ask yourself these five questions before you buy a used car. Treat #4 like an immediate deal-breaker…
1. How do the tires look?
Look at the tires. Are they all the same or are some different than others? (They should be the same, because otherwise the tire tread will be uneven, which can cause HUGE problems.)
Are there any cuts or tears in the rubber? Is the tread so thin the tires need to be replaced ASAP? (The answers to these questions should be NO, because that is a sign of neglect.)
Unless the seller will replace the tires, don’t make the investment. Act as if new tires are a part of the car’s cost. On a more general note, the car may have been neglected in other ways.
If a driver doesn’t care about the condition of their tires, they might not care for the car at all. I’d ask a trusted mechanic to closely inspect the brakes, engine, and other auto systems before you buy it.
2. Does the seller care for the car?
This is an extension of the first point. If you’re talking to an independent seller, ask them: “Could you tell me what you’ve done to keep the vehicle maintained and in tip top shape?”
If your question is met with a blank stare or extended “Ummmmm,” that is a really bad indicator. Walk away from the deal and do NOT look back (unless it passes a mechanic’s inspection).
3. Did the owner/salesman seem desperate?
If you’re selling a great used car, there’s no need for desperate sales pitches. It will sell itself.
Smart salespeople understand this concept. They find out what a driver wants from a car and focus on options that will meet their needs most appropriately.
Misguided salespeople don’t get it. They’ll try to sell whatever nets the biggest commission. You’ll feel off-balance and pressured to make a decision right now.
If you’re unsure, here’s an easy way to find out whether or not they care for your best interest. Ask some basic questions like: “Has this car ever had any significant mechanical problems?”
Whether you’re dealing with a used car salesman or private seller, expect a thorough answer. If they get upset at you for “asking too many questions,” that’s a sure-fire sign it’s a bad deal.
4. Is there a mix of oil and coolant in the engine?
Q: What’s the worst thing that could happen when you buy a used car?
A: You buy a used car with a bad engine that needs to be replaced in the near future.
Engine replacements aren’t cheap. You can expect to spend up to $4,000 for that auto repair.
Pop open the hood and inspect the engine. Check out the radiator and oil tank. If coolant and motor oil have mixed together, cancel the deal, because the engine might have a major problem.
Note: If you don’t feel confident enough to diagnose this yourself, ask: “Do you mind if I swing this car by my mechanic for a second opinion?” If that bothers them for some reason, then it’s safe to assume there might be other mechanical issues.
5. Have you done enough research and reflection?
Don’t just march into a car dealership and tell yourself, “I’m going to buy a car today!”
First, you need to determine what you expect from your car. Are you looking for safety, speed, durability, passenger space, or some combination of these (and other) things?
Second, you need to figure out what kinds of cars can meet those expectations. Do a Google search for “most safe car (insert year here)” or “cars with best gas mileage (insert year here).”
Use this information to make a list of cars that fit your needs and budget. Cross-reference that list with what’s available from used car dealers and/or private sellers in your hometown. This approach is much more effective than showing up at the car lot and “hoping for the best.”
Know a friend who’s looking to buy a used car? Share this blog so they can prevent these mistakes (and save a crap-ton of time, money, and trouble in the process).