With the Vancouver sun bound to come out of hiding soon and the University year coming to a close it’s the perfect time to buy a car and embark on one of life’s greatest experiences – a road trip.
Odds are you’ll soon venture onto a used car lot thanking your lucky stars that you’ve read today’s blog post. Because when you’ve zeroed in on a great deal, the next logical step is to either bring along a mechanic or take it to a local shop for a thorough inspection. But what if that’s not an option? What if you’re cheap, impatient, and already picturing road tripping it into California by tomorrow night?
Follow these simple steps and you’ll personally be able to sort the lemons from the used car steals.
- Inventory Lineage – Don’t buy the customized sports car in the corner of the lot if all the other cars for sale are clean looking Volkswagen Golfs. Buy the car that the lot seems to be full of since that’s the car the used car dealership trusts to be reliable, good value, and a great seller. If you’re after a rare Japanese import then buy it from a place that only does Japanese imports. It’s as simple as that.
- It’s All About the Doors – In any serious collision a car’s frame will buckle or twist. Find out about minor accidents by opening and closing the doors. Hold your hand on the door handle and feel for wobbles. More importantly, check if the door fits and aligns properly with the rest of the car’s body. If something seems off you’re looking at a possible write-off.
- Welding Seems – Figure out if your car’s been in a serious accident by opening the hood and looking at the welding lines on the inner sides of the engine compartment. If they’re neat and all look the same, you’re golden. If they seem mismatched and messy then steer away because trouble’s on its way.
- Turn the Key – A common trick by sneaky used car dealers is to park the mechanically troubled cars inside. This means they get to start it up and wait for all the noises and warning lights to clear before driving the car out. Prevent any of this trickery to happen by turning the car on and off yourself and listening for rattles or squeaks.
- Let Go – Once you’re out on the open road and you’re feeling out the car’s steering, acceleration, brakes, suspension, and overall handling, find a straight stretch of road and take your hands off the steering wheel. Pay careful attention to any veering, an instant tell-tale for a few too many kissed curbs. A car that fails to drive straight could need anything from a quick tire alignment to a near complete front-end overhaul.
- Transmission Tales – If you’re a three-pedal kind of driver who enjoys being in full control then follow the following to steps to ensuring a healthy transmission. A clean clutch will have a high release point while an abused and soon to perish clutch will engage gears near the bottom of the pedal. When shifting gears figure out if the shifter feels loose, which could mean a set of new bushels, and if it easily pops out of gear, which signals a worn out transmission. For automatics you’re limited to feeling out the smoothness of the gear changes.
- Report Cards – A car’s history can come from a few different sources. Most often you’ll get that information from service records and a CarProof report. Ideally you’ll be shown a service booklet with time dated dealer stamps ensuring a perfect car. In the real world that’ll rarely happen which means you’ll have to piece together the car’s history from a CarProof report. If it’s not supplied with the car then all you do is type in the car’s VIN number in the CarProof online database, fork over $64.95, and press print. You’ll find out many times a car has changed hands, where it’s been in the world, its accurate kilometer readout, when it’s come in for service, and most importantly, if it’s been in any accidents. Big accidents are a deal breaker, but don’t always let big numbers scare you as a headlight cluster alone can costs $1500 to replace. As long as the car was fixed through insurance by a certified body shop you’ll be fine. Once you decide to purchase the car, feel free to charge back the cost of the CarProof report to the dealer.
- Liens and Warranty – Find out who owns the car. If it’s not the dealership then you’ll soon be dealing with a repo man towing your car away. If a financial institution appears to have a lien on the car than you’ll have to ask the dealer for a ‘lien discharge’ once you’ve bought the car. Often cars are sold when they’ve almost run out of warranty, this means the new owner can take it to the dealership and get any worn out parts replaced or recalls performed. Just make sure you know exactly what type of warranty you’re dealing with, full, power train, or something even more limiting.
- Haggling Strategy – Don’t for a second assume you can play games with a salesmen who’s seen five of you a day for the past twenty years. He’ll have seen and heard it all, from pretending you’re broke to faking a walk-out. However, it’s a buyer’s market and the salesmen is dying to make a sale. Since only fools pay full sticker price, a few back and forth negotiations are accepted practice, just don’t ruin anyones day over a few hundred dollars.
But what if you follow all the above steps and the cars keep coming up short? When life gives you lemons, buy new! With low finance rates, lengthy warranties, high residuals, and free maintenance, buying new can sometimes make sense. Plus as a bonus you’ll get to spec your very own car right from the factory floor!