Recently by Eric Peters: The Question…
No one wants to step into automotive doggie doo-do. Its much harder to get rid of a crappy car than it is to wipe you know what off your shoe, after all. More expensive, too. So, how to avoid the stink pile? Check it out:
You should always profile the current owner of a car youre thinking about buying. Stay away from po folks and cheap folks. People who dont have money or who are over-tight with money cant (or dont) pay for regular maintenance like oil/fluid changes and thats probably the single biggest decider as far as the current condition of the car, as well as its prospects for a long life (and expensive repairs down the road). If the guy selling the car looks like hes got an EBT card in his wallet or his place looks like a dump you dont want his car. Move on.
Car Buying Revealed: H... Best Price: $4.59 Buy New $12.93 (as of 04:45 EST - Details)
The Curb Appeal
How does the car look? If its shabby and sad-looking and the owner clearly didnt care enough to even wash and vacuum the thing, its a clue the car probably hasnt led an easy life. But the flip of this is to be wary of the super-clean, detailed car the one with the Armor-alld tires and steam-cleaned engine compartment and black spray paint-bombed undercarriage. Its the oldest used car trick in the book. People fixate on shiny and clean and dont notice the wavy bodywork or the find the rust in the floorpans and the sludge in the engine until its too late. What you want is a car that looks normal for its age/mileage. Not too clean, not too dirty. And most definitely not like someone just spent a weekend trying to scrub off the past five years worth of hard living.
If you buy from a private seller, he should have records and receipts available for work done to the car. If he doesnt, dont trust anything he says about how often he changed the oil or that the car had a complete brake job just last month. A dealer may or may not have service records available. If not, dont take him at his word, either. Always assume the worst that the seller (private or dealer) is trying to screw you. Cynical? Surely. But better cynical and safe than sorry.
Inside the Minds of Ca... Best Price: $6.00 Buy New $40.01 (as of 03:50 EST - Details)
Be suspicious of any deal that sounds too good to be true because you can bet it probably is. The vehicle youre looking at should be priced within 10 percent (either way) of current retail values. At the higher end of the range if its an exceptionally nice example, with low miles and lots of options; at the lower end if the miles are high and the conditions just so-so. Its true that every once in awhile (typically, once in a lifetime) youll stumble across a fantastic car at a fantastic price. But most people are pretty cagey when it comes to knowing the value of what theyve got and arent going to let you have it for much less than the going rate unless theres something not quite copacetic.
Certain things should have you beating feet as soon as you notice them. These include signs of overspray on trim (the car has been repainted and was probably wrecked), any signs of overheating (could be just a thermostat but it might be a failing head gasket), check engine light stays on (emissions issue they can be expensive and in some states, the car cant be registered until the light is off and the car passes smog check), it tracks funny (wheel off-center or the car pulls to one side as it goes down the road signs of possible suspension problems or accident issues), blue smoke anytime (evidence of a worn engine), noisy/slipping clutch (hello, expenso), wetness inside/moldy smell (it leaks when it rains or the radiator core is spitting coolant onto the carpet), clicking noises at idle (worn valvetrain) basically, anything that feels wrong or doesnt sound right probably is (or isnt) and you should take that as your cue to shop another car.
Bottom line: Unless its a hard-to-find collectible, theres no reason to jump at the first (or second or fifth) car you check out.
Reprinted with permission from the National Motorists Association.
December 16, 2010