Used cars are a cheap, but sometimes risky, investment.

Kicking the tires: What to look for in a used car

July 28th, 2016 by

Used cars are a cheap, but sometimes risky, investment.

Think back to the first car you had right after you got your driver's license. If you're like most people, it was likely a used car. Millions of drivers every year skip going to the dealership to buy a car fresh off the the lot and instead opt for the more frugal option of going used.

Used cars can be a high-quality, low-cost alternative to new, but they may also come bundled with unforeseen challenges and concealed issues. To avoid some of the common hazards of buying used, follow these guidelines when on the hunt for a previously owned car.

Do your research
Online resources like Kelly Blue Book can give you access to not only a price guide for used cars, but also some of the common mechanical issues and gas mileage that consumers report for the particular make and model you are looking at. If you are able to obtain the car's Vehicle Identification Number, run the VIN through an online vehicle history report to see is there have been any reported accidents or issues with previous ownership.

Check any government mandated buyers guides
Dealers of used cars are often required by federal law to prominently showcase buyers guides in the form of a sticker, featuring information about the car being sold. The sticker will display information about warrantees and repair costs.

Inspect with care
Before you even take a test drive, do a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Walk around the car, looking for significant damage, dents, rust or corrosion. Look in the trunk and note if the car includes a spare tire or donut. Pay attention to how doors and hinges line up and any signs of post-accident repair (paint job not matching, asymmetry). Look under the hood and check for oxidization and the overall cleanliness of the major parts. Turn the car on and listen to it run, paying attention if it seems to run smoothly and quietly or if halts and starts.

Tires are a sometimes ignored aspect of a used car, but can often tell you a lot. If you are looking at a car with brand new tires that is being advertised as "low mileage," the car could very likely have had its odometer rolled back artificially – since the wear on the original tires would have been an immediate giveaway of the scam. Pay attention to the wear on the tires, check to see if it's even on all sides. Ask if the tires have been recently (or ever) rotated. 

One of the most important details is the suspension. Pay attention to if the car is sitting level on all sides and how each corner responds to weight. Does it bounce dramatically? If so, the suspension might be shot. 

If you can, bring the car to a mechanic you trust and ask them to give it a once over. If the person selling the car argues against the notion, this could be a sign that they are aware of underlying issues they are trying to conceal. 

Go for a test drive
A test drive is an essential part of the use car buying experience. Never buy a car without first firing it up and taking it for a spin. 

Drive the car around local roads and highways and pay care attention to how it handles. Do the breaks feel receptive and can the car stop suddenly? How quickly does it accelerate? Can the car make hard turns? Listen carefully for how the engine responds to giving it gas. 

While driving, test all signals and headlights. Make sure that your mirrors adjust properly for full visibility. 

If the car passes muster and you decide to buy it, the first thing you need to do is call Fundy Mutual and get an affordable car insurance quote. It would be a pleasure to help.