Buying your first car can be a very daunting prospect. Not everyone is an expert and the overwhelming choice and options can be daunting if you’ve never bought a car before, let alone if you’ve only just started driving them.
For some, a car can be the first big purchase of their lives, as well as needing to fit within a budget. It is then important to make the most of your money by knowing what to look out for when buying a first time used car.
Look Underneath the Car for Rust. A rusted frame isn’t structurally sound. While it can be salvaged, this is costly and time consuming.
Check the Tires and Wheels. Look for even tire wear across the tire. Uneven tread in the front tires is an indication the wheels or suspension are out of alignment.
Inspect the Exterior
Recent paint jobs may be covering up damage repair. Knocking along any repainted areas and listening for a change in tone reveals secret patchwork.
Check the Interior
You want a relative contrast between the odometer reading and the car interior. You should expect slight general wear and tear from a used car, but if the odometer reads low miles whilst the fabric looks like its previous owner possessed a lion, trust your suspicions.
Look Under the Hood
Check for new spark plugs, a good sign the car has undergone regular maintenance. This will only work with relatively old vehicles as modern vehicles keep their spark plugs for a long time.
The Test Drive
Drive it Cold. A warm running engine hides a lot of secrets. Turn the car on from cold. Does it start naturally or does the owner push you down the road?
Plan Your Own Route
You want to test drive through a similar route you make daily. Include runs on the highway to ensure the car doesn’t fall apart at high speeds.
Test the wiper, lights, radio, and air conditioner controllers. Using the A/C should not result in a drop in engine performance, just temperature.
Check the Transmission
A car with a functioning automatic transmission shouldn’t make any loud clunking noises or show hesitation when switching gears. Any grinding sounds with an automatic or manual transmission is a bad sign.
Check the Brakes
Accelerate to about 50 mph and hit the brakes hard. The car should brake straight. If it pulls right or left, it’s a sign of loose brake calipers or inefficient hydraulic fluid on the side it’s pulling to. Any violent shuddering is not your nerves at the car failing to stop, but the brakes being warped. The brakes should feel firm and not sink to the floor. These reckless tests should be done on a quiet street, not the freeway, where the cops may not be understandable toward your thorough test drive.
Check the Wheel Alignment
While driving, take your hands off the steering wheel for a moment and see if the car pulls in one direction. If you find yourself in the hedgerow, you could have front-end alignment problems.
Check for Smoke
Driving at full speed, take your foot off the accelerator completely for a few seconds, and then floor it again. If you see a plume of blue smoke in the rear view mirror it means oil is burning and the car has an internal engine problem that may require an engine overhaul. If you don’t see a plume of smoke, the car may be missing its rear view mirror.