What You Need To Know Before Buying a Used Car (Part 3)

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Now the fun part. At this point we have found a candidate that is worthy of you taking for a drive. First thing is to start the car and let it idle. Ensure it starts easily and idles smoothly. Are there any lights on the dash? Does it smoke out of the tail pipe?

If everything is running smoothly then take it for a drive. Ensure that the car accelerates smoothly and does not hesitate. Do you hear any unusual sounds? Does it turn and stop well? Does the car feel sloppy as you drive or is it taut and holds the road well? Any looseness may indicate issues with the steering and suspension system. Bottom line if something doesn’t sound or feel right there may be an issue. This will help you communicate to your service technician on areas that you would like particular attention to during your PPI.

Do you see any documentation? If the test drive meets your standards it is now time to ask the owner for documentation on the vehicle. You will want to verify that it has a clean title. Salvage titles may not be the end of the world depending on the use of the car, but you need to be especially cognizant of why it was salvaged, and what issues this may cause down the road. Regardless, a branded title vehicle should sell at a substantial discount to a clean version.

Ask for maintenance and repair records. Knowing the background of a car is invaluable to understanding its history. Has it had a troubled mechanical history? Was the owner diligent about keeping up on scheduled maintenance? A well-serviced vehicle is no guarantee of a trouble-free future, but it brings the likelihood of issues way down. Our experience over the years in the shop is that those vehicles with the largest and mostly costly repair bills are typically those with the most spotty service history.

Now it’s inspection time!

At this point you have found a candidate that you think may have a home in your garage. Now is a good time to solicit the help of a specialist. A PPI performed by a qualified technician will take the review of the car a step further. If the owner will not allow a PPI this is a huge red flag and is reason enough to walk away.

A basic PPI will include:

  1. an inspection of the exterior condition of the vehicle including signs of accident damage, paint condition, glass condition and body panel alignment
  2. An inspection of the interior condition of the vehicle including upholstery, functionality of all buttons and switches, sunroof and convertible operation
  3. An inspection of the mechanical condition. This includes raising the vehicle and inspecting all components of the chassis, steering and suspension. An underhood inspection will also be performed where belts, hoses, fluids and engine mechanicals are inspected.
  4. A full vehicle scan will also be completed which will detect any fault codes within any control modules that may not have triggered a warning light on the dash.

Finally a test drive will be performed where the technician will test the road worthiness of the car and make not of any noise, vibration of peculiar operation of the vehicle that is not normal. A more in depth PPI can also be performed. Which can include things such as a compression and leak down test to determine the health of the engine.

At the end of the inspection you should come away with a written report of what has been found including any estimates to repair items that can be used in negotiation with the seller on the final price of the vehicle.

Ready to go out and find your next car?  We’ll make sure there aren’t any hidden surprises and keep you happy on the road for years to come.