Tips for Buying a Used Car

First you need to figure out how much you can afford to spend. Go over your budget and decide exactly how much you want to spend. The classified section in your local newspaper can give you an idea of the year and model of cars that fall into your price range. Make sure to calculate not only the price of a car but also the expense of taxes, registration, and insurance. Also plan to have some money for unexpected repairs the car may require after you buy it.

Second you need to decide exactly what kind of car you need. You can do this by determining what is most important to you. Take into consideration your family size and what activities the car will be used for, such as driving to work, transporting your children to school. Will the car be used for local trips or long-distance ones? Don’t limit yourself to a specific make and model, look for a car that has been maintained well and is in good shape. Also you want to make sure that the car is easy to service. All cars will need parts eventually. If you are on a limited budget, steer clear of luxury or imported specialty cars, as parts and service will be more expensive. Although such cars may be very reliable, they can also be very expensive to own.

Generally, it is best to avoid cars with extremely high mileage especially if this is the result of driving in the city rather than on highways. There is no such thing as a perfect used car. However, make sure you can afford the repairs the car needs. Usually the repairs will not increase the value of the car. For example, if you buy a car for $3,000 and then spend $1,000 on needed repairs, the car will not necessarily be worth $4,000. Ordinarily, it is less expensive to buy a car in good shape than it is to buy a car in bad shape and fix it up.

Below is a list of tips on buying a good used car.

1. Check the car thoroughly before you buy it. You should avoid looking at a car at night or in the rain.

2. Test-drive the car.

3. Check the engine thoroughly. Does the engine start well? Is the exhaust free of a lot of smoke? Does the engine run well? Does it idle smoothly? Is the engine free of noises? Does the engine have enough power for good acceleration?

If the answer is no to any of the above questions, then the engine may need tune-up work or more serious repairs. These conditions can also be signs of a worn engine.

4. Check the transmission. Does the automatic transmission slip or not engage when put into gear? Does it fail to shift smoothly? Are there grinding noises in any of the gears? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the transmission may need repair.

5. Check the Brakes and the Suspension. Does the car pull to one side when you drive or brake? Does the car vibrate at certain speeds or when you brake? Are there noises when you brake or turn or drive over bumps? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the car may need brake or suspension work.

6. Wear clothes that will allow you to look at the car inside, outside, and underneath.

7. Make sue to check the body for rust. Avoid cars that have it. Fender rust can be cosmetic but usually is a sign that structural areas also have rust. Look underneath the car for rust. Be wary of new paint jobs; the owner may be trying to hide something.

8. Check the engine oil. Look at the oil dipstick. Is the oil level low? This could be the result of excessive oil consumption or leaks. Is the oil very dirty or black? Does it feel gritty? Look for signs of wet oil around the valve covers. Get in the car, and turn on the ignition switch, but do not start the car. Does the low-oil-pressure warning light come on? If the car is equipped with an oil pressure gauge, this should read zero.

9. Check the automatic transmission fluid. Is it low or burned? Look for leaks under the transmission. These conditions can indicate a need for major transmission work. If the car has front-wheel drive, look underneath it to see if the rubber constant velocity joint boots are torn. If so, the grease can be thrown out, and this can cause rapid damage to the joints, which are expensive to replace.

10. Check all four tires. If they are severely worn, count on replacing them. If there is an unusual wear pattern on the tire tread, it may be that there is a need for alignment or replacement of steering parts.

11. Check the power steering system. Does the fluid appear burned or low? Start the car and turn the steering wheel several times from side to side. It should require equal pressure to turn right or left. Is there any grabbing motion as you turn the steering wheel? Operation of the power steering should be fairly quiet. Any problems with operation could mean costly repairs.

You may also want to check the following:

Check the condition of the belts and the hoses.

The operation of the parking brake on a hill.

Look for an unusual amount of wear on the brake pedal.

Check the condition of the exhaust system. Is it noisy? Is it loose?

Check shocks and springs.

If there is an air conditioner, does it work on all blower speeds?

Do the lights, wipers, horn, seat belts, and windows work?

If you are not sure about doing all of these check yourself you may want to have the car looked at by a professional mechanic before you decide to buy. Ask him to look the car over and make a list of all of the repairs that would be needed, and how much they will cost. Then once all the information is obtain, make your decision.

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