By Teri B Clark
If you plan to buy a car at a used car lot, a car auction, or through an individual, it is unlikely that you will get completely honest answers to all your questions. So, what can you do? Well, certainly, don’t despair!! Let me give you several weapons that you can use against the automobile industry.
Get A Paint Meter
With one of these paint meters, you can detect paintwork or factory original tape. It will also show bondo-body puddy or replaced metal. And very few car salesmen will even know what you have!! At the very least, the salesman’s eyes will bug out when you ask him why the car you are interested in was painted. Was it because of an accident or just repainted to make it look good.
Remember that 99% of all salesmen do not know what goes on behind closed doors – otherwise known as the business end of the auto business. They are there simply to sell a car for every penny that they can squeeze out of the public buyer.
Why do I suggest that you get a paint meter? Because repainting a car is a very prolific practice in the auto business. I can not prove it, but if I had to make a guess how many cars sold to the open market via dealership have paint work done to them, I would guess at LEAST 40%. Every week, I personally see thousands of cars lined up at the “paint shop” to be repainted. This “paint shop” is located on the auction grounds and is otherwise known as the recon-facility.
Not every car is being fully repainted. Most are having their bumpers repainted. It makes sense to have the bumpers repainted because, though the rest of the car is flawless, the bumpers are often scratched up pretty badly. Next time you visit a dealership, notice how many of the bumpers are flawless – not a scratch on them even though the car is three years old.
The problem comes in with the dealers. Many retail dealers have the audacity to lie and claim that their cars are original. And people believe them because the work is just too nice to have been repainted. Do you know what the average price is to have these bumpers repainted? A mere $200. Perceived value by the public and exploited by the retail dealers? Thousands of dollars.
Well, if you have a paint meter, then you will know the truth. So, what is my policy on repainted vehicles? If the car was properly repainted and done so professionally – a factory repainted process – then I have no problems buying the car. A professional paint job would make the car look the way it did the day it rolled off the assembly line.
The point of the paint meters is to give you more inside information than what Carfax discloses. Just because it does not show up on Carfax does not mean that the car is free of any negative history.
Determine The Warranty Time
You have to determine the correct warranty time and can do this by checking the drive side door and seeing when the car was manufactured. It will give a date like 5/11/99.
Let’s say you are interested in buying a 2000 Nissan Maxima with just 22,000 miles on it and it is currently September 29,2002. You ask the salesman or the neighbor that you are buying the car from what the factory warranty is and he tell you 3 years or 36,000 miles. What many people fail to realize is this: a 2000 model is actually 3 years old!!!!
Don’t believe me? Let’s count the years: 2000, 2001, 2002.
I see people making this mistake over and over. And to make matters worse, when you open the driver side door and it says manufactured in 5/11/99, the warranty starts within 3 months of THAT date!! So really, what you have is a warranty that started in the middle of 1999!!!
And then you need to check to see whether the warranty even transfers to you at all. Some manufacturers allow up to triple transfers of owners with the warranty intact and some do not. The best way to check is to call the dealership and find out. You can also have them run a VIN check to let you know the status of the warranty on that car.
Open the Oil Cap
This is good for everyone, but especially for those of you buying an older car. Open the oil cap and look at the cap carefully. If there is sludge (thick black goop) on the back of the oil cap, it means the oil never got changed—or not often enough!! Do NOT buy the car!!
If there appears to be a caramel color syrup goop on the cap, it means that the anti-freeze is leaking into the engine. This is terminal cancer to an engine, so do NOT buy the car.
The problem with this tool is that most dealers know about this, too, and know to clean up the cap and change the oil so that everything “looks” fine.
Ask For a Cold Start
When coming to look at any car, request to be able to start the car cold. This means that the engine has been at rest for a minimum of 12 hours, but preferably 24 hours.
Why? When starting cold, a lot of problems with the motor can be seen and heard. If you hear any sounds that are not “normal, like loud clanking or scraping noises, that go away when the car gets warmed up, do NOT buy it without a thorough check by YOUR mechanic.
If you see a lot of blue smoke on a cold start, this means that the car is burning oil. If it blows out white smoke, then there is anti-freeze in the engine. These are NOT good signs!!
Check The Compression of the Engine
You can check the compression of the engine simply by revving the engine while in neutral and looking at the RPM’s. A RPM’s of a car with good compression will go up quickly and back down quickly. If the car has trouble getting the RPM’s up or when they do get up come down very slowly, then the engine is losing compression. Do NOT buy it!!
Know The Loan Value On The Car
Finding out what the loan value for the car you want from the current year models to 5 year old models is essential to knowing what a good wholesale price is. Call the bank to get the loan values. This helps you to determine what price you want to pay.
You also need to get the appropriate mileage deductions built in. The mile deduction is 12,000 per year. So, if a car is 5 years old, then the mileage deduction is 60K. If the car is 3 years old, then the mileage deduction is 36K.
Always try to buy cars with the appropriate mileage deduction on them. Knowing what the loan value is lets you know pretty closely what the dealer paid for the car.
Be Sure That The Vehicle’s Body Is Straight
Stand behind the vehicle and check to see if the rear wheels line up squarely behind the front wheels and that the body is angled properly. If the car seems slightly off-center or even crooked, it’s a sure sign that the car was in an accident and its frame is bent.
Check For Water and Flood Damage
According to the American Automobile Association, there are thousands of used cars on the market that have been victims of floods and other types of water damage. So:
*Check for dried mud in cracks and crevices under the hood or behind trim panels inside the car
*Notice any damp or musty odors in the vehicle
*Look for any newly replaced carpeting or upholstery.
These are all clues of water damage.
Look Under the Vehicle
Check for any fluids that might have leaked out onto the pavement. If you see a small puddle or damp spot of oil, water, or some other fluid, the car may have expensive-to-repair mechanical problems.
Check The Odometer
The “normal allocation” is 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year. If the car has unusually high mileage for its age, you may want to consider another vehicle.
If the car has unusually low mileage, you may have reason to be suspicious. Odometer tampering is a widespread and difficult-to-prove crime.
Have Your Mechanic Inspect The Vehicle BEFORE You Buy It
Your mechanic will be able to tell you what repair work the car needs now and what repair work it may need in the future. Having your mechanic inspect the car before you buy it is one of the best things you can do to insure that you’re not getting a “lemon.” If the seller won’t allow your mechanic to look at the car, you should be highly suspicious.
By purchasing a used car you can save a lot of money. You may be able to buy a loaded model with all the bells and whistles that you couldn’t afford had you bought a new car. However, buying a used car can be a gamble. You can breathe easier when you follow these tips.
Teri Clark is a published author in the field of real estate, finance, and investing. Her interest in the new and different has also led to a successful online writing career. Of her five published books through Atlantic Publishing, 301 Simple Things You Can Do To Sell Your Home Now and For More Money Than You Thought was a 2007 Eric Hoffer Award winner as well as a Finalist in the 2007 USA Best Books Awards, How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Redesign, Redecorating & Home Staging Business was a Finalisit in the 2008 USA Best Books Awards, and Private Mortgage Investing won an Honorable Mention in Foreword Magazine’s 2006 Book of the Year Award. Learn more about Teri at http://TeriBClark.com
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