Oops, excuse me. I meant “pre-owned” car. But whatever you call it, if you are in the market for a car and want to get the best deal, its worth your consideration to look at what is available. The used car market usually includes some very good deals, and the dealers these days are very careful about what cars they offer for sale. I’m not talking about some “fly by night” auto lot next to the local adult movie store, but a reputable dealer who deals in both used and new vehicles.
Now you do have to be a little more careful when buying a “used” car. Carfax, AutoCheck, and other services out there can give you the first information you need to make sure the car has never been in a major accident, or ever had any problems with titles. But they can’t tell you about the previous owner or the condition of the mechanical parts. If you have a mechanic you trust, its always a good idea to have them look it over for any excessive wear or tear.
Some other hints include a careful inspection of the car itself for a few tell-tale signs.
Pedals - Excessive wear on the brake pedal usually indicates a driver who “rides” the brakes, which means they use the brakes excessively. A person who does that does not know how to properly drive, and that leads to problems with the brakes and other systems in the car. Jerky stops, screeching halts, and dragging brake pads are hard on all the parts associated with the wheels and axles, and could indicate a major repair in the near future.
Tires - If the dealer has not replaced the tires, look at the tread for even wear. A tire that wears excessively on one edge can indicate alignment problems. A tire worn on the inside but not the outside (or vice versa) can indicate improper tire inflation. Either one of these situations could indicate suspension problems. If the tires appear new, ask the dealer why they replaced them, and have a local tire store check the alignment before you buy.
Engine - You don’t have to be a mechanic to recognize a poorly maintained engine. Obvious signs are corrosion on the battery cable connectors, oil stains and leaks around the places where pieces of the engine bolt together, and a general build up of oil and grease along the sides of the compartment. One of the easiest ways to tell if an engine has had problems is to look at the hood liner. This piece of insulation is usually attached under the hood and will show signs of discoloration or damage if the engine has overheated, lost a belt, or had other problems that involved the fluids.
Interior - People tend to be a little sloppy in their cars, but most of us maintain the interior with an occasional vacuuming and wipe down of the seats and dash. Torn or worn seats, carpet, or headliner mean the car has not been taken care of.
Now the above list is by no means definitive, but it will give you a guide when looking at a used vehicle. Remember, your best choice is to have a reputable mechanic check the car before you buy. It may cost you a small fee for their time, but its money well spent.
And last, but not least, no matter what kind of car you are buying, GET A WARRANTY! Most car dealers have aftermarket warranty packages available, and while they may cost a bit more than you thought, they are well worth it. A warranty can save you a lot of money if that car that everyone said was fine turns out to have a problem or two. After all folks, whether its a Mercedes or a Volkswagen or something in between, its a machine.