Used Car Purchase
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Because I will need a car to pull the trailer if I am serious about starting a palm tree cutting business, why not make a guide for how not to get finessed. When I bought my first car during my senior year of high school, I purchased a horrible car. What happened was that I relied on one of my mom's friends husband, who was supposedly a mechanic, to look for a good car in my price range. Let me tell you; he did a horrible job. Upon a week of driving it, I realized that the vehicle would jerk when slowing at a certain speed. After researching when I had the car, the problem was narrowed down to the transmission of all things. But me being reckless and not wanting to put any more money into the car, given that my insurance cost more than the value of the car because it was a v6, I just drove it like it was, and it survived until I finished high school. I will say that I had fun with the car, but the amount of money that went into the car was ridiculous. Below I will detail the steps that I took before making my purchase in chronological order; hopefully, this helps you in the future. Disclaimer: I am not a mechanic, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Before you even begin looking for a vehicle, determine what some of the most reliable or best-used cars are for your need. If the vehicle you want is not recommended after your research, look up the common issues with the vehicle you wish to purchase. I would recommend Scotty Kilmer's youtube channel for this purpose and general DIY mechanic tips.
As of now, the best source for looking up used cars for sale is Facebook Marketplace. I looked on Craigslist, but it did not have many vehicles, at least the type I was looking for. Other sites you could use are AutoTrader, CarsDirect, Autolist and CarGurus (This is not an in-depth list, just a few out of the many sites up there, so use any of the other popular ones). I would stay away from dealerships due to the add the additional dealership cost and the lack of price negotiation. If you know the max amount, you are willing to spend, place the price filter slightly above that value as the price of the vehicle you find to be a good fit may be negotiated to a lower price.
Another thing to consider would be the gas mileage, as the cost of gas over a few years may offset the initial cost. Example calculations: Assuming you drive the car for 10,000 miles per year and gas is an average of three dollars during that year, then you would waste an additional $500 if one car gets 20 mpg and the other 15 mpg. To get to this conclusion, you divide the miles driven in one year by the gas mileage and then multiply the difference by the price of gas. The difference will likely not be that large, but it is something to consider.
When you find a car that is well priced for the model, the current odometer reading (I will talk more about why this may not always give you all the info about how worn the car's engine is) and the exterior and interior condition and year: look up the VIN. I would make use of the following three sites: NICB, VechicleHistory and iSeeCars. Do keep in mind that iSeeCars only lets you do five searches per months, and NICB allows 5 per every 24 hours, so my strategy would be to narrow them down to 5, not to exceed the limit imposed by iSeeCars. If the VIN is not listed, ask the seller to provide you with it; if they say no, carry on with your search.
Below will be a simple checklist of all the visual aspects of the vehicle that you could check.
Walk around the vehicle and check for any large dents or body issues
check if the rubber tubes in the engine bay are cracked (it happened to me when I had my Acura, therefore, if they are broken, look up how much it cost and deduct it from the advertised price)
inspect the bottom of the car for any significant rust
check the liquid levels as well as the colour before starting the car (bring a rag along for this reason)
check the age of the battery as they typically last three years, but can cost $100-$200 for a new one
look at how much tread may be left in the tires
Starting The Car
When starting the car, you want to make sure that no loud noises can be heard, which would be a sign of minor to major issues. You must be doing a cold start, not one done after the owner started the car before your arrival. You should also angle the mirror toward the exhaust pipe to see if any white smoke appears. It would be helpful to bring someone with you to get a better view. Then you can proceed to check all the electrical components within the vehicle: the hot and cold functions of the A/C, the windows, tail and signal lights, headlights, radio (my sister got finessed in that aspect since her car did not even have speaker, but she only paid $1,000 for a car that in my opinion runs excellent). If the vehicle has this feature, check the hours on the engine. This is important because when the vehicle is idling, it does not add any additional mileage to the vehicle, but it does add wear to the engine. This could be a significant issue with work trucks. However, let's make up a scenario so you can numerically see what I am talking about. Let's say that Bella has to wait 15 minutes for five days each week to pick up her kid over the ten years that she has her. If we say that a school year is only 36 weeks, then each year, the car has idled for 45 hours; over the ten years, that would be 450 hours.
Given that idling equates to 25 miles of driving, the wear on the engine would be similar to driving an additional 11,250 miles, which you would not be able to see by simply looking at the dash. There is no straightforward way of determining how to calculate how long a car has idled, but if I use my math skills and the basic understanding that highway miles are better for an engine than city miles, the higher the miles per hour, the better. The reason why is because that would equate to the car travelling at high speeds for the majority of the operation of the engine. This information would likely only help compare two vehicles and not indicate how much longer the machine will last. After checking all the electrical components upon starting the car, you should now plug in an OBD2 which will be elaborated in the later section.
After you have found a car worth seeing in person, think of investing in an OBD2 sensor. I had purchased the FIXD one in the past, but given that I paid $60 two years ago, it would have been better to go with the BlueDriver Scan tool for $100. Given that the BlueDriver has more features than the FIXD and most of the work that I do on any car I have is DIY, it is worth the investment. However, if you don't care much for fixing any of your car issues on your own, go with a much cheaper one like the ANCEL AD310, which is $26.41. This will allow you to know if there are any issues with the vehicle that you may not be able to see visibly. If you know a mechanic that would be willing to accompany you for free, then you would likely be able to skip this step. If errors do appear, then look up how much they would cost to get repaired or if they are worth repairing to help negotiate price or eliminate your list of possible purchases. You likely won't be able to discount the entire cost of the repairs as the next person who checks out the vehicle will probably not do as much due diligence.
When driving the car out of the parking spot, make sure to feel a delay when you shift from reverse to drive, as that signals that there is likely a problem with the transmission. The point of driving the car is to feel for how it would operate in all conditions, so do not just drive around at 30 mph. If possible, try moving it on the highway or quickly raise the RPMs to see if any lights turn on the dash. If possible, see how it performs when it has to go up a hill, I live in Florida, so that is not an issue for me. If there are no wobbles in the steering wheel or in the car itself, you have likely found yourself a good car. If you are making an expensive purchase and you know that this is probably a car that you buy, then consider taking it to a shop for a professional to determine if there are any issues with the vehicle. Given that this will cost you more than $100, it might not be viable for everyone.