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Used Car Buying Tips: How to Tell a Good Deal from a Lemon

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On: Mon, May 20, 2013 at 8:24AM | By: Bill Wilson

Used Car Buying Tips: How to Tell a Good Deal from a Lemon

With the economy still in recovery mode, millions of Americans are buying pre-owned vehicles these days. Done carefully, this is a great way to save money and still get a dependable auto. Unfortunately, you can’t always count on the seller to tell you the truth. So let’s look at some used car buying tips that can help us to separate the good deals from the lemons.

1. If you can, do some research beforehand on the model you’re thinking of purchasing. For example, say you’re considering a 2008 Jeep Cherokee. Do a search for terms like “2008 Jeep Cherokee owner reviews” and see what comes up. You want to get a feel for how this particular type of vehicle has performed for others.

2. Remember that mileage alone isn’t a good indicator of condition. For example, a car may have over 100,000 miles on it. But, if it was driven primarily for long-distance commutes, then the actual wear and tear might be minimal. Of more importance is how well the prior owner maintained the vehicle. So ask to see receipts for oil changes, tune-ups, tire rotations, etc.

3. Start by giving the exterior of the car a good eyeball inspection. You’re looking for dings, dents, rust—anything that indicates the vehicle has been wrecked or driven in harsh conditions. If you can, then bring a magnet with you (one of those magnetized refrigerator signs is fine). Run it along the exterior. If at any point it fails to stick, then that indicates the presence of plastic body filling under the paint. You’re probably better off passing this vehicle up.

4. Open and close the doors and windows to make sure they work properly. The doors should never sag or be hard to shut; those are both signs the vehicle has been wrecked.
Take a deep breath or two while in the car and try to notice any mold or mildew smells. Those are signs that the car has suffered water damage.

5. Look under the hood. The engine should be free of oil or grease stains. While you’re under there, check the oil, transmission fluid (if applicable), coolant, and brake fluid. Low levels of any of these are bad signs. Bubbles in the oil indicate internal engine damage. Carefully inspect the belts and hoses for cracks, worn spots, or other signs of wear.

6. Listen to the engine with the vehicle running. Any pops, clicks, taps, or pings are bad signs. Knocking sounds may indicate worn bearings, which are a huge deal-breaker. Look for odd vibrations and pulleys or fans that wobble or spin unevenly. A hissing sound may be a sign of exhaust or air intake trouble.

7. After the engine has run for a minute or two, gently step on the gas and see if any smoke exits from the rear. If it does, then the car has problems. Possibilities range from clogs in the exhaust system to worn engine parts.

8. Turn the engine off. Does it stop promptly, or does it sputter or surge? Either of those may indicate that the vehicle needs a tune-up.

9. Take the vehicle for a ride, on as many different types of road surfaces as you can. Does the car accelerate smoothly? Do the brakes stop the car promptly? Is the brake pedal firm, with no “spongy” feeling to it? Does the car’s transmission shift smoothly through its gears? If you go over a bump, does it stop bouncing instantly after you’ve cleared it? If the car fails in any of these respects, then it has problems that will cost you money, should you buy the vehicle.

10. Examine the tires. There should a minimum of 2/32” tread depth on each of them. To check this, insert a penny into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing the tire. If you can see any of the area above his head, then the tires are worn dangerously low. Also be on the alert for uneven or cross-wear along the tread. Those are sure signs of alignment or suspension trouble.

11. Last but not least, try out the stereo, climate control, headlights (high and low beam), turn signals, brake lights, and any other accessories. If the previous owner didn’t take care of little things like those, then it’s likely that he or she was negligent in the big stuff like tune-ups and oil changes.

While this may sound like a lot of things to check for, doing so will help to ensure that you get a reliable, trouble-free vehicle, instead of one that causes you no end of problems. Good luck in your search!



rajnish tandon | 3:47AM (Thu, May 23, 2013)

Nice Article and it is necessary when go for buying used car remember to these auto tips! Thanks for sharing it!


alysdare | 10:28AM (Fri, Sep 20, 2013)

These are really such a nice and amazing tips.You have shared so nice stuff here .

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