Whether you’ve decided to buy your very first car or you want to exchange your current vehicle for something else, a used car can save you thousands of dollars. A gently used vehicle offers smart value by giving you the performance and reliability you need without the new-car price tag.
Unfortunately, these prospective bargains can end up costing you more money down the road due to unseen or unaddressed problems that spurred their owners to put them up for sale. If you want to make sure you’ve found a reliable, mechanically sound car, pay attention to the following four things as you shop.
1. Maintenance and Repair Records
Before you hand over your money to a used-car dealer or private car owner, you must know the history of the vehicle. A car that didn’t receive regularly scheduled maintenance or recommended repairs may not have as much useful life in front of it as you think. A car that never received a critical recall may pose serious hazards to occupants.
Always ask for a complete set of maintenance and repair records from the person or company offering the car for sale. Take note of any apparent gaps in the records, which might indicate mechanical neglect. Consult one of the major vehicle report providers to look for any reported accident damage or recall work.
2. Frame Integrity
Even after checking all the available documentation on your prospective car’s maintenance and repair history, you still might not know for sure whether the vehicle ever sustained an accident. Unfortunately, high-impact accidents can damage the frame that helps to protect you and your passengers against impact.
You might not see underlying frame damage with the naked eye, causing you to buy a potentially dangerous vehicle without realizing it. If you have any suspicions about the car’s accident history, ask automotive professionals to check the frame and advise you on the cost-effectiveness of fixing any problem they find.
3. Signs of Water Damage
Cars don’t have to get into fender benders to sustain significant damage. Some cars suffer through major floods that leave them with everything from engine and transmission damage to electrical problems, which can include damage to the airbag system that might otherwise save your life in an accident.
Many owners of waterlogged cars try to cut their losses by selling their vehicles to private owners or used car lots. Even before you get the car inspected, however, you can often spot signs of water damage. Examples include water inside the headlights, malfunctioning electrics, a rusty undercarriage, and a moldy-smelling cabin.
4. Potential Fluid Issues
As cars age, their rubber seals, gaskets, and other components start to wear out. This natural deterioration can allow water, engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, or coolant to leak. While a mechanic can fix these leaks easily, a long-uncorrected leak may have left the car with other, more extensive damage.
You may spot signs of leakage inside the engine bay, on the undercarriage, or in the form of spots that form underneath the vehicle. Different colors can help you identify the nature of the leak. For instance, red may mean a transmission fluid leak, while orange could indicate a power steering fluid leak, and black points to an oil leak.
Clear fluid under a car usually indicates water. Puddles of condensation typically form due to air conditioner operation. However, if you see clear fluid under a car that hasn’t had its AC running, you’d better have a mechanic double-check the vehicle for issues such as a brake fluid liquid (since brake fluid sometimes appears clear).
If you really want to make sure you’ve covered all your bases when considering a car purchase, drive that prospective purchase over to White’s Automotive Center. Our technicians can perform a detailed inspection to catch any problems that you need to know about. Contact us to learn more.