By Jim Alauria, Master Mechanic
This is the biggest time of the year for used car sales. Car dealers stock up on inventory and crank up their marketing budgets to try and get their share of the public’s tax refunds.
Buying a new or used car can be an exciting experience and the dealerships know exactly how to play on those emotions. The worst mistake anybody can make when buying a used vehicle is making an emotional decision and being hurried along into signing a contract. So, this month I want to give you a few steps to follow that will help you avoid buying a vehicle that you regret later.
The first thing you want to do if you are replacing an existing vehicle is to have your auto repair shop do a thorough inspection of the vehicle you plan on replacing. The reason you want to do this is two-fold. One, you want to know how much money it would take to get the vehicle into a condition that would make you happy with it again. Any repairs, maintenance, paint, detail, stereo, upholstery, etc., that are really driving you crazy about the car. Many times it is a much wiser investment to put some money into your existing car than it is to take on a car payment over the next 3-7 years. Sometimes just having a professional detail for $150 done to a car can give it a fresh, new feel.
The second reason you want to know what the car needs is so that when you go to trade it in or sell it, you aren’t taking the advice of the dealership on what its worth. If you look up the current market value on the Internet and then deduct the repairs it needs, you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate what they are going to give you on a trade.
The next step is to do some research on what vehicles you like. Look at styles, makes, models and efficiency and pick a few that fit your budget and taste. Then call your automotive repair shop or any trusted mechanic and tell them which vehicles you are thinking about buying. They will tell you which ones to avoid like the plague and which ones would be a good option. Their advice may not be scientific but it will be based on the vehicles they are seeing in the shop and the problems that they run into with each. I highly recommend you do this before you start looking.
Just last week one of our customers called the shop and asked us about a certain type of car. Before the mechanic could finish telling him why to avoid “that one,” the customer reluctantly told him, “I already bought it.” Why? Because the customer’s emotions got the best of him on a “good deal” before he could get some professional advice.
The last step is the most important, yet it is the most neglected step by used car buyers. Always get a professional mechanic to perform a thorough inspection on any used vehicle, no matter how new it is or how low the mileage. You will spend between $50-$100 on an inspection but I will guarantee that it will be the best money you spend. Call it insurance.
Most of the time the inspection will give you enough information to negotiate the price down 5-10 times what it costs to have it done. A professional auto repair shop will lift the vehicle up and inspect it for any hidden leaks, prior damage, mismatch tires, deferred maintenance and on and on. They will find the things that used car dealerships use spray paint, power washers and Armor All to cover up. They can give you a complete, unbiased, evaluation that will help you decide if you are making a wise decision.
Although most states have a Lemon Law, dealerships are notorious for making it hard to get service after the purchase is complete. So, talk to your automotive professional before you buy.