On the verge of buying his first second-hand car, a friend asked me this past week what he should look out for and avoid. Being a broker and enthusiast I love this question. We have plenty of experience buying a used car; tips come with the territory. But answering it is like telling someone who they should date. The most important stuff is happening under the surface, or the hood, and each case is different.
That is why buying a used car is a dubious, if not downright frightening, situation for many… JUST like dating. Also just like dating, everyone thinks they are good at it, and they have the secret that will save you. Most of us are completely clueless and should not be listened to.
But we at Bespoke Car Broker will try our best to give you some no-nonsense buying a used car tips. Think of us as matchmakers.In an effort to make this article a bit entertaining we are going to run with this dating analogy as long as we can. Humor us.
*(If the literary license we are taking with this piece isn’t your fancy, click here to skip to the Buying a Used Car Tips & Checklist)*
There is no boilerplate, universal law when it comes to finding the one for you. It really comes down to you more than what the car, or person, can offer you. Every car, like every person, has had their own story and their fair share of abuse at the hands of someone else. You have to know that going in; we all have baggage, especially with a classic car… or a hairdresser.
Like any relationship, there will be rough patches. Make sure the car is going to be worth it, not just something to get you from point A to point B. Most people would tell you to be practical and grounded, and you should have a list of requirements.
Decent cargo space, good gas mileage, being able to hold a conversation with your crazy family at thanksgiving; all things to be taken into account. Like dating, the car you get needs to have that “X” factor that you can’t quite describe. If you don’t want to be seen in your car, or with your partner, it’s not the right one for you.
You need to be able to look at the car in your driveway or parking space and smile. There’s an old saying about cars, “If you can park it without looking back at it, you bought the wrong car.” Apply this to your relationships, if you don’t look back at your partner when you leave or smile when you find them across the room… you may have some reevaluating to do. All that said because there needs to be more positive things about that car that outweighs the possible headaches to come.
Rust is the biggest red flag and can often be a terminal diagnosis for a car. Make sure to check for any in the wheel arches, floorboards, underneath the doors, the spare tire mount, battery tray, and the engine bay. See if any body panels have rust and if so, how bad has the cancer spread. Some classics will undoubtedly have rust but the size and location are important,
Just like your ex; some cars will do a great job at hiding those issues for the first few weeks so do your vetting. You get lulled into a false sense of confidence and comfort. “Why wouldn’t everyone do this?” you ask yourself naively tempting the gods. You foolishly showboat your good fortune off to your friends, your family, or even random passersby on the street. Then “BANG!” the bottom falls out…
An unexpected bang is not good in either relationships or cars.
Also, don’t do all your talking and haggling online, go out and see the car. Think about how easy it was for your ex to dupe you with their tinder profile. People can present themselves and their cars to be far from the truth with some glossy words and clever camera angles.
The flip side to the previous issue are cars (and people) that have been coddled their whole life. You come across them often; these lost in orbit souls that have never incurred any mistreatment. They bumble through life like a pixie, spreading nothing but smiles and fairy dust… they are the worst.
These car are what we call Trailer Queens. Trailer queen cars seem like the holy grail, and they can be for some. Just like a supermodel or professional athlete are applicable for some people… you are not one of those people. If you are reading an article on what to look out for on used car you’re probably not a concours level car guy, supermodel type of guy.
When people and cars are babied this way you know they will not be able to hack it once the proverbial shit hits the fan. They have not been tried and tested and won’t be able to handle you and your overall demeanor.
This is where you need to look past all the perks and assess what you are looking for and what the relationship is offering you. The car, just like your partner, is telling you who it is. Maybe not directly shouting, but it’s communicating. And it’s on you to listen and respond accordingly. If you hear the issues, the impracticalities, the wants and needs the car has, and you still want it; go for it! It will haunt you until the end of your days if you don’t. “
Not trying to undo what I just said, you need to be ready to walk home from the deal. “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” something we have heard from our elders and friends alike after every heartbreak and missed connection. Most brokers and salesmen would not tell you this, as they want to make the sale. But to us, better to not buy a car then to pull the trigger and get soured on classic or used cars forever.
More often than not, you will not regret not buying a car; just regret selling one. So if a vehicle doesn’t sit right with you, doesn’t check all the boxes, walk away. Not only will this be a great tactic to potentially get a panicked seller’s bottom dollar price, but it gives you a bit more clarity on the car.
You may end up kicking yourself for not going for it. Just like we’ve all kicked ourselves for not going up to that girl at the bar, but if you keep your nose to the ground long enough, put the effort in you can find the car again.
All jokes and metaphors aside, there are a few vital things you should check. These are our buying a used car tips
Just like how we all do a deep-dive on someone’s social media after we meet them, do the same for the car that gets your fancy. Read consumer reports, car editorial reviews, call your local auto parts store and see if what parts get ordered the most for that vehicle. This is one of the buying a used car tips that be do the least.
Reach out to someone who owns the same car, it’s like asking your married or committed friends for relationship advice. Also realize that for every bad review or horror story you read there are hundreds, if not thousands, of owners out there happily driving the same car… they just aren’t bragging about it like that irritating couple on instagram with over the top selfies and posts.
Out of all the buying a used car tips, this is by far the easiest. anyone can spot dents and scratches and bubbling. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty, (also applicable relationship advice) and check the underneath of doors and undercarriage. Look at the paint; does every body panel match in color? It could mean an accident if they don’t.
Is the clear coat peeling or is there rust bubbling under the paint or any on the brakes? This could mean the car has been sitting which is never good. Also be thorough with the glass as any auto glass is expensive. And don’t look at it when the car is wet or at night; it doesn’t give you a clear picture… Every Rom-Com has a scene in the rain and everyone looks good at 3am, trust me.
You want to get under the hood and check all the fluids reservoirs of the car. If the brake fluid reservoir is low, this could mean there’s a leak in the line or that the brake pads are wearing out and they need to be replaced soon.
Check your motor oil by pulling the dipstick and toweling it off. You won’t be able to see too much but you want to make sure it isn’t burnt in odor or too thick. When you check the transmission fluid, usually in a similar fashion, you want to see a nice hearty red color; if it’s black then the filter hasn’t been changed in a while.
Get under the car and see if anything is leaking. Motor oil is not something you want to see. But if this is an old car, take it with a grain of salt. There’s an old saying for Land Rover’s, “Don’t buy one if it isn’t leaking oil.” It’s such a normal issue for them it is even a fight worth winning… all Defender owners, and married men, know what I mean.
When looking at a used car, you don’t want to gloss over something as important as the shoes. Rims and tires can be some of the most expensive items on a used car. Feel the tires, while test driving and directly. Run your hands over them, see if there are any uneven spots of wear or bumps.
This could be an alignment issue or something as serious as a now concealed previous accident. Bring a penny and put it in the tread of the tire. The less of Abe Lincoln’s head you can see the better. Also make sure the tires are the same brand at all corners of the car. Be sure the rims are too; I had a buddy buy a car and he didn’t realize until he got it home that the rims on the driver side were different than the ones on the passenger side.
Don’t yammer endlessly about the provenance of the car if it’s a classic. It is incredibly hard not to do this when two enthusiasts get together. It’s sort of what we live for, as most of our friends and neighbors don’t understand why we put so much effort into our steeds. Don’t let this new found bond overshine why you are here.
Be thorough with your walk around and test drive. Don’t have the radio on and don’t let the seller talk through the test drive. This could conceal any noises coming from the car. You can buy a car diagnostic reader like this one, and check the computer. The computer port, known as an OBD2 port, can be found under the steering wheel in most cases. Every car after 1999 has an OBD2 port and this can give you some quick insight. They only cost $20-$40 and can often immediately save you at least that much.