When you buy a used car, wouldn’t it be nice to know the actual condition it is in? Buying a used car can offer you a lot of value in dollars saved, but you don’t want to be the next victim in a lemon horror story. Take a moment to read about some of the most common used car catastrophes and learn what you can do from the beginning to avoid them.
A used car purchase does not have to turn into a nightmare. For every sad story you hear about a lemon, there are hundreds of successful used car buying experiences. As a customer, you have the right to be informed—know what to expect or look for when shopping for a used car and save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches.
What To Expect From A Used Car Buying Experience
The good news is, finding a reliable used car has nothing to do with luck. By now, you have taken the time to research inspectors—the best first step you can take. Now, make an effort to get informed. A little goes a long way toward purchasing a trouble-free used car. Buying a used vehicle without the most common car problems will provide you with the best value for your money.
Buying a new-to-you, used car should be an experience that brings joy into your life. A different car represents a host of new possible adventures you can share in the years following the purchase. If you get the right vehicle, it will enrich your life for years to come.
Some of the most common used car catastrophes are easy to see with an experienced eye or the proper tools, but you may not be sure what you are looking for. That is okay; we are here to help you learn the basics of checking out a used car, and our experts are available to check out any car you want to buy.
Avoid These Common Used Car Title Issues
A widespread issue when browsing Craigslist used cars through private sellers is the risk of the vehicle not having a clean title. Making sure the car is not stolen is hugely important. It is always a good idea to locate the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and verify it with the one shown on the official title. Do this before finalizing any purchase agreement. The VIN is usually visible from the exterior of the car through the lower, driver’s side corner of the windshield.
Aside from potentially being stolen or defrauded, if a car has been in an accident or if a lot of mechanical or engine work was necessary, a vehicle may come with a salvaged or rebuilt title. Understanding why a vehicle title is salvaged or rebuilt is critical, like knowing what to inspect on the car.
Many banks will not even finance cars without a clean title history. If they understand the risks behind lending money on a salvaged or rebuilt title, you should be careful when considering spending your money on a car with one.
A full vehicle history report from a reputable source is the usual recommendation when considering a used car purchase. Many dealerships feature free CarFax™ reports as an incentive to shop with them, but these reports are available to consumers shopping private party classifieds as well.
For a small fee, you can access the car’s history by entering the VIN on the website to get a better idea of its potential condition. Although a car report is not going to tell you a lot of things that you should know, it is an excellent place to start.
Accessing The Service And Recall Records Is Important
Another common catastrophic experience when purchasing a used car happens when a previous owner ignores Manufacturer Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins (TSB). If you want to check the list of recalls for a specific make and model of a car, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists all of them.
Should you find any recalls listed for the car you are looking at, ask the dealer or seller for paperwork showing recall service records. If you find out the vehicle still needs a recall service, it is important to do it right away. A good rule of thumb is to complete this service immediately, before purchasing the car. Since recalls are usually safety-related, dealerships assume the responsibility and obligation to pay for the service.
Technical Service Bulletins are a little different than recalls, but they are equally valuable when shopping for a used car. TSBs are reports from the manufacturer to dealerships documenting the most common and recurring issues with a specific model of car. TSBs are not usually safety concerns, so dealerships do not have an obligation to cover the service cost. You can access a list of TSBs on the NHTSA website as well.
Taking care of recalls and TSBs will help you avoid a potential catastrophe before purchasing a used car. These are usually concerns that are easy to fix, even if it means waiting a day or two before finalizing the purchase.
Avoid Used Cars With Previous Flood Damage
One of the biggest catastrophes when purchasing a used vehicle is buying a car with flood damage. Natural disasters can affect hundreds of thousands of vehicles. If a car has flood damage, it may have some detectable signs. A strong mildew odor or discolored carpeting are reliable indicators of possible water damage. When flood damage occurs, it usually causes some long-term intermittent electrical problems as well.
The used market is full of flood-exposed cars, but there is a way to avoid purchasing one. Checking vehicle history using a Carfax used car report will sometimes reveal whether or not it has flood exposure.
A full vehicle history report from a reliable source will also alert you of any past fire or accident damage. It is important to remember that some information does not find its way to the vehicle history report, but it is an excellent place to start.
Sometimes a vehicle will come back with a clean report, but a full inspection reveals unreported damage. Combining a reputable CarFax™ Vehicle History report with a comprehensive end-to-end pre-purchase car inspection will yield the best results.
Mechanical Issues Can Cause Major Used Car Catastrophes
From visual to audible signs, understanding the actual mechanical condition of a used car is vital if you want to avoid a catastrophe. Before starting the car, pop the hood and check the engine bay area. It should be reasonably clean without a lot of grease.
Look for corrosion; it should not have much if any. Belts and hoses should appear to be in good condition—with few to no cracks or signs of dry rot. Check for signs of oil or fluid leakage. If anything looks like it has been melting, the car may have overheating issues or signs of a previous engine fire.
Next, while the engine is still not running, check the fluids. Is the oil clean and filled to the proper level? Engine oil will appear to be black if it is time for a change. If the oil is still semi-translucent with a healthy brown color, chances are the previous owner or dealership took care of the oil change service recently.
Engine oil can tell you more about the engine’s condition with a closer inspection. If there appears to be grit or debris in the oil, the previous owner’s procrastination to change oil at the proper intervals could prove costly to the next driver.
Frothy oil is a sign of engine damage such as a blown head gasket or issues with the block or cylinder heads. If you are not sure what normal engine oil looks like, a pre-purchase car inspection could save you a lot of money down the road.
Other essential fluids to check before starting the engine include the engine coolant. The coolant should be a good color, usually bright green or pinkish-red in many modern cars. It should be clean without signs of oil, dirt, or debris. Make sure the engine is completely cold before checking the engine coolant to avoid the risk of severe burns. When a motor is warm, the coolant becomes hot and pressurized.
WARNING: Be careful, never open the radiator cap to check the engine coolant after a car has been running.
After checking the engine coolant, you may want to start the engine. Listen for any knocks or ticking. If the engine sounds smooth, you may want to take it for a test drive. A test drive is the best way to get a feel for how the car drives. It should run and shift smoothly, without strange noises or funny vibrations.
After test driving the car for about 10 minutes, park it while leaving the engine running. While the car is idling, apply the brakes and the parking brake. Proceed to shift through all the transmission gears.
Leave the engine on while putting the vehicle in neutral or park. Neutral is usually the way to keep a manual transmission running after releasing the clutch pedal, while stationary. An automatic transmission usually uses the park position. For more clarity, check the owner’s manual.
Now, pop the hood and locate the transmission fluid dipstick if you know where to find it. Do not play guessing games with cars. If you are not sure what you are doing, your safety should always be your top priority. There are plenty of affordable and professional used car inspection experts who are happy to help you get the most value from your next used car purchase.
If you do know where to find the transmission fluid dipstick, check the fluid level and condition. Low transmission fluid causes problems because gears need lubrication to avoid grinding or damaging them. Transmission fluid should be vibrant red or almost reddish-brown; it should not be dark. It should also not have a burnt odor, although fresh transmission fluid is very pungent. If you are not sure what fresh transmission fluid smells like, you should skip the odor test.
Checking for potential mechanical issues can help you avoid common used car catastrophes. Knowing where and what to look for is half the battle. The engine and transmission are the core of your car’s heartbeat. Making sure they are in normal to excellent condition will go a long way toward keeping that car on the road for a long time.
Inspect The Car For Signs Of Aggressive Driving Or High Mileage
Assuming the car’s tires are not new or recent replacements, you can inspect the tread to get a better idea of how the previous owner was driving the vehicle. Wear-and-tear should be consistent across the width of the tire treads on all four wheels.
If the previous owner was driving the car with over-inflated tires, the middle of the tread will show more wear-and-tear. Tires will show more wear-and-tear on the outside of the tread if they were under-inflated. If you notice excessive wear-and-tear along the very outside edges near the sidewall, there is a good chance the previous owner was driving aggressively.
Driving a car hard not only damages the tires, but it also affects nearly every mechanical part of the powertrain and many other important components. Hard driving causes parts to wear out quicker than usual, which can lead to unexpected and expensive auto repair bills.
Other potential issues are detectable through a necessary tire inspection as well. If the sidewalls of the tires show signs of cupping or seem to have waves and bumps, this is usually a symptom of potential steering, suspension, or brake problems.
When looking for signs of high mileage, the easiest place to look is the car’s odometer. The dashboard odometer displays how many miles the car has. It is difficult to alter an odometer in modern vehicles, but a car’s title is another place to look for potential mileage discrepancies.
Besides checking the odometer, another place to look is the driver’s seat. Does the seat’s condition match the mileage? If the seat is sagging or if it shows excessive wear-and-tear for the car’s mileage, you may want to dig deeper with an ‘auto inspection near me’ before purchasing. Knowing the full story of a car’s condition before buying can lead to pleasant ownership experiences.
Who Can I Trust With My Investment?
There are many reputable sources for pricing information, including NADAGuides.com and Kelley Blue Book, but these sources aren’t as comprehensive as something like a CarFax™, let alone a full-car inspection. Generally, used car buyers will start with a KBB used car value comparison on their phone.
After comparing the value of the car at hand, you might decide to seek a mechanic to give the vehicle an honest evaluation—hopefully showing a clean bill of health. The problem with using a general mechanic is—they can be expensive, hard to schedule with, and even harder to coordinate around.
You and the seller might both need to be present for the inspection so all of your concerns can be covered. If you’re reading this, you probably already made two critical decisions:
Your time is valuable
You want the best used car for the money.
If you did, you already know that our expert inspectors can make a used car housecall, anywhere the seller or the vehicle is. We believe that everyone’s time is valuable, so we come to you.
Where Can I Get My Car Inspected?
Some people know what to look and listen for when shopping for used cars. Most people do not know where to begin, but it is always okay to be normal. On top of that, browsing for a new car can be an exciting and emotional time.
It is easy to feel the overwhelming excitement when you may have found the perfect match after browsing the Autotrader used car selection. Sometimes this joyous feeling can pull a veil over the eyes or ears of a potential buyer when it comes to possible and apparent issues.
One of the reasons a used car pre-purchase inspection is so helpful is because you get an objective, professional opinion backed by data, before buying the vehicle. When you hire a reputable and professional car inspection expert, they have your best interest in mind.
What Sets CarDr.com Apart?
Not all used car pre-purchase inspection services are equal. You want to look for a ‘car inspection near me’ who combines experienced automobile inspection experts with state-of-the-art On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) artificial intelligence technology and data.
We combine state-of-the-art OBD data collection with a specialized peer-to-peer comparison of every car we have ever inspected that CarDr.com artificial intelligence (AI) technology maintains. We equip experienced inspectors with the most advanced car inspection tools on the planet and make the whole shebang approachable with real-time order status and easy scheduling.
CarDr.com provides the most comprehensive used car pre-purchase inspection service available. In order to do it, we work together with the most significant vehicle service data providers to offer you the best understanding possible before you sign the contract, investing your hard-earned money.
Best of all, CarDr.com offers convenient mobile pre-purchase car inspections nationwide.
Wherever the car is, a professional CarDr.com inspector will show up to do a comprehensive end-to-end motor vehicle inspection. If you want a smooth used car buying experience, avoid getting ripped off, shine a light on the vehicle’s condition before buying it. Use the best pre-purchase car inspection company to prevent catastrophes.
Inspect The Unexpected, Avoid Expensive Repair Bills
Shopping for a used car is an exciting time for drivers. Few things can unleash the feel-good experience of driving a different car that does not require immediate maintenance. With so many potential catastrophe factors, knowing what to inspect can save used car shoppers from getting a lemon. Now that you understand how important it is to cover the full used car inspection checklist before purchasing, the value of knowing what to expect is priceless.
CarDr.com’s Intelligent Inspection process will reveal everything you need to know about your next used vehicle purchase. Just because a vehicle’s price is under the NADA used car value does not make it a good deal.
We took the time to outline what the real value of your car can be, with information from our team of experts. Don’t stop at the Blue Book ‘Good Buy’ rating—you can do so much better, especially when the average used car is a ten-year investment in your future. Don’t settle for like. Similar to shopping for tools, electronics, clothes, or anything else, if you don’t love it on the lot, you probably won’t enjoy it once you get it home.
A truly great deal combines long-term reliability with the proper market value for a car’s actual condition. CarDr.com monitors the heartbeat of vehicles while providing end-to-end vehicle inspection expertise from the headlights to tailpipe, and everything in-between.
Discover the value of inspecting the unexpected with doctor-like precision. CarDr.com offers a convenient mobile pre-purchase car inspection with packages that include a full CarFax™ vehicle history report. Know everything about your next used car, from the inside-out, before you drive it home with CarDr.com.