Determining If a Used Car is Reliable
Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated March 30, 2012)
While many people may think that they know the best ways of determining if a used car is reliable or not, the sheer number of lemons bought and sold each year tells a completely different story. It's not all that difficult to ensure whether you have a good car or not, if you simply keep in mind a few simple guidelines.
- Check the record. Do a little bit of research on the car make and model to see whether it is overall reliable or not. Often the more reliable that the car is, the higher its resale value can be. In addition, by doing a little bit of research you can often identify any problem areas that that particular model of car may have, or what problems it may be susceptible to in the future.
- Check the sticker. If you are getting a used car from a dealer, then make sure you take a look at the sticker that they are supposed to put on the car. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has made it mandatory that every used car offered by a dealer is required to put a Buyer's Guide that will state whether the car is being sold "As Is," if there is a warranty, and any and all repair costs that the dealer is required to pay. This Guide takes precedence over anything that may be mentioned in your purchase contract. Keep in mind one important fact, if the car is being sold "As Is" then the dealer is making no promises according to the condition of the vehicle. This means that any thing that you find wrong with it you will be required to fix it yourself.
- Look it over, outside and in. Thoroughly look at the exterior and interior of the vehicle. This will help you get a good idea of what the general condition of the vehicle is, and what you may need to do to get it fixed (if you purchase it). For example, if you happen to find some paint that has gotten on the chrome, you may have a vehicle that has seen some body work. If you find seats that look like they are sagging, then you might have a car that has some really high mileage on it.
- Don't forget to look at the engine. If possible, have a mechanic along with you to look at the vehicle's engine. Simply having a mechanic visually inspect the engine can tell you quite a bit. It would be preferable though to have the mechanic give it a complete and thorough inspection. Avoid buying the vehicle if the dealer or owner doesn't want you to have a mechanic look at it.
- The tires can say a lot. The condition of the tires on the vehicle can tell you a huge tale. For example, if the wear on the tires isn't even on both sides of the car it could signify that there is an alignment problem. Tires that have been worn down the middle show that they have frequently been over inflated, while tires that have been worn down on the sides will show that they have been underinflated. Either way it indicates that the vehicle has been driven hard.
- What's the exhaust look like? When you start the car do you happen to notice any smoke? The color of that smoke can tell you whether or not you have a problem. For example, smoke that is white in appearance usually indicates that there is a little moisture in the exhaust and nothing that you really need to worry about. However, if you have black smoke then that means that the fuel-air mixture is out of whack and that you need to replace a dirty air filter, or problematic oxygen sensor, or some other similar problem. Blue smoke is typically indicative of burning oil, which means that there could be some rather expensive repairs in store. If you find that you have billowing clouds of white smoke then you have water in the combustion chamber, which means that there was a blown head gasket, damaged cylinder head, or possibly a cracked engine block.
- Ask for a history report. Always ask for a history report, preferably two. The two most reliable companies that can give you accurate histories are CarFax and Experian Automotive. Just as when you are looking at a credit report, you want more than one source to help ensure that you are getting all the information available on the car. Typically the reports will cost about $15 and will only take a few minutes to receive.