Avoid A Lemon – 9 Point Checklist When Buying A Used Car


If you have always bought new cars direct from authorized dealers, you probably value the idea of being the first owner much more than many others. I get it. Sometimes, the thought that some other drivers and their families using a car before you acquired it just doesn’t feel right.

But even if you are an active advocate of new cars, you must surely acknowledge that buying used cars just 2 or 3 years old could save a buyer thousands of dollars. This just adds to the notion of how much goodwill new car buyers put into vehicles in mint condition straight out of the oven.

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The underlying concern of buyers avoiding used cars is the possibility of ending up with a car having problems that cost so much money to resolve, it will cost as much as buying a new one.

Well, you can almost completely remove that fear if you follow some rules.

1) Buy from a used car dealer

The problem with buying from a private party (a regular driver) is that they often oversell what they have. They tell you all the good stuff without being able to verify them. And they will always claim that their cars are in tip top condition. The worst part is that they will price their vehicles just as much as a selling dealer in the hope of getting that lucky call from a newbie buyer.

Dealers or agents on the other hand, have the expertise and resources to refurbish a car to as close as mint condition as possible. They usually repair everything and clean up the whole vehicle to a showroom condition so as to attract prospects. On top of that, they can even get a manufacturer to certify a car to include a warranty.

They usually have a huge inventory of spare parts and accessories to give away too.

People operating business will also more likely to understand liability and practice good faith in commerce. They can’t tarnish their reputation if they want to sustain the company for the long haul.

2) Do some research

There are a lot of models that have problems caused by flaws in the manufacturing process. We read about them all the time in the newspapers when mass call backs are done.

This means that there will always be a market for vehicle owners to let go of these defective cars to uninformed buyers. The model you are interested in might actually be one of them. So don’t be a victim. At least spend some time scanning the web for news and information on your model before buying.

At the same time, automotive forums online are full of drivers passionate about their cars. You will be able to reach out to actual owners of the car model you are interested in to learn more about it. Drivers get very upset when their vehicles encounter recurring problems. Look out for trends on the type of backlash started by reputable forum members. If there is a certain problem with a specific model, you will most likely see a trend of it being reported and discussed in these forums.

3) Find the vehicle’s market value

Conduct research on how much the car you want is selling in the market. The aspects you should look at include:

  • Country of manufacture
  • Date of registration
  • Date of registration
  • Total mileage
  • Color
  • Size of engine
  • Accessories and spare parts
  • Scrap value (if any)

With the huge number of used car listing websites available today, unless you are lazy, it should be an easy task to find out an estimated price you are looking at. Don’t ignore the classifieds sections in the newspapers.

4) Ask as many questions as possible

When you first visit a dealer, ask as many questions as possible about the car you are looking to buy. Treat it as an information gathering exercise. You don’t need to restrict your questions on those concerning the car. Sometimes of hand questions can reveal details that are very valuable for decision making. The biggest reason new buyers don’t ask enough questions because they are shy about revealing their rookie status. Don’t let that stop you.

Did you say that this is accident free?

Did you say that this is accident free?

Saying that, here are the questions you MUST ask:

  • How many owners does the car have?
  • Is it accident free?
  • Why is the owner selling? (if applicable)
  • How long has it been available for sale?
  • Any problems you should be aware of?

5) Inspect the car meticulously

You might feel a little embarrassed about inspecting a car like a forensic detective. But do put that mental state aside. Because if you fail to do that, there is a higher likelihood that you will be cursing the skies within the first week of driving it.

There is no shame in spending an hour thoroughly inspecting the car. We are talking about an item costing thousands of dollars here. So there’s no need to feel that you are overdoing it even when a sales staff gives you those judgmental eyes.

6) Test drive

It would appear to be a given that a buyer would test drive a car before buying it. That’s true. But many just drive around thinking that it’s fine as long as it’s moving. That is the worst way to approach a test drive.

Things to check when driving:

  • Emergency brake
  • Handbrake
  • At stop, step on the brakes half-way and see if you notice anything unusual
  • Smoothness of gear shifting
  • Reverse movement
  • Grip of tires
  • Smoothness of steering wheel
  • Does the car go straight when you let go of the steering wheel?
  • Listen out for any weird noises coming from the engine or any other compartments
  • Test the heater/air-conditioner

7) Get a real mechanic to evaluate it

Honestly speaking, you surely don’t expect a used car to be at a condition as optimal as a new one. But you don’t want it to have major problems either. To ensure that you are not buying into a disaster, get a real mechanic to do a basic evaluation on it.

It won’t cost more than $200. That is small change compared to a car costing thousands of dollars. You would lose more money should you end up with a lemon.

A mechanic will be able to spot problems quickly as they work with these things on an everyday basis. They should also be able to tell you what parts are old and should be replaced, and the estimated extra expenses you need to spend. You might even try to ask the dealer to replace them to close an immediate sale. An idea which can sometimes work.

8) Offer a lower price than the asking price

There are basically 2 ways to negotiate with a dealer. Either get more accessories or services at the asking price, or ask for nothing more than a reduced price.

Salespeople often attempt to sell you at the asking price by throwing in a lot of freebies. Many will even throw in everything they have in their back pocket and offer to reduce the price if you sign up for a loan with their financing scheme.

It really depends on what your requirements are. If you run into a salesman fully unwilling to concede any ground on price, at least ask for more freebies.

9) What does your gut tell you?

I would recommend that if your gut has a funny bad feeling about the deal, walk away. Don’t let you emotions or an aggressive salesperson sway you. If you already have a bad feeling about the car, and you proceed the purchase it, chances are that you will be complaining about your decision sooner than you think. It’s a purchase worth thousands of dollars after all. Why compromise your gut.

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