Monday, July 15, 2024 Detailed Auto Topics
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The best value in a used vehicle, is three to a five-years-old.  Maximum depreciation has reduced the cost and even with minimum maintenance, these vehicles are still in very good shape.  More years mean a lower price, but also more potential problems, if maintenance is not current.

Years are much harder on a vehicle than miles.  A three-year-old vehicle with 90,000 miles, is less problematic than a nine-year-old, with 30,000 miles.  If funds are limited, cut costs by finding a high-mileage, rather than an older automobile.

Where to buy?

A used vehicle bought from a new car dealership is the same as one from any used-car lot.  Most vehicles are from auctions, lease returns and trade-ins.  Any warranty expressed is only as good as the company offering it.  From this perspective, a large dealership is less likely to go away, leaving no recourse.  Another advantage is, normally there will be more models from which to choose.

A private party sale saves money and give opportunity to discuss the vehicle with the original owner
Buying from a private owner is a lower-cost  option and provides an opportunity to discuss the vehicle history.  Asking why they are offering the vehicle for sale provides insight.  Often, there will be service records, and the buyer can ask what type oil they put in the engine.  The disadvantage is, if there is a problem, it will be more difficult to collect for any damages.  We may avoid much of this potential with a proper vehicle inspection, before purchase.

Pre-purchase Inspections

Always have a vehicle inspected before you buy it

A used vehicle saves a great deal of money but also has an increased risk.  We may greatly reduce the gamble, with a vehicle inspection before purchase.  A person should never skip this step.  


No ‘deal’ is so good to allow for the chances taken, in buying an uninspected vehicle.


Most dealerships and used-car lots will bring their vehicles to the mechanic of your choice for an inspection.  Some private party sellers may be reluctant to release the automobile to a prospective buyer, before purchase.  In such cases, the owner may be willing to take it for inspection or accompany the buyer.  Refusal to submit a vehicle for inspection, means the buyer should find another choice.

Vehicle reports

Electronic reports, provided by most dealerships, are very limited.  They are better than nothing, but insufficient by themselves.  Never buy a vehicle based on such a report alone.  Such information comes from warranty records and insurance claims.  Major issues may not show up.  For instance, they will not include a serious collision that insurance has not covered.  A failing transmission will not be on the report and so on.

What are Program and Certified cars?

Words such as ‘Program car’ and ‘Certified’ have no real meaning.  These terms are generic marketing jargon, and open to the interpretation of the seller.  Often, they tack an extended warranty onto the price.  Many certified-used cars fail to pass a vehicle inspection, because of major problems.  Adding a name, like certified, to a used vehicle, does not lower the scrutiny level.

Things to watch

The used vehicle checklist is a great guide.  Taking a copy along will help to avoid overlooking problems.  Another tip is to note the type tires, battery and oil filter on the vehicle.  If the tires and battery are major brand names and the oil filter is an OEM filter, the vehicle is more likely well maintained.  No-name tires, batteries and oil filters are a warning.

Read our section on Buying Vehicles and our Detailed Topic on Spotting a wrecked vehicle.  Isolating problems yourself, saves the costs of multiple vehicle inspections.  Modifications are definite red flags. The most problem-free choice, is a vehicle, not changed from its stock form.

modified vehicles will almost always mean future problems

Most modifications are not done to original standards and are a source of future problems.  Custom wheels, aftermarket stereo systems, lowered vehicles and modified exhaust are common sources of problems.  Cut or modified wiring and changes to the air intake system are deal-breakers.

Time spent identifying needs and selecting a vehicle to meet them, will earn huge dividends.  Proper maintenance and the right used vehicle, provide years of low-costs service.  The savings can retire other debts, boost savings, or for things the family can really enjoy.   

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