5 Golden Rules to Follow When Buying A Used Car.
Buying a used car can be hard enough to traumatize you. Everybody involved in the process is assuredly biased, possibly we may say royal, and actively wants to do no harm to himself. More sad, dissatisfied people have left car dealerships than strip clubs, and it’s no wonder: Cars are extremely complicated, terribly expensive, and for some reason everyone is guarded by a small gang of pathological liars. It’s one of the worst experiences of your life, and you need somebody trustworthy to help you.
Unfortunately, you’ve got me. Lucky for you, I do as a “service” to the “community.” I think we can get through this, if you take my advice to heart.
1. Do Your Research
Never, ever walk into a dealership “just to see what they’ve got.” Most small and midsize dealerships will have online inventories. Check those out in advance and start looking up the models you’re interested in, then read up on each one: Comb through car sites like Edmunds, click on forum posts by owners, get the specs and find out about users’ experience with reliability, hell, go to Wikipedia and bone up on the entire history of the model and the powertrain you’re considering.
Now this is the important part, so pay attention: No matter what anybody tells you — no matter how respectable the source — never, ever, ever buy that. Regardless of dealership affiliation, every used car lot on the planet has junk, out back that they want to show you. It’s going to feel wrong, somehow. That’s the universe trying to warn you. There will be rational arguments, in your brain. “Hey, it sounds like they’ve gotten a lot better lately,” and, “Look, even the car magazines think they’ve got some decent models.” But there’s a very simple explanation for this illusion: They are terrible cars that will explode and betray you, no matter how meticulously you care for them. Isn’t that right?
3. Dealing With the Dealer
You need to treat the first few moments at a dealership like an old-timey mobster being interrogated by the coppers: You don’t say nothin’ about nothin’. Financing? What’s that? Trade-ins? Ha, what a hilarious portmanteau of gibberish! Price range? I don’t even speak English.
The first step is just to find the car you want, go over it carefully, take stock of any work that needs doing, and barter out the final price. Only when that’s all settled do you talk about trading in something. Why would you discuss trade-ins right up front if you haven’t even found a car you like? You’re not even sure you’re shopping there yet. The grocery store doesn’t pull you aside when you walk in the doors and ask how much you’re planning to spend today. So why do dealerships always want to know your price, payment and trades first? Because it gives them leverage against you: “Oh, well, if we’re going to do you a favour and take this trade-in off your hands, you have to buy one of these pre-selected vehicles.” Or, “Oh, you’re financing? Those aren’t our finance cars. Our finance cars are only the certified; let’s go out back and take a look.”
That’s bullshit. Everything is a finance car. Just like everything is a cash car. The car does not care how you pay for it. It is a car. Your car search is over.
4. Vehicle Inspection
There are a few basic things you can check, even if you know nothing about cars. First thing you want to do is get right up close against the side of the front fender. If it’s okay, then you’re done: It’s all cowhide coverings and curly hair for the rest of your days. If there’s little to no rapport between you and the vehicle at this point, just sight down the trim lines to make sure they’re straight with no fluctuations — offset doors, fenders, and uneven lines could indicate frame damage. Look around the engine bay at the spots where the metal struts come together — the joints should be straight, with no signs of recent welding. Take a look underneath the car and watch for rust on the rails, in the wheel wells, or basically anywhere else. Be afraid of rust. Rust is the mind-killer. You’ll think you can take rust; it’s just some pansy little oxidation, right? But you can’t. Rust is better than you.
Also remember to transmissions fluids. Don’t just stare at the engine with your dick in your hand, wondering if you could stop the flywheel with your smile. Pull those dipsticks out and check the reservoirs. Brake fluid is, in an ideal world, clear to slightly yellowish. But the world we live in is broken and flawed, so it’s usually tea-colored. If it looks like strong coffee, you’re going to need to bleed the brake system, at the very least. That’s a few hundred bucks right there.
Make sure the coolant is clear, the transmission fluid is red or purplish (just not black or oily) and all the belts and hoses are free of cracks. Do me a favour and look at the salesman’s face when you do it: See that expression? That’s what hope looks like, as it leaves the world. He’s just realized he’s not going to win this one, because you’re from the future you’ve already done this deal.
5. The Test Drive
Ramping is the ultimate test of a vehicle, from its ability to accelerate, to the integrity of its suspension, to its indefinable aura of testicular fortitude. You don’t want a vehicle that pusses out when it really counts do you? If they won’t let you ramp anything, at least take it on the highway. And don’t be gentle: A used car isn’t spouse material just yet. It’s a hot piece of ass at the bar; don’t be afraid to give it to them rough and weird, because you’re probably never going to see each other again. Accelerate hard, corner sharply and brake quickly. Make sure it’s not shaking all over the place at high speed — that could signal a bad alignment, control arms, bushings, tie rods, or a bunch of other silly words that can cost you hundreds of bucks. If the pedal feels spongy while braking hard, that could mean bleeding again. If it’s stiff and unyielding, it might be a bad brake booster. If the pedal shudders beneath your foot, it could need new rotors. It doesn’t matter if you know or understand those words right now — just throw them at the dealer like lawn darts at your little brother. If you still want the car despite the issues, at least it gives you ammo to drop the price later.
If it’s an automatic and it jolts into gear when you accelerate evenly, the transmission is probably bad. You just hop on out of that car, spare a couple of polite middle fingers for the nice salesman, and run to sweet freedom. That is not fixable. Nobody understands transmissions, not even a mechanic. All anybody can do about a transmission is just try to keep it happy, and try to shield our loved ones from its horrible wrath if we fail. Watch the oil pressure, battery and temperature gauges, you probably won’t be out long enough to trigger them, but they’re your last resort. If something is so wrong that the gauges start maxing out during a short test drive, that car is about to transform into shit robot, and will shit all over your life until you are dead.
After you’ve done your due diligence, cussed and punched your way through a few dealerships, oh, not with a quality used vehicle, nobody promised you that. If you’re smart, and you’ve followed this guide to the letter, you’ve just realized that every single vehicle for sale is an utter piece of garbage; overpriced and fundamentally broken.
Don’t worry; it’s all part of the dance. Enjoy your ride and save your few hundred bucks for gas instead of mechanical repairs.