March 04, 2020
I recently helped my daughter through the car buying process. The most important things for me were safety and reliability. She should be able to enjoy her new ride without having to spend extra money on maintenance or replacements.
It’s easy to fall in love with a shiny coat of paint and forget to look out for what can cost you money in the long run. You won’t always know a car’s full history, but it helps if you know what to check before you buy.
1. Check the fluids
2. Inspect the tires
3. Test out the brakes
4. General safety indicators
Do a general check under the hood to make sure fluids are all full. Check the oil dipstick. If the oil is black or smells burnt, that’s a sign that the engine may not have been properly maintained.
Tires are one of the most expensive things to replace. Look at the tire tread, is the wear even across the tire? Are there any scuffs, cracks or bulges?
Although tires are a big-ticket item, that doesn’t mean it has to be a deal-breaker. Some dealerships will negotiate a new price, or give you new tires, if you discuss it prior to purchase.
Make sure the brakes work efficiently when you test drive the car. If the brakes are squeaking, or they aren’t responsive when you press the pedal, it’s a red flag.
Pro tip: Test drive the vehicle without the radio on (or turned down low) so you can listen to the sounds the car makes, especially the brakes.
Simple things such as making sure your seatbelts all click can make a big difference. Are any service lights on? Test out the wipers. If they leave streaks or are worn, they should be replaced.
These things may seem trivial when buying a car, but can be dangerous if overlooked.
Being in the car business as long as I have, I’ve come to learn that the safest and most reliable used cars often come from dealerships and larger, more reputable establishments. These places tend to put more money into vehicles to prepare them for sale.
Basically, you get what you pay for.
By Tom Probus
Automotive Research Specialist, BG Proving Ground
Tom Probus is an ASE Master Technician and has been ASE Certified for more than 20 years. He joined the BG Proving Ground in 2015, where he helps invent new equipment that keeps BG at the top of the industry.