I love cars. Always have, always will. When I was still a kid, I didn’t want to do anything else than play with cars. When I grew up, I used to play a lot of Need For Speed. Still do, by the way.
But as much as I love blazing fast muscle cars… the reality is that I can’t afford them. Who can but the very richest?
Cars are awesome. There’s no doubt about that. The problem with cars is that they are also very expensive. I’ve never seen a guy in his twenties who was able to afford a new car right of a car dealer’s lot. That stuff only happens if you happen to be born to rich parents.
Most of us aren’t, unfortunately. That’s why I, and most other people I know, simply buy cheap, old, used cars instead. Used cars are so much cheaper than new cars! New cars will often have a price tag of ten thousand dollars at the very least attached to them.
And the price can go as high as twenty or thirty thousand dollars if you want a new car with all sorts of modern technologies in it. Ten thousand dollars only gets you a car which is considered standard by today’s standards.
The Dilemma Of New Cars Vs Second Hand Vehicles
The upside about new cars is that they are new, which means they won’t be breaking down on you anytime soon. But the price you pay for a new car goes beyond the original price tag. You see, the moment that you drive a car off the lot… it already loses dozens of percentages of its value.
Some people estimate that these ‘dozens of percentages’ go as high as 50%. Imagine buying a $20,000 car. As soon as you drive it off the car dealer’s lot, it’s only worth $10,000!
Sure, you’ve got a couple of years of warranty, which will ensure you won’t have to pony up an enormous load of dough for any repairs that you might get… But realistically… you’re chances of getting car trouble and requiring repairs aren’t at all that high with a new car.
So What’s It Gonna Be?
Keeping all this in mind… do you really think it’s at all that great to buy a new car?
Neither do I. That’s why I much prefer buying used, second hand cars instead.
Not that second hand cars are the end-all solution to all your car buying troubles… not at all. Used vehicles might be a lot cheaper than their new counterparts, but the downside to used cars is that they are used!
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference between a good used car and a bad used car just by looking at them. The outside of a car doesn’t always show how well it has been treated by its previous owner(s). There’s also no telling how well it has been maintained under the hood just by looking at the outside.
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Which is why you will have to test drive a used car that you are looking to buy.
Test driving is the only way to separate the lemons from the non-lemons. Used cars can give you some good value for the money you spend on them. But only if you know how to get your hands on the good ones.
To buy a good second hand vehicle is to protect yourself from the financial depreciation that is the curse of every new car.
How To Buy A Good Used Old Car For Cheap
From years of experience, I have learned a lot about buying cars! I want to share with you some of the wisdom that life has been kind enough to bestow upon me over the past decade or so.
Here is a step by step guide for buying a good used car and avoid blowing your money on a crappy one:
1. Browse Around & Compare Used Cars
Whenever you set out to search for used cars for sale, make sure that you make use of the biggest information source of them all: the web!
There are many used car dealers that are advertising online. You can often do a Google search for ‘used cars for sale’ followed by your own home town or city. If you’re living in the big city, you will always be able to find a few used car lot addresses in your area. And all it takes is a five minute search.
Before you head on down to a used car dealer, you have to compare cars and prices from multiple websites. If you are eyeing a particular brand and model car, then you need to see if you can find that brand and model with multiple car dealers.
This way, you can do a good comparison. Many things factor in on the price. The car will have a certain build year, a certain mileage on the counter, a certain maintenance history, a certain amount of damage, etc.
All this stuff determines how much a used car will cost you. But even though cars differ greatly because they’ve all had their own history, you can still use your common sense to find a set of comparable vehicles.
And if one car dealer has a much better price than another one does on a comparable car, then it makes no sense to visit the dealer with the highest price.
I personally not only like to check one particular car when I’m comparing car dealers. What I always do, is line up a few car dealers in my browser tabs and then compare their entire collection of cars. You’ll be amazed how well this works to get a feel for who has the best used cars for sale.
I always recommend going to a used car dealer for the best guarantees that you’ll get a good used car. Buying cars directly from owners is way more risky. Especially if you do not know what you are doing.
Compare before you set out to a used car lot!
2. Be Nice To Your Dealer And Ask About The Car’s Maintenance History
Once you arrive at a used car lot, make sure you make some small talk with the dealer. Sure, he’s a car dealer… and car dealer’s are notoriously slick. But even slick guys are only human beings. So make sure to get a long with your would be car seller. This works wonders if you care anything about getting a good deal.
Once you’ve gotten past the polite smiles, friendly hand shakes and small talk, it’s time to go and have a look at the car. Before you get in for the test drive, you’ll have an opportunity to talk to the dealer and ask him questions. He’s pretty much got no choice than to answer your questions, because he wants to make that sale pretty bad!
Make use of this opportunity to ask him all the questions you can come up with. Ask about the previous owners. Ask about the car’s maintenance history. Ask about the car’s damage / accident history. Ask him whatever you can come up with and watch his body language like a hawk when he aswers you.
You see… some of these guys might seem honest, but they’ll be lying through their teeth if that’s what it takes to sugar coat the car. With the few hundred bucks that you will be throwing at this car at minimum, you have the right to catch a car dealer when he’s trying to yank your chain.
And don’t think it won’t happen to you. Some dealers are doing bad business and it pisses them off. They’ll take it out on you if that’s what it takes to sell you a car.
If the guy doesn’t come off as likeable and trustworthy, then it’s time to hit the road and go elsewhere. If he does, then it’s time to hit the road as well… by test driving the car!
3. Test Drive The Second Hand Car You Are Interested In
By testing driving a car, you can get a good idea of how ‘healthy’ the car is. Like humans, cars have their wear & tear. There are numerous aspects of a car that you need to keep in mind if you want to be able to judge its current state.
4. Listen To The Engine
The engine is perhaps the most important part of a car. Not that it’s the only irreplaceable part. Far from it. But the engine is, no doubt, at the heart of the car. The engine is also the most costly part of the car.
I’ve never seen a car that had a more pricey part than the engine itself. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule. I’m sure there’s a guy driving around with $10,000 spoilers on his Hyundai Excel which has a $800 engine somewhere, but this is a rarity.
If the engine of the car is no good, you’ve got to skip on the car. While test driving it, make sure you listen to the sound the engine makes. If it sounds healthy, then it probably is. It also doesn’t hurt to check under the hood. A quick peek can let you know whether the engine looks in good shape or whether it looks busted up.
5. Check The Brakes
While test driving, also make sure you test the brakes a couple of times. Good brakes are absolutely essential to a good car. While not as costly as an engine, brakes aren’t cheap. You don’t want to have to replace these shortly after you buy your used car.
When using the brakes, try to get a feel for how well the car is coming to a full stop. If you are required to really slam on the brakes in order to stop the car, then the brakes probably aren’t alright. Good brakes will not require you to step down on them in order to stop the car.
Quite the opposite is true, actually. Good brakes will let you stop the car with very little effort. If the car you are test driving can’t easily slow down and stop, move on to another car.
6. Check The Gear Box
The gear box is pretty darn essential as well. You can have a Formula 1 engine under the hood, but you still won’t get anywhere unless you’ve got a gear box that’s in decent shape.
Like the engine, the gear box is pricey and not just a bit. You certainly don’t want to have to replace the gear box a few weeks after you’ve purchased a second hand vehicle. In some cases a new gear box is almost as expensive as the car itself. But that only goes for the really banged up used cars that cost $1000 or less.
While you are taking the car for a test drive, the gear box must be smoothly operable. If you are having a big fight with the shift stick every single time you are trying to move up a gear, then leave this car be. There is nothing more frustrating than a shift stick that forces you to fight it.
Sometimes, a tought to operate gear box’s performance can be smoothed a bit by having a mechanic lubricate it with oil. But oil is no miracle cure for an old, banged up, worn down gear box that just doesn’t have any more life left in it.
7. Check The Steering Wheel
A car that drives well, shifts well and brakes well, is not necessarily a car that also steers well. Like with the previous parts, you’re going to have to test the steering wheel as well.
A lot of people I Know are eager to get on the highway as fast as they can when taking a car for a spin. They want to know how the car performes when it is at high speed. When it turns out the car does okay at 70 miles an hour, they’ll say “I’ll take it” and be done with it.
Big mistake. I’ve made it myself as well in the past. You shouldn’t only drive a car on the highway when testing it. Also drive it through the streets and take a few turns.
Some cars require you to exert quite a bit of physical force in order to take a turn. This gets old really, really quickly.
So take turns and feel that wheel!
8. Check The Tires
The tires aren’t the most costly thing about a car. As a matter of fact, you can usually pick up a bunch of tires for $50 a pop somewhere if you bother to look around. For that kind of money, you can also have those tires put on the car by a mechanic.
Replacing tires won’t cost you a rib, but you’d still rather not spend at least $200 on new tires when you’ve just bought a second hand vehicle. That’s why you’ve got to check those tires as well.
Checking the tires isn’t hard. You can get a feel for their performance while test driving the car. But you can also have a look at them when you’re outside of the car.
Good tires will have deep enough grooves. They have still got to be able to give you a good mile count. The grooves need to be at least 2/32th of an inch in order to be legal in most states. But when they are at this level, there isn’t much of a mile count left on them.
You can easily check the depth of the grooves by sticking a penny in there with Lincoln’s head upside down. The more his head disappears from your view, the more depth the tire grooves are. That means good news for you, because the tires will likely last you a long time.
Whenever you see a car with tires that have cracks in them, the tires are all dried out. In this case, it doesn’t matter whether you can stick the whole penny in there or not. Cracked tires are bad news because they are flat out dangerous.
Stay away from cracked tires!
9. Check The Suspension
A car’s suspension can be pretty important. It all depends on whether or not you drive around in rough terrain. But even if you do a lot of highway riding, you’re still going to need that suspension. Not even the highway is perfectly flat.
You’ll encounter the occasional bump in the road when driving daily. It’s unavoidable. You need a car with good suspension to take the blows. If your car’s suspension doesn’t work (well), it’s the rest of the car that constantly takes the blows.
Needless to say, a situation like this will drastically reduce the remaining lifespan of your used car. On top of that, suspension is pretty expensive to replace.
So check that car’s suspension. It’s real easy. Just stand in front of the car and gently push down on the hood. Does the car bounce back smoothly? If so, the suspension is probably A-okay!
10. Ask About The Timing Belt
The timing belt, also known as the cam belt, is what connects your crankshaft and your camshaft. The car has to have a belt like this in order for the engine to actually move your car forward.
This belt needs to be replaced every few years or every few 75,000 miles or so. It varies depending on who you ask. If you are looking at a car that hasn’t had its belt replaced and it’s about to hit that 75,000 mile count… then you’re looking at a potential disaster.
The belt must always be replaced in time. If it is not, it can break on you while you are driving your car. The consequences are dire. An event like this is absolutely guaranteed to leave you stranded besides the road. It will more than likely also completely screw up your engine.
For a car laymen, judging the quality of the cam belt can be difficult just by looking at it. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you ask the seller about the belt.
You are now a regular expert on buying used cars!
He he… I’m just kidding ofcourse. Expertise can only come with experience. And experience only comes with time and effort.
All jokes aside though… the above guidelines are immensely useful for anybody that is serious about buying a good used car.
I, for one, wish that I would have known all this when I was still in my early twenties. That’s when I first went hunting for cars.
I’m in my thirties now. I’ve owned quite a few cars and I’ve made mistakes along the way. It cost me some money and it’s too bad. But I’m glad that I can at least share my car related wisdom with all of your.
If only I can help one person make a good decision when buying a second hand vehicle, then I strongly feel writing this somewhat lengthy guide has already been worth it!
Got car buying experiences you want to share? Please do so in the comments!