Buying an older used car privately
If you are in the market for an older used car, reading this will improve your chances of doing well. Follow these steps.
1. Find used cars through local classified ads, word of mouth from friends and by talking to a local mechanic. Craigslist in your area can be useful and your local paper may have a classified section. Identify cars that interest you and make a short list.
2. Google or computer search each make and year looking for problems and any general information on that specific type of car.
3. Ask anyone you know what they think of the particular year, make and model. Make a second short list of people you might ask and try to include a local mechanic. Social media might help here.
4. Communicate with seller by phone or email starting with the first car on your list.
5. From your first contact, develop a rating of the seller on a scale of 1-10 and keep reworking this number. This can help keep you from getting distracted by what the seller may say about the car.
6. Go meet the seller and see the car. While looking at the seller, ask him how long he has owned it and why he is selling it. Watch the seller’s face when they talk and try to rate them for honesty, maintaining your 1-10 rating. The answers will almost always make sense but they may not be honest or complete.
7. Ask the seller for receipts for past repair work. A lot of recent repairs can be either good or bad for you. This is just information you want from the seller as a part of your overall picture. Ask to look at the vehicle registration to ensure the name and address match up with who you are talking to and the location you are at.
8. Look at the tires. Look for rust on the vehicle. More prevalent in Canada than further south. Rust spreads faster if the car is outside a lot in wet or cold weather. Rust looks bad and it limits the life span of the car. Look for uneven areas on the body, especially below the doors and around the wheels where body filler and paint have been used to hide rust.
9. Open the hood and leave it up. Check the oil. Probably it’s fresh and new so this doesn’t tell you much. Stand behind the vehicle and ask the owner to start the engine. You are looking to see what comes out of the exhaust pipe first thing to see if the car is burning oil. Blue exhaust is likely oil. Excessive water coming out could be an engine head gasket leaking. Listen to the engine. It should idle nicely, not too fast.
10. Now check the transmission fluid (automatic transmission) while the engine is running. Is it relatively clean?
11. Check over the entire car. Do you see evidence of water leaks shown by odor or dampness in the car or stains where the water has dried out? How is the upholstery and how clean is the inside of the car?
12. Now test drive the car. (close the hood first) Take it up a hill if you can. Enough power? Do the gears shift okay, do the brakes work properly? Are the muffler and exhaust system working?
13. Make a list of things that aren’t exactly as they should be.
14. You can say you now want to have your mechanic look it over. A mechanic can see quite a bit in one hour and it is good to have the brakes checked and maybe a compression test on the engine.
15. Now with your list of things that aren’t quite right, look at your seller and say to him, “is there anything wrong with this car that you know of that I’m not yet aware of?” Watch his face when he answers. Very often you will get an honest answer to this question and if not, most people are not good liars when caught by surprise and will reveal something in their face.
16. Remember that you have other cars on your buying list. If you have doubts about this one, put it on hold and go on to look at the next one on your list. The seller could sell it in the meantime but that’s a risk you may need to take.
17. If you decide it will meet your needs, evaluate the asking price and decide how much you want to offer the seller. If there are any obvious repairs to be made, deduct what you think they will cost from what you want to pay and tell the seller your logic. The seller may counter your offer with a higher price and you can now negotiate with him.
Enjoy your new car.