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Tips to Purchasing a Secondhand Car

The used car market is not limited to dealerships because individual owners also advertise their vehicles for sale. Buyers may pay a higher price at a dealership but could have more options for resolving a problem. Dealerships have customer service representatives who can handle issues. However, most pre-owned cars do not come with warranties and could have mechanical problems. Therefore, buyers should pay a certified mechanic to perform a vehicle inspection.

Change the Locks

A buyer can usually trace a vehicle and discover information about the previous owners. Most dealers buy used cars at auctions. However, a used vehicle could also have been a car that was part of a trade with the purchase of a new car. Therefore, the buyer should always change the locks on a used car, especially if the locking system does not use a chip in the key or does not reset the code each time the vehicle is locked.


The condition of the tires can reveal information about the suspension, ball joints and control arms. Uneven tread can indicate a problem with the wheel alignment or worn ball joints. And, the previous owner may have never had the tires rotated, which would cause the tread to be uneven. There would be less tread on the outer edges of the front tires because the tires had been repeatedly used to make left or right turns. A car inspection from a mechanic could reveal mechanical problems.

Motor Oil

The condition of the motor oil can provide information about the condition of the crank case. The oil may be thick and dark, which could indicate that the engine burns oil. Older engines may burn oil or have oil leaks in the seals. There could also be metal shavings in the oil, which would indicate that there was severe mechanical damage to some engine parts. A damaged engine would need to be replaced. Therefore, the expense for the repairs would make the car a bad investment.

Body Work, Electrical Connections, Hoses and Leaks

The buyer should inspect underneath the car and check for fluid leaks, such as from oil, coolant, brake fluid or transmission fluid. A leak could indicate severe mechanical damage or a defective seal, which would need to be replaced. The buyer should carefully inspect the body and look for uneven areas. Dents could indicate possible additional damage to internal parts, which was caused by a collision. The car inspection should also include checking the electrical connections and hoses.

The buyer should start the engine more than once. A defective starter may operate intermittently before the part completely fails. The buyer should listen for unusual engine noises, such as clatter from a loose timing chain or worn valves. Engine noise is a definite sign of mechanical damage, which could require very expensive repairs. The engine may not start because the battery is not fully charged. A car battery is an item that is regularly replaced. Therefore, an alternate battery could be used to start the engine. A mechanic could also perform a vehicle inspection (visit for more information on the process) and list any defective parts.


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