As the Internet continues to take hold of our society, big ticket items, like automobiles, are now being sold daily through Internet sites. But unlike collectibles, toys or clothes, buying a car online can turn into a major headache if you don’t get a qualified inspection first. Remember, anyone who is offering a car for sale online is going to take the best pictures possible, ensuring the car looks good to potential buyers.
But, the real problems of buying a used car can be hidden beneath the hood, in the exhaust system, the transmission or the fuel injectors. Pictures can’t give you a good estimation of possible mechanical problems lurking behind that bright, shiny exterior.
For this reason you should never buy a used car–through the Internet or anywhere else — without first hiring a qualified mechanic to check it out. You are likely to pay about $150 for this service but it’s the only way you can have peace of mind about buying a car that’s already been on the road.
The odometer in your car records how many miles you have driven to date. It should never be set to zero once a car has been driven. But, odometer fraud remains a serious problem in the used car business. Criminals roll-back the odometer so the buyer thinks the car is newer than it really is. If a car is well taken care of and usually parked in a garage, it might look like it only has 20,000 miles, but it could have as much as twice that if its odometer has been tampered with.
Fortunately for used car buyers, there are now ways to determine if an odometer has been fraudulently rolled back. Online sites, like Carchex.com and Carfax.com, offer search services that can reveal if a car you want to buy is older than it appears. These searches utilize a car’s vehicle identification number and state motor vehicle departments to conduct this search. Even though you have to pay about $25 for an odometer search, it could save you thousands in the long run in unexpected car repairs.
Since car inspections are regulated by individual states, you should always investigate what’s required in a state where you plan to move. Upon your relocation, you might be required to get an inspection done within a certain time period. The best way to find out what is required in a state is to contact its Department of Motor Vehicles. This search can easily be done online to avoid a long wait in line or on the phone.
Another great source of information about the vehicle inspection rules in a particular state is the website DMV.org. This site will also give you information about how to obtain a new driver’s license and tags for your car when you move to a new state.
The first thing you should do is search for a particular car’s safety ratings, crash test results and other similar data. This can be done online by using these search words: car safety tests and car crash ratings.
The second thing you should to is determine if a car you plan to buy has any recalled safety defects. Web searches can also lead you to this information. Two good sites to visit are the National Highway Safety Administration at nhtsa.dot.gov/ and safercar.gov.
Next, you should inspect a car for critical safety features, such as proper restraints for every passenger, front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes and proper visibility. Remember that newer safety features may not be installed in an older car you see on a used lot.
When you perform a car safety inspection, think about all the uses you have planned for that vehicle. Also keep in mind that heavier vehicles fare better in crashes than lighter ones, even if they feature the same safety equipment and design.
Inspecting a car before you buy — even a new car — should always include looking for signs of flooding, especially in light of recent weather disasters in the U.S. A car or truck cannot be submerged in water and not suffer serious harm such as electronic damage, rust, corrosion, rotting and the compromise of safety systems, such as airbags and sensors.
Just because a car has a license plate in your state doesn’t mean it’s not originally from a place like Florida or Louisiana. The best way to test for flood damage is to hire a qualified mechanic who knows the particular signs of water damage. But, here are a few things you can look for yourself:
- Wetness inside turn signal lamps — or a water line that’s visible.
- Mud or silt inside the wheel wells.
- Moisture inside the car in the glove compartment or water lines on the dashboard.
If someone trying to sell you a used car won’t let you look beneath the hood or in the trunk, you should walk away no matter how much you may want that particular car.
- Checking out the condition of the body of the vehicle for dents, scratches, mismatched paint and the like. These can be a sign the car was involved in a collision.
- Checking out the tires and wheels for rust, uneven wear and other defects. These can be a sign that the car has not been well maintained by its original owner.
- Performing a test drive to determine how the engine and transmission are responding. A car that looks beautiful on the outside can be hiding many defects under the hood.
A pre-paid inspection usually takes about three days or less to complete from the time it is ordered. Before you order such an inspection, review the policies, procedures and FAQs listed on the site.
Keep in mind that this type of inspection often does not include performing a vehicle history report of crashes, potential odometer roll-backs or fraudulent title changes. However, these services can now also be handled online.
You can simply log on to a company like Carchex.com and follow its easy instructions. The site will ask you for certain kinds of information and then find a qualified inspector in the area where the buyer lives. Then, you will be able to view a detailed report about that car, which describes the results of a 155-point inspection.
The key to this kind of service is that the inspector is an independent professional. You never want to buy a car online and use an inspector recommended by the buyer. You always want to know that an independent source has thoroughly checked out any car you are thinking about buying.
- Make sure the car seat fits firmly against the back of the seat.
- If you use an over-the-shoulder belt, utilize the locking clip that is sold with the car seat.
- Ensure the car seat cannot move more than one inch in any direction.
- Don’t buy a used car seat unless you know it meets current safety inspection guidelines.
- If the seat belt is connected to the frame of the door, you may need to buy an additional tether.
- Even if you are certain you are using a child car seat correctly you should routinely take advantage of free inspections in your area, which are often sponsored by local children’s hospitals and other advocacy groups.
If you live in California and you are considering buying a car in Texas, it could take you days and a lot of money in long-distance calls to find a local inspector. Even then you might not have complete confidence in the mechanic you hire and checking out an inspector’s background can cost you even more hours on the phone.
One way to avoid these nightmares is to go online and hire a pre-paid inspection service. Because websites like Carchex.com have already completely researched and secured qualified inspectors in many areas, you don’t have to take on that hassle.
You can also schedule your pre-paid car inspection at your convenience since this can also be done without making a phone call. Once an inspection is complete, you’ll be sent a detailed inspection report to review, also online. These pre-paid inspection services also allow you to pay online and may provide you with additional tips about related subjects.
A pre-paid inspection may cost you about $150, but the time and money you can save in the long run is invaluable.
But you should always completely trust the mechanic who inspects your car. He or she should be a certified ASE master technician. Before you hire a car inspector, check your local Better Business Bureau to ensure there have been no complaints about that person. Here are some major areas that should be routinely checked over in a car:
- Suspension: Make sure your car does not bounce more than once when pushing down on it; make sure your tires are wearing evenly; check the CV joint boots in cars that are front-wheel drive, check the frame for potential damage.
- Exterior: look for unmatched paint, look for rust under doors, in the trunk and in wheel wells. If you are considering buying a used car, be suspicious if it’s been newly painted.
- Under the Hood: check that oil does not smell burnt; look for leaks around hoses or cracks on belts, look for spots on the ground, which indicate leaks.
- Take the car for a test drive with your mechanic: pay attention to how it accelerates, shifts, handles and breaks. Listen closely to the engine noise as you put the car through a variety of maneuvers.
Be Smart — Inspect Before You Buy A Used Car