24 Jan Buying a Used Car – What to Look for
Adding a European vehicle to the family is an exciting venture. Whether you are looking for a bigger vehicle to accommodate a growing family, an all-wheel to get up the Okanagan’s Big White ski hill, or finally getting that sporty car you’ve always wanted, buying a used car can be a great option to go a little easier on the bank account. While there are benefits to buying a pre-owned car, there are also things to look out for to ensure that you are getting what you need with peace of mind that you won’t encounter hidden mechanical issues.
What Are You Looking For?
Before you set out to purchase a European vehicle, first you want to do a bit of research. If you are unsure of what is most suitable to your needs, a good idea is to go online and read some reviews. Pick a couple of models that you think are most suitable to your needs and go online to see what other people are saying about them. Perhaps you are drawn to the Range Rover Sport that can easily fit the family without losing out on style or practicality. Maybe you are looking for something like the BMW Z4, fun and sporty car that won’t entirely empty your wallet. Once you pick The One, do a market value assessment to see what the average asking price is. This way you’ll have a good idea what to expect and know when a seller is asking too much.
Where Are You Looking?
Something else to consider is where you are purchasing your European car from. Are you cruising through the used section at a dealership or scrolling through private sales? It is very likely when purchasing from a dealer that the vehicle has gone through a thorough inspection and any repairs needed have been done before being put on the lot. Keep in mind that not all dealerships operate the same way. There are some dealers that simply will take a returned lease vehicle from car auctions, clean it up, and quickly get it on the lot. While other dealers will replace tires and brakes if they have less than 25% service life remaining, as well as address any outstanding repairs for pending mechanical issues. A dealer may also offer a basic warranty, which can take a lot of stress out of the equation knowing that any imminent repairs will be taken care of without emptying your pockets.
On the other hand, buying a used car privately generally costs less up front. It can also be a great way to meet the previous owner of the car and get a more personal experience. You can see first hand how the car is being maintained. Is there a lot of mess and clutter inside, scratches on the console and an overall feeling of neglect? Is the oil low? Are there any warning lights on? Are the tires low on tread? If so, it may be an indication that the rest of the car hasn’t been well maintained throughout its life. You can also ask them what their motivation for selling is. Although, unless you plan on getting a pre-purchase inspection done, buying privately means you have less of an idea of what is going on under the hood.
What Should I Check For?
Have a checklist in tow when you go to view your prospective vehicle. It is always a good idea to get a pre-purchase inspection done on any car you are considering, but there are things you can check yourself before you take that next step. Let’s start on the exterior:
- Paint and body – do you notice any rust? Some makes and models are more likely to rust than others, for example, the Mini Cooper. Check around the wheel wells. Are there any major scratches in the paint? Check for gaps or misalignment between the body panels. Large ones could mean that the vehicle was in an accident. Also look out for panels being slightly different colors, which indicates that they have been repainted.
- Rims and tires – do the tires have a lot of treads left? If they are looking low, then you will have to factor in the cost to replace them. Do the rims have a lot of curb damage?
- Glass – Are there any chips in the windshield that could turn into cracks? Are there any cracks in driver’s line of sight? Driving around with a cracked windshield can not only be unsafe but may also garner you a ticket.
- Fluid levels – go under the hood and check oil, brake, and power steering fluid levels. If any of these are low, it could mean the car isn’t being maintained very well. Take a look under the oil cap for the presence of a white, milky substance. When this happens, it means there is either coolant mixing with the oil and could point to head gasket issues, or the car sees a lot of short trip driving where the condensation mixes with oil and does not get the chance to be cleaned out with frequent oil services. Ideally, engine oil should be changed every 5-10K kilometers to prevent expensive issues caused by the lack of service.
- Battery – check the battery terminals for any discharge corrosion or bloated sides. Check the date stamp on the battery. Batteries typically last 4-6 years.
- Upholstery – check for any tears in the interior. Any bad smells? It can be extremely difficult to remove odor from a vehicle that has been smoked in.
- Electronics – European vehicles can be notorious for electrical issues (looking at you, Mercedes). Try every button and knob you can. Make sure that all the windows roll up and down properly. Test the heat and air conditioning. Move the power seats back and forth. Most importantly, make sure the radio turns on!
- Accessories – Does the car come with a spare tire? Is it in good condition? Is there a jack to change the spare tire if necessary? Are there two keys with the car, as the keys can be anywhere from $200 (Volkswagen) to $600 (Range Rover) to replace on European brands!
The Test Drive
It’s time to get on the road and see how the car drives. Besides getting an idea of what it will feel like to potentially drive every day, you want to be wary of any noticeable issues.
- Startup – does the vehicle start without trouble? Fire it up from cold if possible and then again once it has been running for a while.
- Temperature – Keep an eye on the temperature gauge. It should get to halfway and stay there.
- Transmission – does it shift gears smoothly?
- Steering – check to see if the car pulls to one side when driving down a straight stretch of road. This could mean the car needs a wheel alignment or may have suspension issues.
- Brakes – find an area where it is safe to brake hard. Does it brake quickly and effectively? Also, check if the hand brake works.
- Engine noises – turn the radio off and really listen to the engine. Are there any loud clicks or whining sounds?
- Comfort – Are you comfortable driving it? Is there enough head, leg, and arm space? Keep in mind, this is the car you will be driving regularly.
Pulling the Trigger
You have found the make and model that suits your needs, you’ve checked it over and taken it for a test drive, and now you’re ready to make the leap. Always get a pre-purchase inspection done at a shop that you know and trust. If you are in the Kelowna area, Motor Werke does multi-point inspections as well as more thorough pre-purchase inspections on all makes and models to ensure a buying experience that comes with the peace of mind of knowing exactly what you are getting! Contact us today.