If you're in the market for a new vehicle but don't want to take the depreciation hit, you may want to consider a gently used car, truck, or SUV. The average vehicle loses about 60 percent of its value over the first five years, so concentrating your search on late-model vehicles can save you money and ensure that the vehicle you select has a history of reliability.
But despite the many advantages that can come from buying a used car from a private owner, it's important to be conscious of any potential red flags—just as you would be when browsing a new car lot at a dealership. Read on for three things you'll want to carefully examine when purchasing a used vehicle.
The Model Year and Mileage
These two factors are often best analyzed together. An older vehicle with low miles may seem like a steal, as it's likely such a vehicle still has plenty of life left in it. But depending on the climate where you live, where the vehicle has been stored, and how frequently it's been driven, it may be vulnerable to age- and disuse-related issues.
These issues can include frayed belts, leaky seals, cracked hoses, and gummed-up injectors. Over time, as a vehicle sits idle, its non-metal parts can dry out—and while the engine and transmission are two of the most important (and expensive) parts of a vehicle, the various seals, belts, hoses and other rubber- and plastic-based components that hold these heavy parts in place, funnel oil to the engine, and ensure everything runs smoothly are also crucial.
Take a good look at both the engine bay and the interior of the vehicle you're browsing. A solid engine doesn't need to be immaculate, but it should be free of rust and surface debris. Any belts, hoses, and other non-metal items attached to the engine should look fairly new and not have any visible damage; if damage is detected, you'll want to replace these components shortly after purchase to avoid any further damage.
There are certainly many reliable vehicles on the road today that have few (or no) maintenance records. Whether regular maintenance (like oil changes, brake replacements, and alignments) are performed by the owner themselves or by an independent shop that doesn't keep a central log of services performed, a lack of maintenance records shouldn't be a huge red flag.
But in today's tech-heavy society, being able to connect maintenance records to a VIN is easier than ever. With this in mind, picking up a vehicle whose past is a giant question mark can, for some, be too great a risk—especially when it's usually possible to find a similar (and similarly-priced) vehicle possessing years of maintenance records that can be generated by a single click.
Any Suspicious Puddles
A mysterious puddle under a vehicle for sale can often be a clear sign of future issues. If you're viewing the vehicle in the driveway where it's normally parked, you may want to pay special attention to the driveway's condition. Multiple dried puddles of different colors and diameters, even if seemingly not from the vehicle itself, can be a sign of an owner who doesn't take good care of their cars.
On the other hand, if the vehicle owner seems eager to meet you at a neutral location, you may want to spend some time there to observe the vehicle both before and after a test-drive—being sure to park in the same location both times. Vehicle owners who are aware of leaks but who don't want to disclose them may seem to be in a rush to get the vehicle home (or complete the sale) before a puddle forms.
By keeping these criteria in mind, you'll be well-positioned to quickly identify any potential issues that may await you upon the purchase of a used vehicle. Mechanical problems need not be deal breakers, especially if you're fairly adept at repairs yourself, but should be taken into consideration when determining what constitutes a fair price for a used auto.
For more information on what to look for in a used car purchase, contact a dealership in your area that specializes in your preferred brand of car, such as a Chevy truck dealer.