Buying a used car? Expert tips to speed, ease the process

Courtesy of ARA Content

The approach of summer means just one thing to car buyers—the opportunity to score a great deal, especially on some used vehicles that dealers are motivated to move out of their inventory as 2010 really gets rolling.

Bargains can be hot at this time of year for those who know how to shop smart for a good used car. With “Cash for Clunkers” a fading memory and Americans still looking to buy used cars rather than investing in new ones that depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot, the used car market is hotter than ever.

Brian Bossone, one of the creative minds behind SPEED’s popular Pinks All Out series, knows a lot about used cars. After all, the series features common folks who buy and build or rebuild their own race cars to compete in the popular drag racing show. Bossone offers a few tips to help you ensure you’re buying the used car of your dreams, rather than the lemon of the year.

Here are the top items you should inspect when buying a used car:

1. Look for paint and body repair. Evidence of body work could mean the car has been in an accident.

2. Check for fluid leaks. Any leaking fluid, from oil to windshield washer, could mean the car needs a costly repair.

3. Look at the engine. Does it sound smooth or rough? Does it smoke excessively?

4. Evaluate the overall wear and tear on all parts of the vehicle. Is the wear commensurate with the age and mileage on the vehicle?

5. Has the car been driven by someone who smoked in it? Transported pets or small children in it? All those things can leave odors behind in the vehicle—smells you might have to live with or go to great lengths to eliminate as the new owner.

6. What was the primary usage of the vehicle, and are most of its miles highway or local driving?

7. Are all accessories in working order? The sunroof is great…unless the motor to open it doesn’t work.

8. How is the drivability? Do the brakes squeak? Does something in the passenger cabin rattle? Does the steering vibrate?

Avoid common mistakes, like buying on impulse without researching simple things like the resale value of the vehicle compared to similar makes and models, available vehicle history reports that list accidents and other issues and price comparisons with multiple sellers or online sites.

Be sure to ask for an inspection by a qualified source and request copies of vehicle maintenance records. Check online feedback on vehicle-specific forums for actual owner opinions and comments about common issues.

While local newspapers and neighborhood used-car lots can be great resources for finding good used vehicles, don’t overlook online ones as well, Bossone advises.,, and can also yield quality used vehicles.

Finally, when you think you’re ready to buy, take the car to a mechanic you trust and ask him/her some key questions, including:

→ Will this vehicle pass local or state inspection?

→ Do you see any signs of paint repair, accidents or frame damage?

→ Have you ever worked on this type of vehicle, and are you aware of any trends toward excessive repairs for this make and model?

→ Would you buy this vehicle if you were in the market for one and, if not, what would deter you?

“Used cars continue to be a great deal for value-minded buyers, and with a little smart preparation, you can be sure your ‘new’ used vehicle gives you many years and miles of good service,” Bossone says.

Pinks All Out airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. time on SPEED. Visit to learn more.

From the Mar. 10-16, 2010 issue

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