5 things under the hood Consumer Reports recommends you check before buying a used car

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While many economists predict that today high inflation rates won’t be backing down anytime soon, consumers may be better served with used cars rather than new ones. Used cars are usually cheaper to start with. But to avoid losing those cost savings to expensive repairs, it’s essential to have any used car thoroughly inspected before you buy it. Here are five things Consumer Reports notes you should pay special attention to when making a used car pre-purchase inspection.

Why pre-purchase used car inspections are essential

Mechanic inspecting under the hood | Getty Images Photographed by Iya Forbes

If you’re buying a used car, you can’t just rely on what the seller says. After all, their goal is to make money, and while they won’t outright lie to you about a vehicle’s condition, they may stretch the truth a bit or omit key information. If a dealership or private seller feels you don’t know much about car mechanics, they might try to convince you that a pre-existing defect is less serious than it is. It may be as soon as you leave the lot that you learn that you have purchased a car with a serious and expensive defect.

Sometimes even honest sellers may not know that a car has a problem. Used car dealerships typically perform their own vehicle inspections and repairs, but their mechanics may miss something. Sometimes when they spot a faulty component or system, they may not fix it properly. Alternatively, they can use the cheapest parts possible to maximize their profits or only install a temporary solution.

You might think these scenarios might be far-fetched if you’ve never bought a used car. But they’re so common that several states have passed what’s called “lemon lawsthat punishes dealers and private sellers for knowingly selling vehicles with serious defects to consumers.

Dealers and sellers who violate these laws may be subject to fines and legal action by you and other affected consumers. But it takes a long time to get your money back from a lawsuit. Instead, it’s best to make sure you’re not buying a seriously defective vehicle in the first place.

What you need to know before buying a used car

Before you buy a used car, you’ll want a third-party mechanic to inspect it for the following five areas. If faults exist in any of these areas, you risk costly after-purchase repairs, mechanical breakdowns, and even accidents.

consumer reports urge prospective used car buyers to ensure that a qualified professional performs a deep dive under the hood. However, if that’s not an option, Consumer Reports recommends checking out these areas:

  1. Pipes: You’ll want to make sure the hoses are firm and not brittle, otherwise they could crack or leak while driving your vehicle.
  2. Belts: Check your belts to make sure they haven’t started to break. Otherwise, your car may break down immediately while driving.
  3. Fluids: Inspect your fluids to make sure they are the correct color and texture. If, for example, your engine oil is grainy, that could signal an engine problem.
  4. Radiator: Your coolant should be green or orange. If it looks rusty or milky, your radiator is faulty.
  5. Battery: You’ll want to make sure your battery is at the beginning of its life, has no corrosion around the edges, and can take any suitable charge.

Of course, if you’re buying an EV or PHEV, the battery is one of the first components you should look at. Don’t just look at the battery, but also your dashboard’s health indicators to make sure it can be accurately monitored while it’s running.

Buy “As Is” vs. Certified Pre-Owned

Now, if you’re considering buying a used vehicle, you need to know the difference between buying “as is” and “Certified Used(CPO). When you buy a car as is, you buy it without any implied assurance that it will perform as well as one might reasonably expect. You buy as is and you take charge of the vehicle and all its problems while releasing the seller from any obligation to repair it if a problem arises after purchase.

When buying as is, you need to know exactly what issues you are having. This makes pre-purchase inspections absolutely essential. If you buy a car as is, do not have it inspected beforehand, and in a few weeks the engine fails, it will be more difficult to obtain compensation. You will need to prove that the dealer or seller was aware of the defect and did not correct it.

In contrast, CPO vehicles have relatively low mileage and have been reconditioned to meet a certain standard by the manufacturer. A CPO vehicle has a warranty that covers certain repairs, although terms vary depending on the vehicle, automaker, and terms of sale. CPOs generally cost a little more than used cars sold as is, but less than new cars.

Other Key Components You’ll Want to Have Examined

It’s also a good idea to take a look at a few other components that can be easily spotted. For example, if the exhaust pipe is greasy or blackened, it could be the result of burnt oil. A rusty exhaust pipe could signal a Exhaust system need replacement.

Also check under the car for any leaks, cracks or cracks. Any of these three means you could face expensive repairs. You’ll want the dealership or seller to complete the repairs before you buy the vehicle or move on to another potential purchase.

Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and think you can perform these inspections on your own, it’s always best to have a third-party mechanic examine every vehicle you’re considering buying. They’ll likely find areas of concern that you don’t, especially if you’re really excited about buying a particular car you’ve found for sale.

RELATED: How to choose a reliable used car

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