There are times when spending $500 for a car is too much. It happens all the time: people are presented with the opportunity to purchase a vehicle for very little money only to discover that the vehicle is actually worthless. Usually the reason is that the work needed to make the car roadworthy far exceeds the purchase price. So how can you avoid this black hole which is disguised as a cheap used car?
How much would you spend in an effort to save $1000? Forget about how cheap the car is and don’t try to justify it by telling yourself that if you use it for three months it will be worth it. Instead, take the car to a reputable repair facility and ask the guy if he would spend his money on it. Don’t make the evaluation too involved; tell the garage you’d like them to spend about a half hour on the critique for which you will gladly pay their labor rate. Tell them to concentrate on the vehicle’s immediate needs. If your state has a safety inspection make sure that the prospective purchase will pass that test.
Try out the accessories
Make sure everything works this includes: wipers, all four windows, each and every light, also, the AC, heater and defroster. You might think that only a couple of these, like the wipers or the windows, are deal breakers, but what if the AC compressor has a bad clutch on it that screeches each time it engages? And then you discover that the AC system works whenever the defroster is on, now you have a problem that is very difficult to work around. Or maybe all the lights work except the center brake light which is above the trunk and with research you find out that it is only sold as an assembly costing over $100.
No illuminated dash lights
Completely explore what is behind any warning light showing up on the instrument panel. A check engine light could mean that the catalytic converter is clogged which could cost as much as $1000 to replace. Even an intermittently flashing oil light could signal low oil pressure and the need for internal engine work or possibly a motor replacement. Most owners think that ABS stands for anti-lock brake system, but sometimes it can mean awful big service charge if the expensive control module has failed.
No leakage, slippage or verbiage
All the fluids used in your car operate in a closed loop. Drips or puddles around your prospective purchase are not a good thing and should be considered reasons to nix the deal. If the car has an automatic transmission and it doesn’t move in reverse or drive the transmission is suspect. This may also be the case if the car shifts very roughly from one gear to the next. The one consistent thing about transmission work is that it is consistently expensive. Cars communicate by the way they sound. Everyone knows what a hole in the muffler sounds like, but others may be subtle or confusing. A tinny sound at idle may just be a loose heat shield around a catalytic converter or muffler, while a squeal heard when first accelerating in the morning could be a bad belt tensioner or idler pulley. The point of all this is to listen for noises and get them checked out prior to purchase.
Whether it is an offer from a Nigerian potentate to transfer $10,000,000 dollars into your bank account or the friend of a friend who wants to sell you a garage kept beauty for less than a week’s pay, keep your guard up, because today’s bargain could be tomorrow’s money pit.