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With the economic downturn of the past few years, more and more people are looking to purchase a used car. This can be wonderful, and save you a boat load of cash if you follow a few key tips. Otherwise, you could end up paying more in repair bills than a monthly car payment. I have personally turned this into a little game where I take $1,000 or less, and try and find the most interesting/best European car I can find from internet sale ads. These tips can be applied to any sort of used car, but they are especially helpful when buying a low-priced used car. Now sit back, relax, and check out my tips on how to score an ultra-sweet used car that can impress your friends. It may even work to get you a chance with ladies out of your league! (if you play your cards right) Eastwood and I do not assume any liability for you failing to pull hotter chicks with your recent $500 clunker purchase!
The first thing to look at is how the ad for the car is written. There can be good and bad things that will "red flag" an ad for me. I've had luck with 2 types of ads. The first ad is the "mysterious used car". This ad is going to be extremely short, with very little information, and normally no pictures.. as if the person was too uninterested, or too busy to write up a full story about the car. These types of cars are great, but they require a bit of trial and error. Luckily, many of your lazy buyers won't even take the time to call. I've scored some of my best deals from ads that were written as such "Audi for sale. silver. runs good. $500 call Bob 456-787-3***". If you are lucky the seller views their car as a hassle and doesn't even want to spend the time to go into detail about it, or better yet; is someone who isn't computer savvy, and they just want people to call and talk, rather than emailing. Also, IT'S ALWAYS BETTER TO CALL. Someone that calls and makes a connection with the seller will normally beat out the anonymous "buyer" that emailed, and asked a bunch of questions. The bad side of this sort of ad, is that someone is purposely leaving no information so that you have to come look at the car, and they are hoping you will miss the flaws that is forcing them to sell it cheap. Again, calling is always better. If you ask a number of specific questions about the car (pretend you are Columbo), you can often get hints that they are purposely leaving things out in the ad... "Oh well yea, I mean it shifts fine normally.. but this one time when my wife was driving it she said the transmission felt funny and it wouldnt go up a hill.. but it always shifted good for me".
The next sort of ad is the lengthy over-detailed ad with tons of pictures. These ads can be great and save you a bunch of time on the phone with a seller. I've found often times these sorts of cars were well loved, and the owner has an attachment to the car. They want to tell you every little scratch, dent, or bit of maintenance the car has had for them... even on a $500 car! This also gives you an idea of what the car needs, and if it is even worth the money to get the car. I usually make a list of the faults with the vehicle, then tally up what it would cost for me to fix the problems before I could put the vehicle to use. This can quickly rule out the great price, save me a phone call, and time. These types of ads also can point to a meticulous owner. If the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are all fairly decent, and they mention something about their current/new car being something quite nice, you may be looking at a wealthy professional. One that just wants a "newer, nicer" car to keep up with the "Jones", or just doesn't believe in owning a car older than 5 years. The negatives to these ads are that sometimes sellers can "hide" major defects about the car in their lengthy ad. They do this hoping (as most people do), that the buyer will skim the ad, and miss the "oh btw it needs an engine" statement hidden within all of the great points about the car. This way they can just refer to the ad anytime you ask a question. "Any issues are covered in the ad." They may hope you will overlook these issues when purchasing the vehicle. As mentioned earlier, use your Columbo tactics!
So you've found a car that seems to be just what you are looking for, and you go to look at it. Here are 10 tips on what to do (or what not to) when you go to view the vehicle.
1. Unless you absolutely have to, or you feel very confident about the vehicle NEVER go look at a cheap/used car in the dark! I've been burned this way. I got overly excited and bought it on the spot at night. Then the next morning I walked out, and their was some sort of major issue that I happened to miss when looking at it in the alley, in the city, at 11PM. You will almost always overlook something when viewing a car this way.
2. Check out the owner as you first meet them. No matter what your grade school teacher told you, sometimes looks ARE everything. Are they well groomed, or do they look like they are in shambles? Are the other cars in their driveway nice/well maintained? How does their house look? Lots of "junk" laying around, or is it a nice well-maintained house? The guy with the Armani dress shoes and living in a fancy development probably isn't hurting for money, and is usually willing to negotiate the asking price of their old unwanted car. I mean.. if he spent hundreds on his dress shoes and a large amount on their house, what's a few hundred off of his old "outdated" car? Not only that, but the person that is well put-together, and has a long meticulous sale ad, is selling a car that is the same. They wouldn't drive a clunker around that would embarrass them when pulling into the office would they? On the other hand, a person that looks like they are a "mess", normally wouldn't have the spare cash to maintain their car regularly. Sometimes with "fixer-uppers" this can be great, they might not be able to afford a part that is an easy-fix, but necessary to drive the vehicle. So you can buy the car, repair the car "on the cheap", and have a decent car for little money (This isn't always true, but my experiences have normally been this way). The same goes in this tip, for the car itself. I always figure that the car is cleaner when for sale, than on a daily basis. So if the car has junk inside of it, and they didn't even take the time to give it a quick wash.. they probably wouldn't have done regular mechanical maintenance, or cared for it on a "normal day". On the flip side... tread lightly when looking at an over-detailed "cheap" car. If it has an engine bay that is all shiny like they sprayed tire dressing all over it.. run far-far away. Oldest trick in the book!
3. The next few tips are more of "why shouldn't I buy". When inside the vehicle, check for any sort of wet carpets, signs of mold or dampness, fogging INSIDE the windows from condensation, or a musty smell. This means this car probably leaks water. Water leads to mold, corrosion, and rust. So unless this is a rare or special car that you want to restore, run away. Speaking of rust, be sure to check all suspension mounting points, and the floors of the car for any signs of rust. Visible rust is just the TIP of the iceberg. Use that as a rule of thumb when deciding on a car with any sort of visible rust!
4. Not only drive the car, but let it sit and run at idle for a nice LONG period of time, checking the coolant temperature gauge periodically. Does the seller seem to be anxious to shut it off? Do the radiator fans cycle on and off? Are there any signs of coolant residue or coolant spray around the coolant fill cap? This means the car got hot, and possibly was overheating or over-pressurizing the cooling system. This could be a simple fix, but often times with these cheap cars, it means there is a head gasket issue (expensive fix!). Also look for any signs of silver/grey "chunks" floating around in the coolant when you pull the coolant cap. If there is, start questioning if they ever used any of the radiator-fix or headgasket-fix products. This stuff does more harm than help, and leads to clogged cooling system parts, requiring replacement of everything that has coolant flowing through it.
5. When driving the car, does it smoke at all after it has warmed up? Depending on the car (and the price/your standards), some smoke can be expected. With me, I purchase mostly 15-30 year old European cars with higher miles. These cars are notorious for some sort of oil burnage, so I try to find a middle ground with whats acceptable. White sweet smelling exhaust after the vehicle has warmed up often means the car is burning coolant and needs a headgasket. If there is blue smoke that is noticeable when idling, decelerating, or under heavy load, this means the car is burning excessive motor oil. Again, with higher mileage cars, you may see a little bit of this... but if you are smoking-out the guy behind you on the test drive or a cloud is forming behind the car when it is idling... the engine may need an overhaul. Large oil consumption is the result of this, as well as damage to the catalytic converter and emissions related parts from the excessive oil being pushed through the system. This will make the car fail most emission tests. Does it puff black/dark gray smoke? It could be running a bit "rich" or using excessive fuel. This is something to really keep an eye out for on older cars that may be equipped with a carburetor that needs a rebuild, or is tuned improperly. If the car is equipped with a more modern fuel injection system, this could be a bad coolant temperature sensor, O2 sensor, or bad MAF. These could cause rough running, but can be cheap/easy fixes for the mechanically inclined. I've scooped a few cheap cars that I bought a $25 coolant temperature sensor, replaced it and was on my way. It definitely helps to know that particular type of car to diagnose the common causes of the above issues. I often do a search about the type of car I am going to look at on the internet before I go to see it. See what people are complaining about, or common things that go wrong with that car/engine. This can point you in the right direction if you see an issue once there. Basically, do your homework!
6. Has the car been modified? If so, was the work questionable? Any car that has been modified, I tend to shy away from if it is on the cheap side. These cars usually have been fiddled with by inexperienced owners, and have far too many "Mickey Mouse" repairs that can lead to headaches. The first signs of a car like this is aftermarket wheels, exhaust, a subwoofer/amp/after market upgraded sound system. These cars most commonly have wiring issues, and show that the owner is at least confident enough to attempt their own repairs.. so if they are selling the car for cheap.. there must be an issue that is more than your average Joe-Schmo mechanic can handle. Or worse, they tried to fix it, and failed horribly, or made it worse. These types of cars you want to look for the "quick fixes" like the radiator or head gasket fix residue, twisted together wiring for stereo, headlights, etc. So unless this is a hard to find car or something special that you don't mind undoing modifications.. I'd look elsewhere.
7. Look for signs of paint over spray on any plastic trim parts, under hood, or on any suspension bits. If the car has been repainted, make sure you take notice if the car tracks straight when driving down the road. Does it shake or vibrate when driving? If so, this car may have been in an accident. Make sure this isn't something that can be an issue for you down the line. Keep in mind that badly repainted cars, regardless if they were in an accident, reduce the value of a car. Also check under the hood, and in the door jams to see if there are any paint lines, different shades of paint, or peeling of paint. Most all cheap paint jobs are exterior resprays only, and the original finish is easy to tell apart from the lack-luster paint job.
8. Make sure you ask if the title for the vehicle is clear, AND in the seller's name. Often times inconsiderate sellers will leave that detail out of their ad, and unless you ask, or they are forced to mention it, they won't bring it up. So once again, unless the car is a collectors car, or a rarity, run far away from cars with salvage titles, or any title issues at all. Also before actually paying for the car, or transferring the title, walk out to the car and hold the title next to the VIN plates on the car. Does the VIN on the car match all of the visible VIN's on the car itself? If not, run away! That situation really can't turn out well for anyone involved, so I highly suggest stepping away. If it's in the budget, always try and do a CarFax on the history of the car. Sometimes the seller doesn't even know the full story on their own car.
9. Is the car in the city, a suburb, or country type setting? 100% of the time a car that is owned by a city resident will be in much worse shape than other locations. Aside from the obvious body issues that occur from city driving and parking, these cars often get overlooked for maintenance. Many city drivers just want to get to work and home to get their parking space for the night. I usually expect to negotiate hard on the price of a used "city" car. I've had great luck with getting deals on "city cars". Cities are generally not too forgiving of cars sitting on the streets that are out of inspection or registration. So if someone has a car that is about to run out of inspection or registration, and they can't afford the repairs, or have a new car, they may be willing to negotiate heavily on the price. There is a fine line with buying cars that are out of inspection (or about to run out), as the repairs that the car needs could outweigh the initial purchase price of the car.
10. ALWAYS bring cash, negotiating the price of a used car can be facilitated by the ability to wave cash in the seller's face. Most sellers rarely take a personal check for a vehicle, and they want it gone ASAP. Bringing a check, or promising to come get it at a later date isn't going to make them excited to drop the price of the vehicle very much. I like to make a decision on a price I'd like to pay just based off of the ad for the vehicle. Then when looking at the car, I drop that price as I find any items that weren't mentioned in the ad. I also vary my offer depending on the service history supplied. You then offer a price that is slightly under your target price, and begin negotiations there. Remember to mention that you have "cold hard" cash in your pocket. Don't forget to get a bill of sale signed by the seller once you commit to purchase. You can use the bill of sale for reference if there are any issues in the future, or when you want to determine a resale value for the car at a later time.
I hope some of these tips can help when purchasing a used car in the future. These tips can all be stretched a little bit depending on the car, your mechanical ability/willingness to repair things, and the price range of the car. I wouldn't touch a $5,000 car that burned oil vs. a $300 car that I was buying to restore. Keep your eyes peeled on the net, and you might score a little gem for a nice price!Click Here To Read Full Post...
In many parts of the country, we are quickly approaching the dreaded (at least for car guys) winter months. This is when we put all of our beloved cars, trucks, and motorcycles away for the winter. Although this article was written towards those of us with cold winter months, these tricks and tips can be used all the same if you are simply storing something for a prolonged period of time.
The first thing you want to keep in mind when storing a car (especially if it is for winter), is the possibility of rodents making your vehicle their new comfy home while it's parked. The longer it sits unmoved, the more comfortable they make themselves. Below I will touch on some good tips to do before storing your ride that will keep those pests out.
Fact: Pests can, and will fit in the smallest, darkest ( safest to them) spot they can find on a vehicle. So what I've made a habit of doing, is to scope out the exterior, interior, and engine bay of your vehicle for any small holes, or "pockets" in your vehicle that a small rodent could fit in. They love any spot that has fabric, sound deadening, or paper. A good hint for stopping mice/pests before they even get into your vehicle, is to put some scented dryer sheets on the tops of your tires, and on the floors of your car. Not only does this leave the vehicle smelling fresh when you pull it out of storage, the mice also dislike the scented bit, and they will not stay in the vehicle.
Next, I usually take plastic bags with some rubber bands, or zip ties and cover any openings in the engine bay where they could hide. The big spots you want to hit are your openings for your intake/air cleaner, openings for your fresh air/heater blower motor, and any openings in the firewall. Some things like the firewall, you can simply use a couple pieces of painters tape and cover the holes. Also don't forget to go to the opposite end of your engine, to where your exhaust exits the car, and put a plastic bag over the tailpipe(s)...shooting walnuts and mouse nests out of your exhaust on first start up is not an exciting way to start the spring show season! Doing the above things, also help keep moisture from getting into the engine as well, which also is key! The last sure-fire way to stop any rodents that may make their way into your vehicle, is to leave a couple packets of rodent poison on the floors inside the car, and in the trunk.
After you cover all of the spots those pesky rodents can call home, make sure you make a list for yourself, and leave it in the car (or nearby). This way you don't forget any of the spots, and possibly cause an issue once driving it the first time again after storage!
Another thing you want to do is to make sure your drivetrain is prepped and ready for storage. Anyone with cold winters should make sure that their coolant is up to "snuff", and can handle the sub-freezing temperatures. You can find these testers for cheap at most any auto parts chains. Simply squeeze up a sample of the coolant, and check to see what temperature your coolant is good until. If the reading is anywhere near the cold temps you get during winter, I suggest either draining the cooling system for the winter, or refilling with fresh coolant. The problem with having coolant that isn't good for low temps, is that when liquids freeze, they tend to expand.. which means something has to give. I've seen freeze plugs pop out, heads crack, cooling system hoses split, and even heard of blocks cracking from this happening. Don't let a 5 minute check, cause you a major issue in the spring! The same applies to your windshield washer bottle, at the least drain the questionable fluid out of there and refill, or at least leave it empty until spring.
When storing your vehicle over the winter months, often times the battery can be weakened from the lack of charging by the alternator or generator. If you don't plan to start your car periodically when storing it, You can take some quick, easy precautions while it is stored. The first thing I tend to do is to actually remove the battery and set it on the workbench. I then install a good trickle charger or battery tender. We offer a nice selection of battery tenders (some even on sale right now!), that can do either a single battery, or even your entire fleet of batteries (if you are like me and have numerous "summer cars").
If your vehicle isn't fully restored, and has some patina to it, you may want to check the battery tray after you remove the battery. Often times moisture and corrosion (which obviously leads to rust), can hide under the battery. I usually hit any spots of corrosion/rust with our Rust Converter, then seal the converted rust with our Rust Encapsulator, and follow up with a top coat of Flexible Sealer and Sound Deadener.
Sometimes it isn't necessary to remove the battery from the car for storage. In these cases it is a very good idea to install a battery quick disconnect to your existing battery. These allow you to simply unscrew a small knob, and it cuts out any power drains that your vehicle may have (a clock or radio for example). After disconnecting the battery, I do the same as when I remove the battery, and I hook up a battery tender, to ensure a fresh battery in the spring.
Another important item to consider (and often overlooked) is the possibility of having issues from old/stale gas sitting in the fuel system while the car is stored. I suggest to fill the vehicle up with the highest grade fuel you can find, then add some of our Fuel Guard fuel additive to the tank of fuel and take the car for one last "cruise". Our Fuel Guard will help stop the fuel separation, corrosion, and other harmful side effects of the high ethanol content in modern day fuel. This is very important, as many people are having gumming issues in their carbs, rubber fuel line deterioration, and fuel turning "bad" in as little as a couple months. This formula will help fight these negative side effects, and avoid the need to rebuild your carbs, or replace fuel lines and fuel the car has in/on it currently. I can't stress enough, how important this step is!
A good tip to keep that musty smell out of the car and also keep the moisture in the air low in your vehicle is to install some sort of anhydride bag or similar. These bags are the same as those little packets that say "Do not eat" that come in many boxes of new items you buy at the store (new sneakers comes in mind for me!). They soak up the moisture in the air, and eliminate that musty smell that is the result of it. The elimination of the moisture in the air also helps combat surface rust all over the car. I've also used boxes of baking soda (if it works for your fridge/freezer, it works for your car!) in a pinch as well.
When the engine is going to be sitting for an extended period of time, it is good to lube up the internals of the engine that normally would be oiled, but may become dry from sitting for extended periods of time. A good practice is to remove each spark plug, and shoot some spray lubricant down into each opening, and replace the plugs before storing. This will help keep the moisture in the air from creating surface rust on the cylinder walls while the engine sits untouched. You can see below I took some Freeze Off Super Penetrant to lubricate the cylinder walls.
Have you ever driven a car after storage, and you seem to need a tire balance, or find a new vibration that wasn't there before storage? This can often times be from your tires getting "flat spots" from being stored in the same position with out moving for an extended period of time. A good practice is to jack the car up just enough that all of the wheels are off of the ground, and drop some jackstands under the car to allow the tires to sit off the ground while the vehicle is idle. I also like to spray the sidewalls of the tires with some sort of rubber moisturizer. I've used the same stuff designed for keeping rubber window seals moisturized with great success. This keeps the sidewalls from cracking so easily from dried out and sitting in the same position for extended periods of time. Another good trick if you have limited space in storage, and you may need to move the vehicle around to work on something else, or to get something blocked by your hibernating car, is to invest in a set of Wheel Dollies.
One of the last steps is to make sure any sort of chrome or polished metal bits are protected from corrosion. This is especially true if you are storing your vehicle outside during the winter, or your storage space isn't climate controlled. I've found that our Metal Protect is perfect to keep your chrome and polished bits from dulling, or corroding while in storage. This aerosol is easy to use, and creates a nearly invisible coating over the metal to seal it from the elements. I use it on my vehicles that are daily driven, and it lasts 6-8 months before I even begin to think about recoating. If you want the metal protect off when it is show season again (99% can't even detect it is there), simply wipe the parts down with most any household cleaner, and you will be left with
the original finish as you left it before storage.
I also like to take the time to give the vehicle a good wash and a nice heavy coat of wax to protect the paint while in storage. Follow that up with the installation of a quality car cover, and you have yourself a car that's ready for the first show or meet of next spring!Click Here To Read Full Post...
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