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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Love your Used car Salesman! A guide to swindling the swindler. PT-1

How many times over the years have I been paid and taken out for lunch or dinner just for helping someone pick out a good used car? Too many to count. How many hours have I spent assisting other folks in determining whether it is time to finally give up on a vehicle, or to keep pouring money and parts into it. Same answer, no way to know. 

 These decisions are difficult for me to make, even with everything I have learned and experienced. All that much more so I imagine for someone with a degree, say in accounting, for whom machines are a strange and scary world of wires, tubes, oily messes and who knows what else.
To these people I offer my services- online, by phone and in person if you live close enough. I charge, but fairly, to be a knowledgeable representative for the buyer, that speaks the language and knows what to look for, what questions to ask and what matters & how much of a concern it is. I then explain what I see and hear and feel to my client so they can understand and make a fully educated decision about each vehicle or machine. I will often take multiple angles of explanation to help clarify for them what they are getting into buying one vehicle or another. What follows below is a fairly concise list of what I am looking for in an inspection scenario and a quick explanation of what it means and why. 

Before you leave home with this list and zoom off to check out your first car though, you might want to bring a few things along: rags or a roll of paper towels to check fluids, grub clothes, coveralls or cardboard/ carpet scraps to crawl around on the ground and look under it, thin rubber gloves, a digital camera, a bright flashlight, notepaper and pencil, and probably your helper who drove you there and is looking forward to the lunch you used to bribe them...  

I would also suggest researching online on forums and in documents regarding the car you are going to check out. I know, for instance, if I am going to look at a Subaru or Ford truck I have everything I need upstairs already, but if its a less common car, I will get online and find what resources I can that show me major and minor systems breakdowns so I have a good idea of what to expect and where to look for what. Be prepared to ask lots of questions about owners, maintenance, repairs and upgrades. It helps to have some physical strength to check things like suspension parts and door hinges, but for the most part, most things can be inspected and examined by a person of smaller stature or lesser strength.

Its more about using your eyes, ears and feeling through the steering wheel, seats and floorboards. The only real rule is to pay attention and be alert. So, from the outside, a walk-around can tell you a lot. From 10 or more feet away, you should be able to ascertain a lot of things. You can see fairly far under most cars from several feet back, so... Do you see fresh puddles, drips, drops, stains or other indications of leaking fluids? Do you see dents, dings, chips in the paint, rust or rust bubbling, bad repairs, or other body damage? What about all the glass- windows, mirrors, and sun/moon roof- are they all intact with no scratches or cracks? How about the tires?- is the wear even across the tire indicating proper alignment? Or is the wear just on one edge, both edges or in the center? Are the bumpers newer than the rest of the vehicle indicating a recent collision? Any mismatched paint or funny reflections in the paint indicating unstated repairs?  

That concludes the walk-around- next, lets check the mechanics of the body. Do the doors open and close smoothly and without excess force? Do the windows go up and down smoothly, quietly and evenly, or do they sound strained and slow?, Do the door locks work work properly and smoothly? Grab the drivers side door by the outside edge when its open and wiggle it up and down, do the hinges clunk and feel loose, or are they still tight? Check the door rubber on all doors for cracks and tears, check the window trim rubber for cracks or shrinkage all the way around all the windows. Observe the gaps around the doors as they are closed and opened- are they even, or are there gaps at the top, bottom or back of the door indicating possible body damage, hinge failure, or simply hinges needing adjustment. Check the roof of the vehicle for holes, dents, scratches, missing or sun damaged paint, rust, or detached/ damaged roof racks. 

 Once you get inside the vehicle, check all the controls and surfaces. Do the controls work smoothly? Does the dome light come on when you open the door- can you turn it on with a switch? You may need to start the engine to test the heater and A/C systems- do they work? Use all the switches, knobs, adjustments and levers that you can find- does everything work as expected?. Check the seats, stereo, wiper/ washers, floor (ya might wanna check under the floormats and carpet for rust if ya can), power windows and locks, glovebox and center console, drinkholders.
We'll go a bit deeper in the next posting, so come back for the rest in part 2.

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