So, you think you’ve found the best car in your area for the money. After all, the $6,000 that your parents gave you on graduation is really burning a hole in your pocket and you have to have your special car now.
What to do? What to do? These are questions that have burned through as many minds as there have been car buyers over more than the last century (the first used cars were actually available before 1899, although the cars were more than likely to either have been three-wheel shays or motorized buckboards and until 1905 Baker made a real electric that was a viable alternative. The only thing that kept it from being a real threat was the sad state of battery technology 104 years ago.)
And, now it’s 2009 and we’re still facing the age-old question of “What to do?” Should you buy the $6,000 special from the dealer, even though it doesn’t carry very much warranty (some states mandate mileage versus time warranties where dealers have to make a car right or take it back. In MA, its mileage-based with cars under 60,000 miles warrantied for three months or 3,600 miles, whichever comes first; between 60,000 and 90,000 miles, the warranty is two months or 2,500 miles, and between 90,000 and 119,000 miles, its one month of 1,250 miles, so you do have protection. Many other states have similar statutes.)
Still it gets back to what do you do? For example, do you buy your neighbor’s 2000 Toyota Camry with 30,000 miles on the odometer? It is a low-mileage vehicle, but, it is also nine years old and even though the mileage isn’t high, things just plainly wear out after nine years. Metal fatigue can set in at key points (door hinges, for instance or hood latches); a leaf spring or coil spring could let go. The brakes may be really out of round and need more grinding than they can really take.
Then, there’s the dealer’s cream puff with higher mileage (say 50,000) but which is also years newer (2005 or later). This one is definitely covered by any lemon law warranty protection, and it may also be covered by the factory’s certified warranty protection program. You’d have to check. On this model, say a 2005 Cobalt by Chevrolet, you’ll find that $6,000 will make a great downstroke so you can keep your monthly payments within reason as these vehicles will usually retail in the $10,000 to $12,000 range right now.
Then, there’s the newer model – say a former lease drop – that has come back in after two or three years. This one is a keeper, but it will require a higher payment or downpayment to keep your monthly payments low. These cars are also usually almost invariably certified so that this does ad in its value to you as you have extra warranty (over and above any that may be left), as well as extra powertrain warranty.
Then, of course, there’s the new car and with the current “Cash for Clunkers” or CARS program, where the federal government is guaranteeing between $3,500 and $4,500 on cars the increase your personal fuel economy, while mandating that any factory money also has to be included in the mix. This is a good choice because it gives you new-car warranty and that great “new car” smell.
Still, not everyone can afford to be in the CARS program or not everyone can afford to layout the cash to buy the lease-drop or newer vehicle so we’re back to the older vehicles, say 2005 and before where the $6,000 that’s burning that hole in your pocket can make a difference.
How do you know, though, if the car is worth it? The simple thing is this: most dealers will do what they call a safety check for a fee. This is almost the equivalent of the certified preowned warranty check that newer cars have to go through. Indeed, it almost behooves you to have this done so you can see if buying even the 2000 with 30,000 miles on it is worth the effort.
During this safety check, which will cost in the $100 area, a factory-trained mechanic will go through the vehicle from front to rear and not only will the technician make sure the car is in good shape (it has to be because he reputation is on the line, as is the dealership’s), but the tech will also make a detailed report of everything he finds.
For instance, if the front discs only need a turning and the pads are in good shape, the mechanic will say so, whereas if they vehicle actually needs new grabbers all around, that will also be noted. It’s not something that the dealer has to do, either because of the age of he car. No, it’s not fair but it is the car business and it’s not a charitable agency.
The toughest deal to figure out is whether to buy your neighbor’s creampuff. You know the one I mean, it’s the car that’s been never been driven over 30 by a granny who only took it out on weekends. Believe it or not, this is the toughest type of driving a car can face because the engine and drivetrain never get a chance to heat up enough and things never mesh correctly. Also, because the engine temperature tends to stay low, gums and laqs can build up that are potentially harmful.
In this situation, the safety check is mandatory.
So, here you have it and while it may seem like a great deal now, it could turn into a nightmare quickly, once you’ve signed over your 6,000. Be sure that part of the deal is the safety check and make the bill of sale contingent on it. If, for some reason, the current owner won’t do it, then stay away from that car in droves because you can be sure there’s something wrong with it.
If not and the car passes safety, see if you can split any recommended work with the current owner, just as a show of good faith. It can’t hurt to try.
Whatever way you look at it, it still comes down to this, if a deal looks to good to be true, chances are it’s not so never take anyone’s word for it, until you’ve had that deal checked out by a trained technician.