Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Used cars

  1. Dec 24, 2003 #1
    Anyone here buy a used cars before? If so what was your experience like and can you give us some tips.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 24, 2003 #2
    My 2 cents...

    (only applies to the US as far as I know)
    Any used car salesman that can be trusted at all will allow you to bring the car to a mechanic to have it checked out before you sign anything.

    Your average mechanic will do a thorough inspection for somewhere between $100 and $250.
    I highly recommend making this very sound investment.
    Even if you are a "car guy" and know a lot about mechanics, it is invaluable to get a car up on a lift, check all the seals, check engine compression, look at the "usual" corrosion spots etc.
    Things you can't find out by kicking the tires and running your finger inside the tailpipe.

    Also, many cars have certain problems that occur to them fairly dependably.
    Look those things up...
    For example, any Honda Civic with over 90,000 miles should have had the timing belt changed (whether it has problems or not) because it will likely go soon, and the cost of repair, if it DOES blow on you, could be several thousand dollars.
    Honda Del Sols all have this fuel injection module that usually burns out between 100,000 and 150,000 miles, so if the car has 100,000 miles or more, make sure that part has been replaced recently.
    1986 Mustang GTs had a problem with their catalytic converters breaking up somewhere around 80 - 90 thousand miles, and if you don't have it replaced before they break up, you could end up having to replace both mufflers too.
    Whatever car you are looking at, do your research, and ask the seller for reciepts for these repairs, or ask the mechanic that is doing the inspection for you to verify the issues do not exist, and if they do, get a written estimate for replacing the parts.
    Use that written estimate to haggle the price of the car (if you are still willing to buy the car and do the repairs).
    If you plan on using the repair estimate, it might be a good idea to bring printed articles that tell about these faliures as well.

    If you ARE getting it from a used car lot (rather than an individual) some of them will allow you to rent the car for a week or two to really try it before you buy it (and if you DO buy, will take the rental fees paid off the price). If they will let you, try the shoes on and walk around in them for a while.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2003
  4. Dec 24, 2003 #3

    Supposedly has any repairs or damagages in there. I just saw the commercial, but I'm assuming they go off DMV reports.
  5. Dec 24, 2003 #4

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    In addition to the great comments made by one_raven, I suggest that you look at many used car lots and see what make and models are most commonly found. This can tell you which cars nobody wants because they're lemons. If you see lots on one model, stay away from that model.

    Expect that dealers typically seek profit as follows:

    Sales price......Profit
    < $1500.......~ 80%- 100%
    $1500 - 2999.....~ 50%
    $3000-4000.......~ 30%
    $4000 +.......~ 20% - 30%

    This scale helps to determine what the dealer really has into the car. Ususally, unless the dealer is selling cars like hotcakes, he will likely live with $1500 profit on most any sale.

    Never fall for the "this price is only good today" line.

    Never buy on your first visit.

    Never pay the sticker price; NEVER!

    Never trust a car salesman. There are a few nice ones, but forget it!

    Trade-ins are a suckers game. Know the real bluebook values on any car to be traded or purchased.

    Get a price before telling the saleman that you have a trade in.

    When you buy a used car, you stand a very good chance that you are buying someone elses problems.

    Private owners usually believe their car is worth more than in fact.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2003
  6. Dec 24, 2003 #5
    Do you have a particular model in mind? If so - what is it and what is your price range? Those two choices will determine how much poking and prodding you will need to do to make sure you are not buying a problem.
  7. Dec 24, 2003 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    if you are financing it, get a warranty for the car...
  8. Dec 24, 2003 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Great advice, luckily my dad is a car mechanic so I should be able to get a good second hand car :)

    .. but for knowledge: is there any particular place I could go and find out the car model problem information you gave, one_raven?
  9. Dec 24, 2003 #8
    I’ve probably bought over 35 cars in my lifetime, new and used. In the 80’s, I had three kids in college for about 8 years, as each was about two years apart. Keeping them in running vehicles was expensive. I’ve never had less than 2 cars for the wife and me not including my 8 company cars. I think it can be summed up as:

    Low mileage – good results.
    High mileage – poor results.
  10. Dec 24, 2003 #9
    never ever buy from a dealer

    hunt for the fool selling the car you want
    who needs to sell quickly
    and has no idea of its true value

    as PT Barnum said there is a sucker born every min !!!
    so buy from them
    not the dealers

    buy a good car, one thats built to last, like a volvo bmw or MB
    do your home work
    learn what years and models are better than others and why,
    the net is great for this
    most cars have a BB run by owners
    read them to learn about the good and bad years and models

    check the BLACK BOOK values for prices
    do not pay more than LOAN value
    not retail

    check out the car at a shop
    reject any car that needs work
    it is cheaper to pay a little more to get a good car then fix a bad one
    be ready to look at and check out 10 or more cars to find a good one
    be willing to travel to look at cars out of your city
  11. Dec 25, 2003 #10
    I've been driving a used car for 3 years now, with little problem besides routine repairs...the secret is buy old people's cars. My mom works at a nursing home, and those old folks' last car before going into the home usually has really low milage and little wear and tear.
  12. Dec 25, 2003 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    A friend of mine bought a second hand Japanese car (because those are reliable) well, it was nothing but trouble, one repair after the other, strange sounds etc.

    Finally he sold it for the symbolic amount of $1, just to get rid of it..
  13. Dec 25, 2003 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I have owned nothing but used cars since about 1980. We have had pretty good luck so far. Currently have a '94 Ford Probe, has ~78Kmiles and is doing great. We have had Our '98 Grand Prix for 3.5 yrs it now has ~120Kmi (most of those are ours!) and is going strong, the wife likes it alot so we will keep driving it.

    I think low milage is a key, we have not had any inspections done, so have been pretty lucky, no total lemons so far. The '92 Saturn we drove for a while was a good car, but seemed to be a fender bender magnet (3 in the 1.5yr we had it) and was way under powered so we traded it for the Gran Prix. Good trade!
  14. Dec 27, 2003 #13
    I have and some experiences were good, some horrible. I have found that buying from an individual can be just as much a gamble as buying from a dealer with no warranty. You have to be able to examine a vehicle on your own and have a reasonably good feel for auto mechanics so as not to wind up with a lemon.
  15. Dec 27, 2003 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    i think low mileage is definitely a plus...i bought my 96 VW when it was 5 years old with 36K...in nearly 3 years i have put on over 60K miles on it, and so far (knock on wood) it has been an excellent car...the best thing to do is to stay on top of maintenance before the car has major problems...
  16. Dec 27, 2003 #15
    Always take somebody with you, and tell them to be really objective and point out the tiniest little faults, eg, scratches, dents abit of rust whatever. But if you want the car you may overlook little things liek that.

    My cars a used car, but it was very cheap and i knew i was gonna get a heap for the price i paid for it, but touch-wood i havent had any problems yet, just a bit of rust on some of the body panels.
  17. Jan 4, 2004 #16


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    well, i followed my own advice on buying used cars and got me a good one yesterday! low mileage and extra warranty on my "new" 2000 VW Golf in midnight blue...only has 21K miles on it and going on 4 years old! after reading this thread, i began looking at getting a better car and found it :)
  18. Jan 4, 2004 #17


    User Avatar

    Lots of good advice here. I'm actually in the same spot as Geniere described having been in.
    So just a few points.
    1. If you do buy from a used care dealer realize that they have probably purchased the vehicle from auction which can mean a few things. a) It may have been insurance totaled and then repaired by the dealer. b) It may have had problems that the new dealerships decided were to great for them to take a risk on or invest in repairing. Keeping this in mind I would always use one of those dmv checks to check the history of the vehicle and/or get a full mechanic check. Although I've never paid the $100+ that was mentioned above. It's usually been around 35 or 40 but that may be a regional difference. As my mechanic here charges $25 an hour and I know in Mass it's double to triple that.
    2. Don't buy a ford taurus or mercury sable :wink:
    3. We've had great luck with our used Saabs and Toyota Camry. In fact Our present saab 900 has almost 350K miles, looks and still drives beautifully. we junked the toyota at 321k miles. It probably would have gone further but we did go lax on maintenance and I think that shortened her life a bit.:wink:
    4. Always ask for maintenance records and if possible talk to the vehicles mechanic.
  19. Jan 5, 2004 #18

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Tsunami and I have driven a combined total of well over 500,000 miles in Toyota vehicles. I try to buy American products when possible, but from my experience, its hard to beat a Toyota. On our first Celica [purchased new], at 300,000 miles we sold the car running with a total of three non-standard maintenance items in its history: The front crankshaft seal started to leak, a metal A/C line was finally damaged by rubbing, and one heater fan. All other maintenance was standard: Brakes X 3, clutches X 2, std tune up items, fluids and filters. That's it folks; for 300,000 miles

    I was and am very impressed with their product.
  20. Jan 5, 2004 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    A lot of the old rules for buying used cars no longer apply. The popularity of 3-year leases means new car dealers have fleets of used cars they have to get rid of quickly. Pick a big dealer, monitor their selection and wait. They will have a glut eventually, and they'll need to sell. They will advertise their stock discreetly on the web. They will generally offer a low, no-haggle price without advertising it much.

    Most of these cars will be high milage company cars, but they have been well maintained. Good models can easily go 200K miles with only a few major repairs, so high miles after 3 years is not a big deal, within reason.

    The cars that they have a huge stock of are not lemons. The lemons go to purely used car dealers (never ever buy from a used car only lot).

    Obviously, to use this method, you should not be in the position to need a car. You should never need to buy. Find a seller who needs to sell.

    One other note. Never buy from Carmax. They make a big deal out of no-haggle prices. This seems attractive for people who hate bargaining. But their no-haggle prices start higher than most dealers, who will come down.

  21. Jan 5, 2004 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Njorl, exactly, the car I just purchased was a lease return, which means low mileage and a good deal...i went through the internet and received 20% off the sticker price...plus, buying at the beginning of the year helped too as they wanted to decrease the inventory...
  22. Nov 9, 2004 #21
    Best way to buy a used car

    I agree it's very important to have the car you want inspected by a mechanic, but it may take few car to inspect (and few hundreds to spend for an inspection!!) before you find the one you satisfied with.
    First, since it's a used car, the reliability is very important and you can check reliablity rating at http://www.jdpower.com/auto/jdpa_ratings/FindJdAwards.jsp
    This will give you rough idea, for example, VW has very poor reliability rating while toyota has very high and it's reflects the actuall matters - you will certainly have less problems with Toyota. So if you want a car with poor reliability rating, consider extendent warranty.
    Second, before you actually bring it to the mechanic you can check it yourself.
    This way you will have to bring to a mechanic only one or two out of six-seven cars you looked at and more chances you will get a good deal.
    It may seem difficult without technical knowledge, but there is a lot of articles available.
    Check this one for example: www.samarins.com/check/index.html
    They have the used car checklist with photos what to look for.
    After you check three-four cars by yourself, you will feel much more confident.
    Then, don't take dealer's word for it - they will tell you anything to sell the car.
    And don't give a deposit or sign before you totally satisfied with the car and know all the condition of the deal.
    Good Luck!
  23. Nov 9, 2004 #22


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I've never owned a new car and I've often bought high mileage cars (high for their age). Used cars offer at least one advantage - they've been around long enough that you can research their reliability. Also, I'm able to perform at least simple repair jobs, so as long as the engine and transmission are sound, I've been able to deal with minor parts wearing out.

    I've had two lemons - a Fiat that was fun to drive, but constant problems - an early deisel that I had no clue how to maintain.

    Every other used car I've bought has been a very good value. A 3 or 4 year old high mileage car, especially with today's models which last much longer, has generally meant a better discount on the buying end and less depreciation on the selling end (I tend to put a lot of miles on a car - if I bought new, the resale price would decrease so much faster than the 'real' value that I'd cry constantly).

    Two best options:
    Buy used from a new car lot (you pay a higher price, but the dealers keep the best used cars and wholesale the lower quality cars to used car only dealers).

    Buy from an individual seller - as someone mentioned previously, you usually get taken if you make trading in your old car part of the deal for your newer car. You can buy pretty good used cars from individuals for a little better deal than you could get from a lot, but it's more time consuming (you only get to look at one car at a time). An added advantage is an individual seller can't hide problems as easily as a dealer can. If an individual has a car with a clean engine, it's probably because the engine doesn't leak oil, not because the dealer steam cleaned the engine.

    Then, there's always exceptions. I bought my Jeep from a second tier used car lot. I'm not sure why it wound up there, except maybe for high mileage. It was definitely a grocery getter in its past life (of course, now it's beginning to acquire the squeaks and rattles of a four-wheeler, but that's going happen when you beat it up long enough). Still, you should at least avoid the bottom tier of used car lots. You better know a lot about cars before you go trolling there for hidden deals.

    Best deal I have had was a 20 year old Mazda GLC (Great Little Car if you remember the ads) with a rotary engine. A friend of mine bought it and had planned on restoring it (it looked horrible). First thing he did was to take it out and see how much life it still had - about 5 seconds worth, it turned out. He blew one of the chambers and his dream about restoring it evaporated. He was going to take $40 from a junk yard for it - since my deisel needed an expensive repair, I figured $50 to rent his beater for a week or two wasn't such a bad deal, especially, since I could get all but $40 back after I was done with it. Six months later, I was pulled over for a rolling stop through a stop sign and still had the old owner's plates on the car (why register a car you're only using for a couple of weeks). I showed him the bill of sale and fortunately, he didn't look at the date on it. But I had to show proof of insurance within 48 hours - so I had to buy insurance and register the car. Two years later, I went on a remote assignment - my wife towed the car the day after I left - it still ran, but she wasn't getting in it and wasn't going to have it sitting in front of the house for a year. Even with the blown chamber, you could get it up to 50mph on a long enough flat stretch - you could even use the air conditioner as long as you didn't have to stop (with the air conditioner running, the car would stall at idle speed). The kids would slink down and ask me to drop them off down the street from their friends house whenever I gave them a ride in it. And, best of all, I never had to change the oil - I just added a quart every tank of gas.
  24. Nov 9, 2004 #23


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Always get a mechanic to look at it before you buy. Unfortunately for me, my step-dad was a mechanic, so rather than just telling me what was wrong with a car, I'd get advice like "we can fix it." But it meant I found my first car for $500, and once we fixed it up, it ran another 5 years before I finally gave up on it (though, for a while, I drove around with a spare container of power steering fluid...when the wheel got too hard to turn, just add more, until one day it started smoking, and I called him to get it towed from the side of the road, so he finally agreed to repair it properly).
  25. Nov 9, 2004 #24

    Les Sleeth

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Our (wife & I) technique that's worked perfectly so far, is to go to a Toyota dealership (because Toyota is consistantly rated so high in terms of lowest repair/maintenance costs) and buy one of their year-old rental cars they sell off each year. You know they most likely have done all scheduled maintenance, including changing the oil after the first few miles (very important), unlike you don't know if a non-dealer owns it. It will only have 12 - 16K miles on it, be substantially cheaper than a new car, and last for another 250k-plus miles without any major maintenance costs (or so it's been for us).
  26. Nov 10, 2004 #25


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Along those lines, I've known several people who have had really good luck buying "pre-owned" cars...new word for a used car...a lot of dealers have cars that were leased vehicles now available to buy. You can usually get a pretty good deal on those since the dealer pretty much already made their money on it, and because of all the lease terms, they are better maintained than other cars (people will return them with complete logs of all the oil changes and routine maintenance it ever got).

    Check into your state laws too. In a lot of states, there are lemon laws that apply to dealers but not private sellers, like 30 or 90 day periods when you can return the car if it was misrepresented or ends up undrivable, etc. With dealers, you'll probably pay more than if you go to a private seller, but you get a bit more peace of mind buying through them (beware of places that sell ONLY used cars though...they often buy up the trade-ins from new car dealers that are in too bad of condition for the new car dealer to re-sell...like the ones they get on those promotions where they'll give you $500 trade-in on anything you can push to the lot).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook