Give Your New Used Car a Clean Bill of Health

Used car buyingDid I ever tell you about the time my husband brought home an old Toyota Tercel? I didn’t ask for it, believe me, but there he was, puttering into the driveway in that gold 1985 hatchback. I don’t know about you, but while my husband is smart, educated and ultra-handy, he can still be pretty darn clueless sometimes.

Anyway, I don’t want to cast any aspersions on the Tercel itself. Properly maintained, it was one of the most reliable cars ever built. But my husband just trusted that it would keep running fine, so he didn’t take these three simple post-purchase steps that could have saved us some headaches down the road.

Change the Oil

When you’re buying a used car, I don’t care how convincing the previous owner is when he or she tells you, “I changed that oil religiously every 3,000 miles!” I like to assume the best of people, but in this case, I always assume the worst. It takes time, energy and money to keep up with car maintenance, and folks don’t necessarily have all three at once.

So here’s my advice: pretend like that oil hasn’t been changed since the car rolled off the assembly line, and change it immediately, whether you do it yourself (my preference, of course!) or pay for the service. My husband dragged his feet on this for a while with the Tercel, since the oil level looked fine on the dipstick, and we had some strange engine issues that cropped up down the line. I don’t know for sure that old oil was the culprit, but I wish we’d just handled it and changed the oil right away. Today, tens of thousands of miles later, the Tercel’s running great with regular DIY oil changes, thank you very much!

Get Fresh Tires and an Alignment

Unless the existing tires are fairly new and a high-quality type that’s properly fitted to the car, I always advise starting from scratch with a new set. Hey, you’ll have to buy tires at some point, right? Why not do it right away? It’s the same idea as the immediate oil change: you want the car to be yours from the get-go, and that means buying a set of top-notch tires yourself. As a fringe benefit, the tire shop will balance the wheels, which should minimize any vibrations you’re feeling on the road.

Also, make sure you have a four-wheel alignment done, because a misaligned car will eat those nice new tires for breakfast. Finally, don’t forget to rotate the tires and balance the wheels at the prescribed intervals; ideally, try to find a tire shop that will perform this service gratis for the life of the tires. My husband decided to keep the tires that came with that old Tercel, since the car itself cost so little to acquire, and the result was that we lived with a jittery ride until the tires were so far gone that he had to get new ones. The difference with the new rubber was night and day. Don’t make the same mistake!

Take a Road Trip

With summer here, this one’s a no-brainer. This is the most fun DIY tip I’ll ever give you: after buying a used car, just hop in and drive! Most trips we take in cars are short, and that’s the worst thing for the engine and other drivetrain components, because they need plenty of time and heat to get properly warmed up. That’s why I think of long highway drives as spa treatments for my cars. Engines are happiest when they’re humming along contentedly for sustained stretches.

With the gold Tercel, we noticed that the more we drove it on trips like this, the smoother it felt (well, once we resolved those engine issues and put on new tires!). There’s nothing like a getting-to-know-you road trip in your “new” used car to knock out the car’s cobwebs and help the two of you get on the same page.

What Works For You?

I’m always eager to hear how you folks tackle real-world problems like “breaking in” a used car. Let me know in the comments! Are there any additional procedures you’d recommend?

Editor’s note: count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep your used car looking good and running right. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

How to Buy a Used Car the Smart Way: Top 3 Tips

Get quality auto partsLet me tell you a cautionary tale about buying a used car. A good friend of mine just bought a Camry from the mid-1990s. Low mileage, no rust. Legendary Toyota reliability. The asking price was $2,200. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, that’s exactly how my friend approached the purchase: without really using his brain. He basically bought the car on blind faith, no questions asked. And you know what happened? Two weeks later, the automatic transmission failed. He had to pay almost as much as the purchase price just to get his car back on the road.

Look, the fact is that any used-car purchase is a gamble. You can never be a hundred percent sure what you’re going to get. But if my friend had asked me for used car buying advice, I would have given him the 3 tips discussed below, and they might have saved him a lot of time, money and headaches.

So don’t make the same mistake he did. Heed my tips on how to buy a used car, and minimize the likelihood of bringing home a lemon.

3. Read consumer reviews to learn about common problems

The internet is full of online car reviews written by drivers just like you, and these reviews are an invaluable source of consumer information. Why? Because people love to talk about problems they’ve encountered with their cars. For example, if the used car you’re considering has a trouble-prone transmission, chances are you’ll hear all about it in those reviews. Armed with this knowledge, you can ask better used car questions of the seller, and you’ll also have a better idea of what to look for when you’re inspecting and test-driving the car.

I recommend starting at Edmunds.com and looking up the specific year, make and model of the car to access relevant consumer reviews. But don’t just limit yourself to that one year; do additional research to determine the other years in which the car was produced, and check out consumer reviews for those years, too.

2. Run a vehicle history check

There’s really no excuse for not doing this, folks. For only $25 or so, an online vehicle history check tells you if there have been any reported accidents or other damage-causing events (like flooding), and it also tells you if the odometer readings through the years indicate any manipulation.

Will every single issue be reported? No, but the major ones will be, so anything that shows up on one of these reports is a real red flag. I personally recommend buying only cars with clean records: no accidents, no nothing. But if you decide to pursue a vehicle that doesn’t have a clean history, keep in mind that the history report can be a valuable bargaining tool.

The two major online providers of vehicle history reports are Autocheck.com and Carfax.com. Pick the one you like best and go get that report!

1. Have a knowledgeable mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection

Most people balk at the $100 fee that mechanics typically charge for this service, but remember the story of my friend and his ill-fated Camry. When you’re faced with something like a $2,000 transmission-replacement bill, you’re really going to regret having skipped this step. Paying a mechanic to inspect a used car before buying is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re not getting a lemon. So grit your teeth and fork over the hundred bucks. I promise you’ll thank me later.

If you’re wondering how to inspect a used car before buying, the key is to find a mechanic who is both knowledgeable about the car you’re looking at and indifferent to whether you buy it or not. So if you’re looking at a Toyota, find yourself a local Toyota mechanic with a good reputation (I recommend reading consumer reviews on Yelp.com), and make sure he’s not a business associate or family friend of whoever’s trying to sell you the car. Also, don’t forget to ask the mechanic to “road test” the car in addition to putting it on a lift in his garage.

Oh, and don’t worry if you want to buy a used car online that’s located across the country—Advance’s Find My Mechanic feature can connect you with someone skilled in used-car inspections. Or, companies like Inspect My Ride let you tap into a nationwide network of inspection specialists.

Anyway, that’s the best used car buying advice I’ve got. Hasn’t let me down yet, and I hope it works for you, too. Good luck!

Editor’s note: Once you do find your new ride, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in quality auto parts, services and more. Buy online, pick up in store.

How to buy a used car online: buying advice for modern times.

How to buy a used car online: buying advice for modern times.

Not too long ago, when in the market for a secondhand car, you were usually limited to cars located within about a 50-mile radius of your home. Your primary source of information was the classifieds section in your local newspaper.

Used car buyingThat’s changed dramatically. Sure, your local classified ads remain a good source of information about available secondhand cars. But, thanks to the online marketplace for previously owned cars, your potential marketplace now stretches from coast-to-coast.

When considering how to buy a used car online, you need to keep the typical used car questions in mind, along with some specific ones that pertain to buying online.

Here you’ll find practical used car buying advice for online purchases.

Start by scouting what’s available. Some viable sites include:

Also, online bulletin boards sites that contain secondhand car listings (such as Craigslist) can be a good potential source of vehicles, too.

Once you’ve found some candidates:

  • Do some research. Check reliability records for the makes and model years in question.
  • Comparison shop online to find the best prices for your top choices.
  • Get the Kelley Blue Book value for those cars.
  • Order vehicle history reports before buying.
  • Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle. (There are services located throughout the country that will perform this for you if the vehicle isn’t in your area.)
  • Have your financing in place.
  • Negotiate for the best price based on your research (this may not be an option depending on the seller or the site).

Consult trusted sources to find more information about how to buy a used car online.

Sources like AAA, the Better Business Bureau, your state’s attorney general’s site, as well as other government sites may offer more solid used car buying advice, and provide answers to other used car questions.

No matter what, just be sure to get advice from a knowledgeable, impartial source that has your best interests in mind.

Editor’s note: After you buy your secondhand car, take good care of it with quality auto parts from another trusted source: Advance Auto Parts. Keep an eye out here for more info on used cars coming soon.