Buying a vehicle can be a long and tedious process, with lots of research and inspecting going into it. This is especially true with used vehicles. We can’t all afford a brand new vehicle fresh off the lot, and even those of us who can will often opt for a used vehicle. They’re cheaper, they can be sold privately, and if you know what to look for they can turn out to be a great deal. The problem many people run into is that they don’t know what to look for in a used vehicle, and end up buying a dud. Sometimes you get scammed, other times even the seller isn’t savvy enough to realise what kind of issues their vehicle is having. A vehicle is an important purchase, and it’s crucial you go in with some basic knowledge before committing to any used vehicle purchase. Here are some the the most important steps you can take when buying a used vehicle.

Basic stats

First, you want to learn a bit about the age and use of the vehicle. What year was it made? How much mileage has been put into it? These questions are the no-brainers. The older the vehicle, the more problems it’s likely to have. There’s also the issue of whether or not certain parts are still available for the vehicle’s make and model in that year. Sometimes even basic repairs can be a huge cost on a particularly old vehicle. The mileage is equally as important. It goes without saying that an older vehicle probably has more mileage on it. Generally speaking, vehicles with over 25,000 km on them are on the brink of needing some major repairs. Unless the owner has put some serious work in, vehicles approaching 30,000 km on the odometer are a red flag.

How well was it maintained

In rare cases, an old car with lots of mileage might still be a worthy investment. Buying a used vehicle from someone who puts a lot of work into general maintenance can make an immeasurable difference. For example, I’ve been driving a 1992 Toyota Corolla for over 25 years, and because of proper maintenance, it’s in better running condition than my neighbour’s 2006 Toyota Matrix. Some of this has to do with the quality of the brand, but a lot has to do with maintenance.

There are some important boxes you can check when investigating the maintenance of a vehicle. The number one box is regarding oil changes. How regularly were they done? When was the last oil change? If the answer is years, that could be a problem.

You also want to get some information about engine maintenance. Depending on the age and mileage, you’ll want to know if there’s ever been an engine change. How many parts have been replaced, if any? Timing belts, spark plugs and fuel injectors are a good place to start. Most people will turn and run at the sound of a bad engine. There’s nothing more off-putting than a choppy, grinding idle and a rough ride. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the engine is in bad shape. It’s usually worth running some good PEA fuel injector cleaner through the engine to see if the problem is simply a buildup of carboxyl deposits. This is one of the first moves for people intentionally buying non-running, fixer-uppers, but it’s a great idea for anyone buying an old, used car in any situation. For a relatively low cost, fresh oil and fuel injector cleaner can make a world of difference to an old used vehicle.

James Kennedy