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Secrets to getting a great used car

In this section, we’ll share with our customers the critical factors they need to consider when choosing a pre-owned vehicle. A car is a major purchase that will be part of your life for a long time. Read on to make sure that you don’t make the wrong choice.

Look for paint touch-ups

Factory paint and after-market paint always have a different surface texture. Start by inspecting the vehicle from a short distance away, checking the shade of each body panel.If you sense that something is off in terms of the shade or finish, position yourself at eye level with the vehicle body and look at the scene reflected there at an angle. If you see undulations in the scene or notice that it appears differently than in other panels, you might be looking at an after-market paint job. Of course, after-market paint does not necessarily mean that the vehicle has been in an accident, and most older cars will have some kind of paint job. Be sure to find out more information from the seller – particularly the reason that the paint was applied.

Look for replaced panels

Most Japanese and European cars have a plate indicating the body number on each body panel. Open the doors and hood and check for these plates. If the left door has one and the right doesn’t, for example, it means that the right door has been replaced for some reason – possibly because the vehicle was in an accident. This doesn’t mean that all missing seals indicate that there has been an accident, but you should always ask the seller for details and find out the reason that the seal is not there. Remember also that some manufacturers don’t apply seals to all of the body panels.)

Look at seals on joined parts 

Panels are welded to join them together, and the weld marks that manufacturers leave look different than the ones made when parts are replaced or repaired. One simple way to check is to see if the left and right sides of the vehicle have the same weld marks. You can also check the caulking agent used as a sealant around doors and other areas. Hoods and trunks also have sealant, and if these look unnatural compared to other areas, it may be because the vehicle has been repaired. As with weld marks, you should compare the left and right sides of the vehicle to see if they are the same.

Check the interior 

Some of the most important things to look at when checking the interior are the seats and steering wheel, brake pedal wear, and any odors you notice. If the level of wear is consistent with the mileage and model year, there is nothing to worry about – but if parts of the interior are more worn out (or newer-looking) than they should be, take note. Also take the time to operate the switches in the vehicle to see how they are working.

Check the mileage 

Los Angeles is a city of drivers, and people tend to put a lot of miles on their cars. Averaging 10,000–12,000 miles (12,000 miles is 19,200 kilometers) a year is completely normal. What you need to look at is whether the mileage is within the normal range and consistent with how the car was used. Divide the total mileage by the age of the vehicle. If it comes out to more than 17,000 miles (27,200 kilometers) a year, the car may have been used for work or as a rental car. Making sure the mileage matches the model year is a critical consideration when purchasing a used vehicle.

Make sure the vehicle runs well 

While the vehicle is still in park, check to make sure the mechanical parts are in good working condition. Start the engine and listen for any noises. Make sure the color and odor of the exhaust gas are normal. Make sure the car doesn’t lurch when you put it in gear and that the steering wheel turns smoothly. Test out the air conditioner to make sure it blows cold. Once you have given it a once-over, take the car for a test drive. Be on the lookout for noises and vibration, make sure the transmission changes gears smoothly, and see that the car doesn’t pull to the right or left. Keep in mind that even a professional mechanic can’t judge the soundness of a vehicle in a few minutes. Take your time and try to get a sense of whether the car feels good to drive.  

Check the warranty

As we mentioned earlier, even a professional mechanic can have difficulty confirming whether a vehicle is running well. The truth is that since cars are machines, you can never fully predict what might go wrong with them – which is why the warranty is so important. The strength of the warranty coverage is one barometer of how likely a car is to break down. If the seller is confident that the car is in good working order, they will generally be happy to offer you a long warranty with extensive coverage.

Get an overall sense of the dealer and its employees

Look the vehicle over, touch it, take it for a test drive. Ask lots of questions. You can even ask the salesperson outright whether or not the vehicle has been in an accident – they should be happy to answer you. But if they give you an evasive answer or don’t seem completely up-front, you should think twice about buying from that dealer – no matter how much you love the car. Buying a car is a major decision, and you will be tied to that dealer even after you buy it for warranty repairs or other concerns. It is important to look at the big picture: their service plans, warranty coverage, how they treat their customers, the atmosphere of the shop, and so on. Trust your instincts, and make sure you don’t jump into a decision you’ll later regret.

Is it a good fit?

The most important thing to consider when buying a car is whether it really suits you. Naturally this means taking into consideration logical factors like how long you plan to drive it, what you plan to use it for, how much it costs, and where you are buying it from. But remember that this car is going to be a daily part of your life for a long time to come – so what could be important than whether you really like it? When you love your car, it becomes a part of you and you take good care of it. A car may be no more than a mindless machine, but if you get attached to it and treat it with respect, it will perform like you want it to and last you a long time.

Before making a final decision, ask yourself whether this is the kind of car you could fall in love with. If the answer is a resounding yes, then that car has passed the most important test of all.

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