Tips On Buying A Used Car - Taurus Car Club of America : Ford Taurus Forum
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-25-2005, 06:53 AM
Bob Gervais
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JohnTaurus wrote:

Does the dealer have any service records, history reports, inspection reports? I'd take it to a Ford dealer (as in, a different one if you're buying it from a Ford dealer) for a mechanical inspection. Most wont charge much if anything in the hopes to sell you work. At the most, it'll be less than $100 for sure. I remember that I never charged custumers for used-vehicle inspections when I was at the Lincoln-Mercury dealer, so long as nothing was done to the car aside from a routiene visual inspection and possible a test drive. Usually, if the car needed work and they ended up buying the car, they'd bring it back to me to get it fixed, or have the seller pay me to fix it, lol.

As for you personally inspecting the Taurus at the lot, these are the general steps I take when previwing a possible used car for purchase. Dont let the sale person rush you, its your buisness thats being earned, not his. If he protests to your inspection, walk away. He's either hiding somthing or doesnt care about you or your buisness. Either way, screw 'em, LMAO.

I appologize if this may seem too basic to you, but frankly I dont know the extent of your automotive knowledge so if thats the case, bear with me. This is taylored to a Ford Taurus but is mostly applicable to any used car. I've gone from not openening the hood on a used car to down right getting my clothes dirty crawling underneath to inspect it. Trust me, its worth the time and effort to ensure you dont end up with someone elses problem car.

Before running the car (as in, when its cold and hasnt been recently ran), walk all the way around it and check for paint not matching. If the car was partially repainted, some of it will be glossy and new-like while the rest may look more dull and faded. If you find a spot where you suspect body work has been done, inquire to the seller and take a look underneath the car in that area. Look for signs of welding or other recent work. Having some minor body damage repaired isnt bad thing always, a healthy majority of used cars have had some level of body work done at some point, most undetected by their new owners and usually, it wont effect the performance or look of the car. While your out side and walking around the car, inspect all four tires. Are they the same brand, size, etc? Do they have fairly even wear patterns? If all are the same size, brand, etc but one is MUCH more worn than the others, or in a different pattern/area, this suggests possible alignment problems. Peak at the exhaust, is it heavily rusted? Speaking of which, is the car itself rusty anywhere? Even if you live in a non-rust prone area, check for it, because some people transport good-but-rusty-underneath cars away to non-rust prone areas to sell them for more to people who dont know to look. One person I knew bought a late 80s Nissan 4x4 in the south west, turns out it was a Canadian truck and had extensive rust damage to its fame, to the point that it was unrepairable. He spent $2K+ on a $200 truck.

Without having started the car at this point, pop the hood. Check all fluids, including coolant, power steering, brake (usually not neccissary to take the cap off as the resivor should be clear and have "MIN" and "MAX" lines on the side), and engine oil. It is not neccessary at this point to check the trans fluid, as this should be done with the car running and at normal operating temp. Inspect the engine bay for loose wires, wet spots (suggesting leaks), disconected hoses or wires, etc. Inspect the air filter. Inquire about the fuel filter, plugs, wires and the oil change intervals. If the engine oil is a little low and/or dark, dont worry too much, its just due for an oil change and most any 10+ year old car will use some oil during the 3,000 miles beween changes. If the oil is extreamly black and/or smells really burnt, becareful. Also, if its milkshake-like, this is a sign of a blown head gasket, a costly repair.

Moving on: Look at the belt (on the left side of the engine), does it have cracks? If so, dont worry, its easily replacable. If it is pretty cracked and worn, ask the dealer if they are willing to do it or if they will pay for it to be changed elsewhere. If the car has been sitting in one spot for a while, check undeneath for drips. Get down low and look up into the engine bay from the bottom. The bottom of the engine is most likely covered in grime, grease, oil, etc, and this is normal, but look for signs of major leaks. Look at the oil pan and trans pans, are there drips? If so, are they bad or just minor? Its not unlikely that the car leaks some oil, but it shouldnt be excessive and any trans leaks require immidiate attention. You DO NOT want to get the trans low on fluid. Inquire about how long its been since the last trans flush INCLUDING filter and pan-gasket change.

When you are out side of the car, look for any further signs of damage. Open all of the doors, see if they shut well. Look at the door sills, are they a different color or show signs of recent work (as in welding, etc)? Now you can crank the car, put the drivers side window down, get out and close the door. At this point you could take the oppertunity to inspect the exterior lighting, including the license plate lamps and the small marker lamps towards the outside of the headlamps. They are supposed to light up when the parking lamps are on (and headlamps accordingly).

Listen to the car from all angles, sides, etc. Is the exhaust excessivly loud? Is it loud towards the middle or front of the car (suggesting an exhaust leak)? listen to the idle, is it fairly consistant with pretty much no or very limited surging (revving up and down on its own)? It should run at around 1300 to 1500 RPMs when started cold for a moment. Slowly, the idle will lower down on is own to around 950-1K RPMs. If it doesnt, there may be something going on with the computer, a sensor, or a vaccume leak. Walk all the way around the car with it running. Listen towards the back of the car for a loud, high-pitched humming noise. This is the fuel pump. Excessivly loud fuel pumps usually mean they are old and prone to failure. Also, if it keeps going back up to the higher RPM and lowering (as my '93 does, LOL), watch for this. Reach inside after you've walked around it a few times and pop the trunk. Check the spare. Check the spare tire compartment for water or excessive moisture (some moisture is normal if the car has been sitting, but not so much as to form a puddle). Look for rust. Look for recent weld spots on the bare metal or damage as if its been pushed in and hammered back out (suggesting the car was rear-ended hard). If it smells musty, dont worry too much unelss you detect rust or excessive water.

Now, go get in the car, drivers seat. Turn on the heat, full blast, pannel vents and (if you want) floor selection. By this time, the car should be warm enough to produce heat inside assuming the coolant is full and there isnt any obstructions in the cooling system. I dont care if its 85 degrees, this is important. If the car is taking a very long time to warm up, that means the thermostat is either missing or stuck open and should be replaced. Try to smell as best you can the air coming from the vents inside the car when the heat is on. If it smells old, stail, and/or moldy, its a sign the car has been sitting. If it smells like coolant AND/OR the windshiled keeps fogging up, its a definant sign that the heater core is going out and that can be a costly repair. Check all the accessories. Wipers? On intermitant, wash, and just "ON" or "HIGH". Power options including windows, seat, door locks, and mirrors. Horn? Radio? All interior lighting? The seller should warn you of a non-functioning power options before hand. Are all the gauges working? If the car has 'too-good-to-be-true' low miles, look for missing screws, scratches, scuffs, etc on/around the gauge cluster and surrounding bezel.

By this time, the temp needle should be creaping above the blue line towards the "N O R" in the word "N O R M A L" on the temp gauge. Wait until its at least above the first leter in that word before you attempt to drive the car. Continue testing out every feature, accessory, button, knob, etc. Open the center console, if so equipped, and the glove box. Are any dash lights staying on (aside from DOOR AJAR and/or the seat belt remindor)? Ask if the A/C works. If they say yes, select "COOL" on the temp selector and then turn the dial to "MAX A/C". You should hear a movement under the dash, thats the blendor changing the settings you requested (as in, block off air coming in from outside the vehicle, "MAX A/C" recirculates air inside the cabin instead of drawing it in from the outside). Listen to the engine carefully. You should be able to hear the compressor kick on. At the same time, the RPMS may drop a little and the cooling fan under the hood should engauge. If none or not all of this is happeneing, there is most likely a problem with the A/C. Its either out/low of charge, the compressor has failed, or the HVAC selector isnt working properly. If the compressor keeps cycling on and off frequently, it means the system is low on refrigerant. By this point, the car should be at normal opperating temp and ready to drive. Just wait, there's more before you drive it.

Back to the engine bay. Listen under the hood (as its running) for loud hissing, grinding, or tapping. There may be slight amouts of each, but none of that should be loud. Look carefully for dripping and use your sence of smell. Do you smell burning? If so, try to pinpoint where its coming from. Now that the engine is warm, check the trans fluid. It shouldnt smell burn, it shouldt be dark, and it shouldt be low. It should be bright pink. If not, it may just need a flush. If it smells burnt or is low, recondisor driving it and plan to have it inspected closer by a trained technition (NOT AAMCO).

Close the hood and any other exterior doors and/or deck lid.

Get back in the car, turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock. Is the powersteering pump excessivly loud (a whining noise coming from the passenger side of the engine bay)? Does the wheel "catch" every so often? Do you hear/feel popping or thumping noises? These could be signs that the pump (or other steering/suspension/drive componants like the tie rods, CV axels, or strut mounts) and/or rack are failing. Both the pump and rack are somewhat common on Taurus' as they age and aquire high mileage. The pump could cost anywhere from $60 to $150 for a reman'ed one, I paid in the low $70s for the one for my '93 at AutoZone and its equipped with a Lifetime Limited warranty.

Now, FINNALY, you are ready to drive it. Drive it normally, but then again put it through its paces. Its not a sports car (as you know having previously owned a Tauurs), but it should handel fairly well, ride pretty smooth without excessive bounce, and not make any clunks, creaks, or other obnoxious noises. Test the brakes. If you feel a vibration when slowing down, the brake rotors are most likely warped (common).

Do some acceleration runs, and not just WOT up to 100 MPH, LOL and not just 0-60 either. More like everyday driving, for example two-lane passing (45-60) and in town acceleration (25-40, etc). Pay attention for trans slips or major hesitation from the powertrain. Hearing pinging noises from the engine and slow up-hill acceleration are signs the engine is in need of a tune up. Feel for any shuddering under hard acceleration. If present, its time for a trans flush/filter/pan-gasket change. Granted, the shifts of this automatic tansaxel are naturally kinda lazy, but there shouldnt be a whole lot of excessive revving and certainly no revving-but-no-going, lol. Try to drive it on a road you can maintain a fair amount of speed on (50 MPH +). Test the cruise control. Feel for vibrations through the steering wheel. This could be a bent rim, failing tire, or more seroius problems in the suspension (unlikly but possible if its been wrecked)

Check the trans fluid immidiatly after you get back from the test drive, without having shut off the car. Becareful, the engine's hot and so may be the trans dip stock. The trans fluid should be full and pink, not dark. It shouldnt smell burnt. After you shut off the car, listen under the hood (and around the car) for abnormal noises. After having sat for less than a minute, restart the car. Did it start normally? Any abnormal noises? Now try doing the engaugement test again with the trans. Its more likely a lot smoother now that the car is warm.

Shut it down and walk around the car again. Any smoke? Any steam? Smell coolant or burning oil/hydrolic fluid? Look under it again to see if there are any drips (having parked it in a different spot than before if possible).

Dont forget to test EVERYTHING even if you dont use it right now (like A/C in early fall, depending on your climate). A guy came into AutoZone yesterday and said he bought his S10 5-6 months ago at a dealer and hadnt used the wipers until that morning, upon which he discovered that they didnt work!

Drive the car as you normally would. If you do 85 MPH on the freeway, do 85 on the freeway during the test drive if possible. (Warning: be carefull about accelerating a car you're not used to up to high speeds. Do it slowly, and listen/feel for vibrations and/or noises. Do not proceed if they are present. You never know, the tire could be on the verge of coming apart, or the suspension may be weak from an accident or excessive wear/tear, etc.)

Dang good advice people, thanks John!
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-29-2005, 05:36 PM
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One last tip, DON'T buy any used car/truck from South East Louisiana!!!

Make sure you have a title check run. There are over 500,000 car's and trucks in New Orleans alone that were flooded that will wind up back on the market no telling where.
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 12-17-2006, 04:20 PM
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I buy only one owner used vehicles. Multiple owners - the potential for fraud is there. The current seller may know nothing about what previous owners had done to car, ie. accidents, floods, etc. 40,000 insurance totaled cars went onto used car dealerships after the Texas flood a few years back. With clean titles.

Also, never buy a car that has been sitting for a long time. Everything "freezes up" including brakes, tires have flat spots, etc.

Stay away from any car that has been repainted or any parts that have been repainted. Might have been a good body shop or might not.

Obviously, if you are buying an inexpensive car that looks and runs good, then buy it.

Two things make a car wear out. Miles on odometer and age. Either can provide you with high repair bills. But I would prefer an older car with low miles, then a newer car with high miles. The water pump, alternator, etc. is made to only go around so many times. Then they quit.

What about a new "rebuilt" motor or transmission. Well, it really depends. Who did the rebuild? The 18 year old new mechanic at the Ford dealership by reading the transmission manual? No age discrimation here intended. Was it a short block, new? A rebuilt from another car? Your engine rebuilt? A long block?

Oh, you say, mine has a real FORD rebuilt engine. Well . . . Ford does not sell remanufacured engines.

Buy from a used car dealer or a private party? Hmmm. Ever sneak into a dealers only car auction? It can be done. Look around. Look at the people/dealers buying these cars. They certainly are an interesting looking group of people.
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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-26-2007, 03:55 AM
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Beware of what are called "curbstoners" by law enforcement.

These are people who buy used cars from various sources on a regular basis and resell them without a dealer license to do so, which is required in most states and which is illegal. They avoid being caught by the DMV by not re-titling the cars in their name. They put ads in the paper and on Craigslist and sell the cars from home. They will have some excuse like "It's my son's car and he's away at college, but he's signed the pink slip and asked me to sell it for him." There's nothing illegal about your buying such a car, but the seller usually knows nothing about the history of the car and is misrepresenting the situation. Many of these people virtually live at their computer, camped out on Craigslist waiting for cheap deals, which they pounce on and then re-sell a week later to unsuspecting people, giving them the signed title they got from the original owner the week before, all the while giving some phony "one owner" story.

Here in California I am starting to see a surprising number of flood damaged cars. There are many ways to spot a flood damaged car, but usually the engine has extensive corrosion and if you look under the seats, the seat springs and frames will be rusty. Not to mention that the interiors usually smell musty.

Also be suspicious of cars with "too new" license plates. These may be problem cars dragged in from other states. For example, a 1995 car in California with a "5" prefixed plate when it should have a "3".

Finally, stay clear of cars with salvage titles. Craigslist is full of ads saying "has a salvage title because of a little damage to one door." Yeah, sure. Insurance companies issue a salvage title when a car is totaled out, NOT because of a little dent or a fender bender. In addition, many insurance companies will not issue a policy to you for a vehicle with a salvage title, or will not issue other than liability-only coverage. A salvage title is fatal, in my opinion. Sometimes salvage title cars will be dragged to other states which don't have salvage title laws, and re-registered there, to hide the problem. Remember the "too new plates" mentioned above?

Stay away from ex-rental cars. Rental companies are self insured and therefore their flood or otherwise damaged cars aren't going to get a salvage title. I recently saw a flood damaged car for sale at a new car dealer's used-lot which was a fresh ex-rental car from a major rental agency. There was a clean Carfax and nobody would admit the car had been in a flood, but a professional could tell.
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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-26-2007, 04:48 PM
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The license plate thing only applies to states where the license plate is issued to the car (such as CA). Here in NV, the plates are issued to the owner. We have plenty of cars from the '80s with contemporary plates. We also have a new law banning plates issued before 2002 for legibility reasons so you will find an older car with newer plates too. Oddly enough, if you have a pre-1982 plate, you're allowed to keep that instead of getting a newer issue because they lack a graphic design. It is up to the owner to trade in pre-1982 plates if it is illegible.

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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 10-17-2007, 10:11 AM
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The license plate thing only applies to states where the license plate is issued to the car (such as CA). Here in NV, the plates are issued to the owner. We have plenty of cars from the '80s with contemporary plates. We also have a new law banning plates issued before 2002 for legibility reasons so you will find an older car with newer plates too. Oddly enough, if you have a pre-1982 plate, you're allowed to keep that instead of getting a newer issue because they lack a graphic design. It is up to the owner to trade in pre-1982 plates if it is illegible.
The plates are issued to the owner in Massachusetts too. So when he said "too new plates" I had no clue what he was talking about. I understand now.

I think my car may have been an ex-rental. But it's alright, it runs fine and tracks fairly straight (I haven't had an alignment done since I bought the car, I can't do it until I repair the rear springs to fix the camber issue it causes). I believe it pulls slightly to one direction but I'm not sure which because the roads here are so bad that I'll have a slight pull to the right on one stretch of highway and slight pull to the left on another.

Even better, for a car that's been in New England, there's not too much rust. The worst rust is on the bolts for the Y-pipe flange, and I'm going to replace them soon (well, one rusted and fell out already, so I need to replace them to fix the loud sputtery sounding exhaust leak).

Currently driving a 2009 Focus SE Sedan w/5-Speed!

Previous cars:
1997 Geo Prizm
1996 Ford Taurus G

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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-27-2007, 05:06 PM
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Here's a few things I've learned. Check under the oil cap (engine off, in some engines oil will sling from the timing chain or camshaft and get all over you) If you can see the metal parts of the engine they should be clean and shiny or maybe a light tan color (like tea) If everything is black or crusty then the engine has seen it's fair share of overdue oil changes. I've had 200k mile engines that where spotless inside.

Another thing I don't like seeing in used cars is AFTERMARKET ALARMS and starters... This comes from personal experience and experience working at dealers. Be careful of these because some are very intrusive to a vehicles wiring and starting system and support for the device (repairs, help, etc...) is usualy impossible to get a year or so after it was installed or once the shop that installed it goes out of buisness. I've seen plenty of 2 and 3 year old alarms torn out because the manufacturer no longer makes and supports it or we had no idea who installed it. Some of these alarms will break and no longer allow you to start the car (esp if the key chain remote dies). Removal of these can also be a pain.

Also beware if buying a car that's typically modified. Look for signs that the intake has been reinstalled or even if it comes with an aftermarket intake. This is a sure sign that the vehicle was driven hard. Same usually goes for exhaust. Painted dash pieces can also signal that this could have been a kids first car.

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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 12-22-2007, 04:10 PM
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Sound good advice above.

Sadly, too many will never read, follow, or comprehend this. Then there is the impulse buyer.

Ebay, acording to news reports, is the largest used car "dealer" in the country. (USA). A little caution should be used when purchasing a used car off of eBay. I have purchased two. Both sellers "embellished" their description. One car I purchased had all new brakes. Unfortunately, the car had been sitting for more than a year and nothing would completely free up the brakes without a complete new brake job - all around. And although the tires looked close to new, all had dead spots and needed replacement. This one was an inexpensive Korean car. Home installed aftermarket radios can be a bust. This Korean car had one - and most of the wires came undone. This car was from a private sale. The second car was off eBay was from a dealer. Man, was that description embellished. It's amazing what a digital camera can do to a picture. There are many good honest people on eBay. Even so, they may not have the eyesight or knowledge to acuately describe the condition of a car. The best ones (and there are only a few) will state that if the car is not as advertised, you do not have to buy it.

An old friend (in the car business) stated to me once that there are three parts to a new car dealer. Sales of new cars - they, in the end, make little money. The service department is what pays the bills for the dealership. And USED CARS are where they make their best/most profit.

A good resource, might be at library or on is a book titled: WHAT CAR DEALERS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW by Mark Eskeldson.

Some on this board are old hands at buying new and used cars while others don't have a clue.

I always laughed at people who traded in any car/truck. They state an inflated value that the dealership gave them. Example: If the MSRP (sticker price) is $25,000.00 and customer brings in an old broken clunker, and the dealership allows $2,000.00 for this old broken clunker, what really has the dealership given you for the old broken clunker? Certainly not $2,000.00. Yet, time and time again, I hear people brag about how much the dealer gave them for their trade-in. They just don't get it and may never get it.

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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 09-23-2008, 11:22 PM
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Drunk now. Will delete later and add a decent reply. Sorry for the delay. A s you al get to know me you will understand.
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 06-14-2009, 01:19 PM
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Her name is Laura.

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