What to look for in a used car?

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  #1  
Old 05-20-07, 10:59 PM
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What to look for in a used car?

My daughter is starting college, and needs to get her own car for the 50 mile drive each day. We don't have much money to buy her a car, we can maybe scrape $2000 together with graduation money. We've been looking at cheap cars for sale, but I have no idea what to look for when buying a cheap car. We aren't looking for anything pretty, just something safe an economical.I live in California, so the car passing the smog test is a major issue. I had a nice older car for her before, but had to take it to the junkyard. It ran okay, I just couldn't get it to pass the smog test without sinking big bucks into it.
Can anyone give me ideas of what to look for or avoid when looking at these cheap cars?
 
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  #2  
Old 05-21-07, 03:42 PM
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That's a tall order. My daughter starts college this fall as well. She's currently driving a '96 Escort that we got two years ago for next to nothing because it had a bad head/blown head gasket. I am not a Ford fan, but it's been a good little car. In her case, she'll be about 200 miles away and living on campus so we won't have to worry about her wearing out with a long daily commute. I sympathize with the distacnes involved out there - been there, done that.

Couple of thoughts. Do you have a mechanic that you trust and who works on your vehicles regularly? If so, buy him a cup of coffee (or a couple of beers) and maybe pick his brain. He may even have a line on something that will fit the bill.

I'm a Toyota fan, so I would tend to point you toward a Corolla or possibly a slightly older Camry (look for a 4 cyl one). Our last Camry (a '95 that we got rid of in 2004) went 175,000 and it's probably still running somewhere. Think we got about $2500 when the garage/car lot owner I tow for took it through the auction.

Biggest problem may be your budget. As you've probably discovered, $2000 doesn't buy a whole lot for a used car anymore.

Just curious, but what area and college is this commute going to involve?
 
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Old 05-21-07, 05:26 PM
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Talking Go Toyota if you can

Toyota's won't let you down and when you do have to fix em, there pretty straight forward to repair. I also know some folks that have gotten 200k miles out of the Mazda drive trained Ford Escape. Not sure what a mid 90's Escape runs. An older Corolla would still be really lean on gas consumption. Much better than the Escape anyway.
 
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Old 05-21-07, 11:25 PM
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Red face

Thanks for the input guys! I live in a small high desert town ( hence the username), and she'll be driving down the grade to the lower desert. I have had pretty bad experiences with mechanics out here. I might as well had 'sucker' written on my forehead.I haven't been able to trust anyone so far.The desert is really hard on cars, and living without air conditioning is really difficult. We currently own a Scion TC, which is made by Toyota and has a Camry engine , and it's been really reliable so far. I also have a Mitsubishi Galant, which is where my bad experience with mechanics comes into play. A crazy old guy I know told me to look at the tail pipe for oil, check the tires for even wear, etc. but I never know with him, he's pretty nuts.
There is a guy at my work that has his dealers license and goes down to the dealer auto auctions down in San Diego and LA. He said he can get me something, but it's mostly insurance and rental auctions so he would need more like $3000. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but I just spend over $15K on my daughter's teeth!
 
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Old 05-22-07, 03:01 PM
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When looking for a used car there is a bunch of things that you want to check over. Cause most of the time they will try and trick you about the history of the car. The first thing you should do is get a Car fax report about the car.

Next things you want to look for is when you go to look at the car for the first time, make sure the engine is cold and that it is not running when you arrive. If it is just leave right there. That usually means that they had to start it with startin fluid or had to do something else to it to make it run.

Next is make sure that it runs good, there is no puffing or spiting and it sounds good. Rev it a little make sure it doesn't stall out of anything like that. Next check the oil level, make sure that it is at the correct level. And look at the oil on the dip stick, make sure there is no little pescies of things there, and that the oil is a golden-to dark brown color. If it is super black that means that it hasn't be changed in a while and make them change it or reduce the price a little.

Now if you know a thing or two about cars and you want to really check out the engine, check for compression in all the cylinders. You don't have to but if you want to you can. If you do see if there is a drop in one compared to the rest. If it is a higher mileage engine, the compression wont be balanced due to just wear and tear. But if there is like a 50psi difference between them something is wrong.

Next after the engine checks out is to check the paint. Open the doors and check the stricker panels, the rocker panels and all around the hood, doors and trunks. usually if the car gets hit, they will just bondo it and then spray paint it, if you see a lot of over spray that means something happened to it. If it was done right the lines would be good. And look for rust, around the bottom of the doors is usually a good place to find rust, if there is a little in a older car it is to be expected but try and find something that doesn't have alot. Then just check the overall apperence of it.

Then check the truck area make sure there is not a lot of rust around there, no dead bodies or drugs etc. Make sure everything works, all the tries are good, that if you stick a penny upside down and you can see the top of Lincoln's head, you should get new ones. Make sure that the rims are good, no cracks. And look at the wear on the treads, see if it looks uniform and if it is wearng to one side that means the suspension needs to be aligned and have them do it.

Then ask about the matenince, see what they have been doing about the fluids, belts hose etc and see if they have a log about that.

Now take it out for a test drive see how it runs, if it tracks good and that the sterring is fighting to go one way, the brakes work good and they stop good.

That is the basic thing good luck to ya, and try eBay, there are some good ones. (But pay in cash don't pay the full deposit over the internet)
 
  #6  
Old 05-24-07, 09:51 AM
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Thanks everyone! I just got her an older Toyota Corolla with 115,000 miles. Everything looks great, just some minor cosmetic issues, and it just passed smog too. Best of all it was $1000!
 
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Old 05-24-07, 04:47 PM
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Good buy. Just make sure she keeps up on the preventive maintenance.
 
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