Assess a used car without being an expert

Some simple methods

Buying a used car is not easy. The reason for this is, that the seller of the car knows more about the car than you do. Also the seller wants to sell the car the highest possible price and has no interest in telling you the truth about possible damages or defects of the car. Fortunately, there are some tricks how you can assess a used car without being an automechanic. In this article I give some advice on how to do it and therefore make a better decision. 

Mileage: One of the most important determinants of a car's value is how many miles it has run. While you can see the mileage on the speedometer of the car it is not guaranteed that the numbers are true. There are many ways to manipulate mileage. To make a very rough estimation of the mileage there are two ways. First of all, ask for all the bills from repairs, inspection or maintenance. Often the mileage at the time of the repair is stated on the bills. Look at the date of the bills and assess if the current mileage is realistic. If this is not possible you can still assess if the car has run for more than approximately 60k miles or not. Look at the surface of the pedals. The plastic or rubber on the surface of the pedals is normally very strong and durable. If the profile of the surface is scrubbed down so you do not see the profile anymore, the car has probably run for more than 60k miles.

Accidents: A car which had a serious accident and was not repaired properly can be a deadly risk to your health. Unfortunately an untrained eye can often not assess whether a car was involved in a serious accident. Here are two easy ways to see if the car had a major damage. First look at the clearances. These should be evenly broad over the whole length. Also you can compare the clearances on the two sides of the car. If the gap between one door and the body for example is broader than on the respective door on the other side of the car, this could be a warning sign. A second way to assess if there was an accident is to look inside the trunk. Remove the interior trim and check the body for unusual weld seams. Also check if the coating looks original or if somebody has done some paintwork.

Defects of the clutch and wheel bearings: Some common defects of used cars occur with the clutch, which could be worn out, and the wheel bearings. To assess the condition of the clutch there is a very simple method: Ask for a test drive and shift into the third gear while you are parked. Without any gas engange the clutch suddenly. If the clutch is in a good condition the engine should immediately stall. If the clutch is worn-out, the car might make a smooth move forward and drive for some meters before the engine goes out. To assess the whell bearings also use the test drive. Look for a place where you can drive in a circle. Turn the steering whell until its end and drive in a circle. Do this in both directions. If you can hear bumping sounds there might be a problem with a broken wheel bearing.