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Video | 5 Things You Need On Hand When Examining a Used Car You Want to Buy

It’s a Friday night, and I’m on a quest to find a specific model of Chevrolet truck — an early 1960s Chevy C30. I found myself furiously scanning Autotrader and did indeed find some possible candidates. Before contacting the sellers, I started thinking to myself: If I go see this truck, what should I actually bring along if one of these prospects works out? From my years of purchasing cars and repairing them, I know exactly what to bring. That’s when it hit me, this information should be shared. These items might come off as simple, but it’s what can be done with them that make them so powerful. Let’s get started.

1. LED Pen Light

This item is crucial to me when inspecting a car. I use it daily with repairs, but especially when inspecting a vehicle before purchase. There are numerous areas that will need to be checked that may be too dark to get a good, clear view. For example, when looking under the dash or at the engine bay, wheel wells, brakes or powertrain. This list can go on and on. If the seller mentions, “Yes, there is a small leak around the power steering pump,” your mind is going, “Oh my … just how bad is this?” That’s when you click the pen light into action, illuminating all doubt and reeling in that highly imperative data needed to answer the stressful question: Should I buy this car or not?

2. Inexpensive OBD 2 Handheld Code Reader

Now, I know what you’re thinking — how am I supposed to even use one of these things? Secondly, aren’t they expensive? The price of code readers has come down significantly in recent years, and they’re available either at your local parts stores or online. They can be as cheap as a dinner at a nice restaurant. However, this small cost can literally save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in unexpected repair costs, making it well worth the price of the tool. Plus, you can use it on all the cars in your fleet. They are designed to be very intuitive and easy to use. You simply plug them in the data port, which is mandated by the U.S. government to be located in the driver’s foot-well area. (Using the above stated pen light, you can easily locate the port.) Once plugged in, they automatically report the error codes, if there are any, and can specify the error on the screen. You can also use the internet to further research what could possibly be wrong. If there are error codes, this needs to be discussed immediately with the seller to determine next steps. You could ask the seller to look into the issue and make repairs. You could negotiate the price based on the found errors. Or, if the errors are significant enough, you might simply pass on the prospective purchase.

3. Small Notepad and Pen

The simplest things can make a huge difference. During inspection, there will be a lot of data revealed, and you will have questions that you’d like answered directly from the seller. Questions such as, “Why doesn’t the rear left power window work?” or “Why is there a nine-year gap in the service history?” The answers to these questions need to be written down so that they are not forgotten, especially if you are looking at several cars at the same time. This can also be very beneficial if the owner has asked their spouse or friend to show you the vehicle. The person showing the car may not be able to answer your questions, but if you write them down, the seller can maybe answer them later. You need to have any and all questions answered before you make a purchase, or you may find unexpected surprises or have buyer’s remorse.

4. Small Telescopic Mirror

These telescopic mirrors can extend a good two to three feet into small spaces that you won’t fit in. Using the suggested pen light to reflect light into those areas you can look under the car, in the wheel wells, or deep into the engine bay. They work great to get a good view of any possible engine leaks, rusted brake lines or floor pan rust. In a worst-case scenario, you can use the mirror to show the seller what you have found during your negotiating.

5. A Family Member or Friend

Do you have a friend or family member that has good mechanical aptitude? They don’t necessarily need to be a mechanic, but perhaps they have some knowledge about car mechanics? If so, bring them along! They can be a second set of eyes looking over the vehicle for possible issues. This person could help identify potential issues, determine the severity of possible damage and maybe even help estimate repair costs — again, possibly saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the end.

As simple as these five items seem, they are in fact crucial. I would not be caught dead examining a vehicle without them. At my repair shop, at least two to three times a week, customers ask me what to bring along on a vehicle examination. I can’t tell them if one specific vehicle is good without seeing it in person, but I always tell them they must take these five things with them when they view it. If you are a car enthusiast like me and purchase numerous cars each year, following these suggestions will save you money and help you evade potentially disastrous purchases. You can thank me in the comments section later.  Find a Used Car for sale

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  1. Something else to consider, when looking at buying a used car. Avoid “falling in love.” I have found that at times we think about enjoying the car so much we overlook mechanical issues that are obvious when inspecting. I always try to bring a friend and have them keep me grounded in reality. 

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