Is it worth getting a mechanic look at a used car before you buy it?
That you should do this is the theme song of the judge on The People's
Court and maybe others.
It seems to me that the only tests really worth running are the "exhaust
gas in coolant" test. Is there a way to do that oneself?
And maybe the compression test? Which I could do myself but I think
the seller would object to it if he was there to watch, as he woudl be.
But he woudlnt' ojbect if it were done at my menchanic's. But now I'm
too old to bother and would just go by how the engine sounds and runs.
What I do before I buy the car is drive it, pay attention to how the
automatic trnasmission shiffs up from first to second, and so on, that's
normally quiet and smooth, and how it shifts down when, at reasonable
speeds, I move the shift lever down.
I let go of the steering wheel to see that it goes straight ahead,
allowing for any crown in the road. (although if didn't go straight
ahead, I'd figure the odds are very high an alignment will fix that)
And I look for bad wear on the tires, from bad camber or caster, toe
pointing, little feathery edges on the tread, etc. Improper inflation
is bad too, but it just requires proper inflation, it's llike the old
tires will never get right 100%, and at worst new rims.
I check to see if it has enough pep, and a high enough maximum. Once I
test drove a car that just would not go above 65. Even though that's
the limit, a car that works right should go a lot faster
I used to put my finger in the exhaust pipe to check for poor
combustion, but I"m told catalytic converters usually leave that area
clean, even if the car has got poor compustion (and poor combusiton if
it actuallyl has it, is likely to be harder to fix than the odds were
I look only at cars that have good bodies and good interiors because
body work and upholstery are expensive and I can't come close to doing
it myself. I only buy high end models of American convertibles, and
the only thing wrong with that is that many have automatic AC.
And I test all the lights and accessories, including the cruise, the
heat, the AC, every feature of the radio, not because I wont' buy the
car, but for price negotiation. in 6 cars, nothing has ever been bad,
And then I allow 1000 (in the past) and now 2000 for repairs after I buy
I don't ask questions of the seller, in part because I don't want to
cause him to turn into a liar, but more because I don't want to be angry
at someone if I find out later he was lying. It's better if he just
doesn't tell me anything.**
I don't see any point in looking at the brakes, beyond what you can see
through the rims. If you find out later you need pads, get them.
OTOH, getting a mechanic requires some sort of plates for a car that no
longer has them, and that seems like an enormous problem.
And you need an appointment, and you have to hope he's not interrrupted
and you spend all day there.
And how much they charge depends. When I blew an engine in N.
Carolina, the only covertiible I could find for sale the first day
within 50 miles was a wreck, a red ford mustang, but lots of things
wrong with it. Someone had recommended a mechanic, only 1/4 mile from
my motel it turned out, and I asked him, How much to inspect that car?
And he said, "It depends on what you want me to check". And of course
it does. He didn't seem eager for the job. We never got to prices.
He didnn't seem to think it was worth it, imo. (I had arrived in my
nice looking LeBaron, and asked him how much to fix that. The first
thing he did was check if there was exhaust in the coolant, and there
was, and he said it probably wasn't worth fixing. He didn't even
charge me for the test, even knowing I was from out of town and he had
but one chance to make money off of me. IOW, an honest guy.)
My impression has been that just as a doctor can give you clean bill of
health at your annual physica, and then you drop dead tomorrow.
In fact I've read that too many people get an annual physical and treat
it like a year's guarantee. So when they start having symptoms int he
middle of the year, they figure it couldn't be anything because they're
still under warranty. My own mother started having a symptom
only two months after her checkup, and it took her an extra two weeks to
decide to see the doctor. Only two weeks and they cut it out and she
was fine, but if she'd waited 10 months, maybe very different story.
So, is it worth getting a mechanic to look at it, or
Only one car out of 7 has needed more than 100 in the first two
years, and that one, if I'd paid more attention, I should have noticed
did not shift to high gear (3rd or 4th) but my current car had a broken
exhaust pipe and made a tremendous racket, and this one was so quiet by
comparison. But even if I had noticed, it was the nadir of convertible
availablity, about 1979, and I'd called Car-Match, an early version of
computer shopping, in at least 15 counties holding at least 12 million
people, and this was the ONLY car I was interested in. So I woudl have
bought it anyhow. And I was glad I did. The transmsision repair was
almost 1000 but it lasted 6 years and about 100,000 miles.
*The car in the footnote above, in 1979, I don't think I asked
anything, but he volunteered that he was selling the car for his son,
who moved to Kansas and didn't need a car there. Huh! Years later it
occurred to me that maybe his new job provided a company car, but he
didnt' say that. He also said, and I wish I remembered if this was
before or after I bought it, that t he cow magnet taped to the gas line
in the engine compartment was there to increase gas mileage. Let me
tell you, it didn't work, and mileage was terrible, but like I say, I'd
looked in 15 counties with 12 million people. I could have gone home
to my mother's and looked there, but a) I had no car to get there except
the one with no exhaust. b) that would only be another 400,000 people.
How much could that help. Hmmm. I could have had her look, then taken
the bus there (2 hours) if she found stuff, then borrowed her car to go
shopping. I wish I could have shared more stuff with her but if I told
her in advance I needed a car, she'd have bought me a non-convertible
and registered it in my name. Maybe.