In today’s economy it’s important to keep your automobile expenses as low as possible. Higher gas prices make us more cautious about taking unnecessary trips. We shop for the best insurance rates. Many people consider buying used cars instead of new ones – but there’s always a fear factor involved because most of us are not mechanics. We worry about being taken for a ride, so to speak.
Mechanic Joe Boulay encounters that situation frequently. He’s been a mechanic since 1985 and achieved an ASE Master Technician Certification and Honda’s Platinum designation. He keeps customer’s vehicles running into the six-figure mileage range.
Joe knows the challenges of locating, buying and maintaining a reliable used car. He shared his expertise recently by publishing a book on the subject called If That Car Could Talk: How to Locate and Maintain a Good Used Car. The book is easy to read, has useful pictures to illustrate points, and offers a truckload of useful information.
I had the chance to discuss the book with the author.
What experience do you have that makes you an authority on used vehicles?
I have been maintaining and repairing automobiles since 1985. While working at a Honda dealership I achieved Platinum level status and ASE Master Technician status. Part of my job description was to perform pre delivery inspections on new Honda automobiles. I basically had to find problems on new cars and correct them before the car was put on the lot to be sold. Finding problems with used cars is even easier.
Why should people want used cars instead of new ones?
Used cars in most cases can be more affordable for most people. If someone wants a brand new car, but are unable to afford financing for a 3 year period, it is in their best interest to purchase the same basic model of vehicle that is a couple of years old. This way they get the car they want for less money, and save on the financing.
How can buyers overcome the fear of inheriting the prior owner’s problems?
The buyer should try to search for a vehicle that has service and repair records to go with it. Actually being able to talk to and buy the used vehicle directly from the previous owner is a plus. The buyer should research the said vehicles track record for reliability.
What sneaky ways do some sellers try to trick buyers, and how do you spot them?
They hide problems from buyers. Look at the picture in Chapter 5 on how to notice collision work. See the first picture on page 54? The car has rust problems and the owner tried to hand-paint over it. He even painted over the pinstripe. Also rubberized undercoating can be sprayed underneath the wheel wells and on the frame to cover up rust. Bulbs for warning lights can be removed. Thicker engine oil can be added to silence a noisy engine. Heavy deodorizers can be used to temporarily remove a permanent odor in car such as pet odor or cigarette smell. You have to know the warning signs to watch for that say “this car has some hidden problems.”
What are the three most common issues people encounter when buying a used car?
The first one is they have trouble finding a trustworthy source to purchase a well taken care of car from. They don’t get all the service records or do their research on the car. The second one is not looking for or finding a vehicle that suits their needs. They over-buy. The third problem is letting emotions guide the process instead of careful thought. They need to do some research to about the vehicle they are about to purchase beyond just the condition of the car. They should find out what is going to cost to register, insure, and maintain the vehicle properly. A lot of people don’t get all the information before they buy.
Which makes and models of car tend to have the fewest problems?
Almost any makes and model of used vehicle can be reliable. Proper maintenance can mean more than brand. If you’re worried about a particular car it’s easy to look it up online, ask friends who own them, that kind of thing. I can tell you about mechanical problems but you’ll get lots more feedback from your group of friends and family about what it’s like to own a car from the driver’s perspective.
Is there a checklist of things people should find out about a used car before buying it?
Well, I have a checklist I use. It’s in the book starting on page 150. It includes things to look for, listen for, and research about the vehicle. It also talks about decision making ideas. It’s important to have a checklist, but it’s just as important to stick to it. Remember what I said about emotions running the show? If you let yourself fall in love with a car before you do all the evaluation work you might skip steps, gloss over problems and such. Once you have your list you should stick to it.
Do you have to maintain a used car differently from a new car?
I suggest when you purchase a used or new vehicle you should change all the fluids and filters just to be cautious. Check the owner’s manual, which the original owner should be able to give you. If he doesn’t, get it from the dealer. You can sometimes download them. Look for the section about maintenance for severe conditions and follow it. It might be a little stricter than when you buy a new car, but it will help keep a used car running for a long time.
What are the top three most important maintenance points for a car?
Engine oil is the biggest one. If you have a vehicle with lower mileage I recommend that you use synthetic oil to start with, especially if the engine has a turbo charger. Synthetic oil will help your engine run cooler and last longer.
Tires and tire pressure is also important. Buy yourself a tire gauge and check your tire pressures often during the morning before you drive the car. Your tires are one of the most important things between you and the road. Don’t ignore them. Buy good tires and don’t be shy about replacing them when necessary.
All the other fluids and filters should be monitored and replaced before they get too dirty. A dirty engine air filter will not allow the engine to breathe and flow as it should. It will allow dirt to pass into your engine causing premature wear and damage. When fluids get too dirty they are unable to remove heat as they did when they were once new and clean, or otherwise do their jobs.
A lot of people don’t do their own maintenance. How do you find a good mechanic?
I suggest that you find a shop that the service manager will allow you to talk to your mechanic whenever you need to. Then you need to ask the service manager to introduce you to who they consider their best mechanic. Establish a good relationship with that mechanic. When you make your service appointments make sure that mechanic gets your car to service. Tip your mechanic from time to time especially around the holidays or when the mechanic has gone the extra mile to service or repair your vehicle properly. Ask your relatives or friends where they bring their vehicles for service sometimes word of mouth is best! Nobody is shy about telling their friends if a mechanic is great – or if he is terrible.
If you could teach people just one critical thing about buying a used car, what would it be?
Don’t purchase a used car out of desperation. Do your homework and be methodical in the process to find a good well maintained used car. Do not let emotions take over due to the shiny paint, wheels and stereo system! Make smart purchases and you’ll have a long and positive experience with the car.
If That Car Could Talk: How to Locate and Maintain a Good Used Car by Joe Boulay is available in soft-cover print and digital edition for Kindle at Amazon.com.