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How to Buy a Used Car or Truck From a Private Seller Car Buying Tips From Sue

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Created on: 2021-08-08

Sue shows you her top used car buying tips so that you can avoid hidden problems that can cost you time and money!

Hi, I'm Sue from 1A Auto and I wanna share with you the knowledge I have about buying used cars.

So I sure hope this guy's there. This is the address he gave me. It's kind of out here in the middle of nowhere. I'm glad you're with me. Oh yeah, there he is. Far away doesn't look bad for $1,000. Nice paint job. So this is the 99 Camry?


See a little custom paint job there, everywhere kinda. Dude, it's an Avalon, not a Camry.

Yeah. Camry Avalon.

So whose car was this?

Oh, it's my mother's car. She, you know, just drove it to the grocery store, hairdresser a couple times. You know, real low miles. Easy on it.

Smells kinda musty. Did it take on any water?



No. Nice and dry inside.

So any like major mechanical problems that you've done to this or?

No. No, it runs great. Just regular, you know, oil changes. It's not like she's taking it racing or gone off any jumps or anything.

Hey, can we hear it start?

Yeah, sure.

Or run.


Hopefully, it runs.

Here. Hold this for me for a second. We just gotta prop the hood open. Jump it.

Oh, looks like it might have had a fire at one point.

Yeah. It did. Yeah. Just stick that right there. Hold it up. Cool. We just gotta jump it real quick. That's all.

Do the positive first, but that's okay.

Well, they both go to the same place.

All joking aside, guys, let me just talk to you about purchasing a car aftermarket private sale. When you don't have a lift, you don't have access to lifting the car up. What you wanna look for? I've been doing this for many years and I have purchased hundreds of cars, not all for myself, and I just do it at ease. Go with your gut feeling. If you don't like what you're looking at, then don't buy it because you're never gonna be happy.

Do your homework. If you know what kind of vehicle you're looking for or what you've seen and you're gonna go look at it, make sure you have the mileage available and you could punch in like Kelly Blue Book Values. It's free to you. It's free to anyone. NADA is now free online. You don't have to be a registered dealer. That gives you kind of a more accurate price of what the deal is looking at and it would give you private sale, wholesale, retail, trade-in value. So you get the mileage. You need the mileage for that though. So if you can do that, put the mileage in before you go look at the car, then you'll know what you're looking at.

Like this car right here, say someone was looking to sell it for like three grand, and I punch in this Cobalt and I'm like, "Well, it's got kind of high mileage. It's almost 200,000." And I get here. They said decent shape, but look at that body damage. I'm not a body person. I don't like doing bodywork. It's not fun for me. I have to pay someone to do it, or I have to really make myself do it. It's like painting, I'm not into it.

So this car far as book value goes, it's not in great shape. This is what we call fair shape in the bottom of the line with that body like that. So you wanna grab tires if you can have access. Have them turn the wheel, start it up and turn the wheel out for you. And you can look at the tread. You wanna look for dry rod. You have to replace that tire if it has dry rod in it.

So I also like to look at the dates of tires when they were made right on the tire side where it will say DOT, couple of numbers. You're looking for those four digits at the very end. This one is 1719. It's actually the 17th week of 2019 is when this tire was manufactured and it's 2021 right now. So I already know, "Well, this tire's got a couple years on it." So is it gonna be good under pressure on the highway with heat? It's not the greatest. So I gotta put that in my mind that I'm gonna buy tires for this car.

Also grab the front tire on both sides, not just one side, and grab it firmly at three and nine and turn it inside out like this back and forth. I'm looking for worn-out tire rod ends. If they're wasted, you're gonna get movement right there. Zero movement is what we're looking for. Zero tolerance. As soon as you can, look in the engine bay. We wanna look at what kind of maintenance might have been done to this. Check your fluid levels with it not running, check your oils, pull that oil dipstick out. And what we're looking for is hopefully clean oil, something in a good level. Make sure it's not running.

The guy maybe hasn't turned it on or the woman. They haven't started it up. Maybe it's at their house. That's better for you. You wanna start it after you look at all the fluids. Fluid is right where it should be. It's a little low and the smell. You're not gonna really smell anything on oil because either it's gasoline, which will make this oil all black or it's gonna be creamy color, which means it's coolant in the engine, which you don't want. So the smell is really gonna be on the automatic transmission fluid because you don't want a burnt smell.

Unfortunately, on this particular car, there is no dipstick, which is extremely common nowadays. They don't have dipsticks. So you really are gonna rely on that road test, how it feels, how it shifts and you'll know, you'll feel it. Check your coolant. You wanna check that overflow tank if it has one and make sure it's at the proper level, it's right there. Wash your tank. I'm not too worried about it, but you wanna make sure it has some fluid in it that tells you that the reservoir doesn't have a crack in it.

Master cylinder, this is really important. It's one of the most neglected parts on a car, is brake fluid, but easily fixed. You can always do a brake flush at home easily and not worry about it, but it's full, so that's a good thing. But I'm gonna check the brakes out when I get to go for a ride in it. Now, if it's something you're really interested in, you've already looked at the body, you've looked at the interior and you think, "I really wanna buy this car," don't hesitate to now go deeper into it. Ask them if you can take the engine cover off because you wanna look at the engine, right? You wanna see if there's any major leaks.

You wanna see if the valve cover is pouring. You can see access to the oil filter on this particular engine, a little four cylinder, and you're just looking for delinquent care, meaning they don't look like they cared too much. But this one is in great shape, I have to say. Don't forget, don't hesitate to borrow a code reader or go to your local...the retailer store that sells them for under $50. And you're not looking to repair a car. You're just looking to read the codes and the key thing you want, obviously, the engine light should not be on because they're gonna tell you, "Oh, the engine light is on," or the engine light's not on, but put the code reader in and you want to check out monitor, readiness monitor. That means that if I cleared it right before you were coming and you put that in there, it's gonna say that there's no monitors ready.

That means that someone's either disconnected the battery for a long time or cleared the codes because they don't want you to know it has an engine light. And don't be scared. Get a little dirty, will you? Check underneath. Let's see if there's any oil drippings. Coolant, none. Looks good. Also, you give it a little bounce. Just give it a couple bounces. If it doesn't move, like if you go like it's done, it's frozen, oh, you might find a broken spring. And that leads to a whole strut assembly, which is an easy fix. But you might not be able to drive it.

Also take a look, make sure there's no critters living there. Put your hand up and run your hand along that spring, which is in that strut assembly. And if it's broken, you'll feel it. You're not gonna hurt yourself because it's not moving. Don't forget, run your hands down as far as you can and get down on your belly, crawl around like reptile. We wanna look at structural rust, something that's gonna stop us from a state inspection or our safety also.

So now we're in the trunk, spare's there, jack's there. Everything's kind of dancing around. It's not laid down tight. This is a battery. Hey, guess what? That's a brand new battery. I wonder why. Hopefully, that alternator is putting out. So when we set it up, if there's no alternative light on, or battery light, shall I say, should be okay. Could have electrical draw. I'd ask the history personally about that. But look at the moisture we got here forming. That means that some way somehow, moisture is getting in this trunk. It's not pouring in here, but it's in here.

So now you really like the car, you really are thinking about buying it. So now you're gonna go for road test. If it is on the side of the road, it's private sale, that's where you're getting into a tight situation. Either the person selling it is gonna say, "You can't drive my car, but I'll drive it for you." They should be willing to drive it for you with you in the car so you can hear noises, hear the brakes. You're not gonna actually feel the pedal, but you could start it up in the state and feel the brake pedal. You wanna feel a firm pedal and keep your foot on it. Even if you're talking to the person, chat away pressure. And if that slowly goes down, then you got a brake problem.

Put it in gear. See if you can just sit in gear. Feel how it feels. If it slams into park and I mean drive and slams into reverse, could have motor mount problems or you could have a transmission problem, but now we're gonna go for a road test in which you wanna listen to. If you're lucky enough to drive it, great. If you're not, get in the passenger seat and hopefully you have someone with you, they can ride in the back.

So now on your road test, you can look at it generally before you took off and look at the rotors and see if it's rested, surface rush is what we call. So if they have a surface rust means it's been sitting there for a while. That's another way of setting a flag off. Why has it been sitting so long? And you're gonna hear a lot of hush sound when you apply the brakes. Hear that? Yeah. But my brake pedal's pulsating too. That's not something that's gonna go away with eventual time. You need to replace those rotors. Then that means you're gonna do the pads also.

Don't forget something that's overlooked a lot is the restraints. I have no airbag light on, I have no SRS light, but while I'm driving, I'm gonna... What's happening? There it is. That's kind of hesitant, isn't it? And there it is again, that took a lot. Do I want that? If my loved one is driving this car or myself, I don't wanna be hurt. So there's another thing on the checklist. Do donuts. Find a parking lot, some place safe, do sharp donuts. And let's hear the suspension. We can hear whether we've got some creaking, some clacking from the CV axles, go both ways so you can see if it goes left or right.

Now let's do the obvious. Some people overlook it because you get so excited, right? But you overlook things like blower motor. That's kind of noisy. But at the same time, this is a lower end model of a Cobalt. So we're not getting Escalade package here. Check for heat, make sure you get heat and then check it in all forms. This says AC. So we're gonna check that next. Put it under frost. Make sure it comes out the top. Make sure it's coming out the feet and the top. Now, we're gonna turn it to cold air without the AC and let's make sure it turns to the temperature outside. That tells me that that module is not stuck on heat inside the heater box. And then I'm gonna put the AC on. I just heard the AC compressor click on, which is awesome.

So when you do go to look at a car, it's a great idea to practice bringing what we call our meat thermometer. This just happens to be an AC heating thermometer for a mechanic. Put it in the vent, set it up. Turn that blower on with the AC on. Let's see what the max temperature comes down to. So the best way once you hit max for AC service will be with the windows up in the car so it has a re-circulating air to come back around.

So another quick note is basically if you have a car that has AC and you're looking at it and it has electric fan to cool the engine, if it's only one fan, well, both fans should come on when you put the AC on, but just, you know, turn the AC on like you're gonna and then listen to the engine compartment. See if you hear that fan come on. If you do, all circuits are good.

So let's do a recap. Private sale, right? You wanna try to go during the daylight that way you can get a good visual of the car. You can actually see underneath it clearly. You don't have to use a headlight and flashlight. Bring somebody with you. You don't want, "Hey yeah, meet me at the lot, back lot, blah blah, blah," because it's kind of sketchy, right? I don't care if you're 6'7", that's not safe.

Next, do your homework on that car. It's free to you. Easy access, Kelly Blue Book or NADA VIN look up. That's where I punch in. Every time I need to do a VIN number check, I just go VIN ID or VIN look up, put your whole VIN number in that website. There's 17 characters in a VIN number. All 17 characters, and it will give you free information about the history of that car. It's pretty cool. It tells you whether there's been accidents, how many accidents, how many recalls, TSBs, and if they've been done, and how many times that car has been sold. That's kind of cool information I think.

And then last but not least, see if you can get your hands on just a code reader. They're inexpensive. If you can't buy one or you don't wanna buy one, I'm sure someone you know down the line has one. And what you're looking for is monitor-ready. That's what you wanna look for because if they cleared that because it had engine codes, it's gonna say not ready, not ready, not ready. That means there's something fishy going on.

So now you really wanna buy the car. Congratulations. You're serious about it. Make sure you get a bill of sale. That's also for the seller. If you're selling it, make a bill of sale. I don't care if there's a title involved. This is how you can write them out real easy. I, the name of the person that's selling the car, put the year, make, and model, put all 17 digits of that VIN number unless it's an antique with the exact mileage on it at the time. And you wanna put for the sum of, whatever it may be, $1,500. Key wording here, if you are the seller, as is, as seen. That means they can't come back at you three months, six months down the road. You're selling it to Robert Smith on the day of, in the day, then you get the seller, the buyer, and a witness. So there's somebody there. If not, who cares?

One last quick note, if you're selling the car, do not sell it to anyone under 18. That is a legal contract binding to a minor. And I'm not a lawyer, so don't give me all the riff-raff down below at the comments. But I can tell you that's not good at the end result if they want their money back. So I hope you enjoyed this video as much as we enjoyed making it. And don't forget to keep your eye out for cars that seem too good to be true. Like the Lenster car here. We have fun with it, but invest your money well. If you're not a subscriber, please subscribe. Don't forget to ring that bell because then it turns on all your notifications and you won't miss a future video.

Man, I'm never gonna sell this thing. Oh, my coffee. Hi, cut.

Take 28.

All right. And we'll just leave the cup there for next time.

Yeah. Get out of here.

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