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The Risk-Free Used Car

Summary:
Should you even consider buying a used car that’s not “warranted” or “certified/pre-owned” (CPO)? Many people won’t – because we live at a time when people have been conditioned to dread risk, however remote – and it’s not an accident. Because it’s very profitable to sell “warranted” and “certified pre-owned” (CPO) cars. There is no free lunch. People who buy “warranted” and “CPO” cars are paying for the warranty and CPO certification – which doesn’t eliminate the risk of paying for repairs, either. These warranties and certifications will cover some things – for some time. But not all things – and not forever. The actuaries behind the warranties and certifications aren’t innumerate. They run the numbers. The warranties and

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Should you even consider buying a used car that’s not “warranted” or “certified/pre-owned” (CPO)?

Many people won’t – because we live at a time when people have been conditioned to dread risk, however remote – and it’s not an accident. Because it’s very profitable to sell “warranted” and “certified pre-owned” (CPO) cars.

There is no free lunch.

People who buy “warranted” and “CPO” cars are paying for the warranty and CPO certification – which doesn’t eliminate the risk of paying for repairs, either. These warranties and certifications will cover some things – for some time. But not all things – and not forever.

The actuaries behind the warranties and certifications aren’t innumerate. They run the numbers. The warranties and certifications – and the price of the warranted and certified cars – is based in part on the likelihood of having to pay out for a “covered” repair.

It is not a high likelihood. The odds always favor the house.

Of course, a compounding problem is that cars have become so forbiddingly complex that most people are out of their depth dealing with anything beyond basic fluid and filter changes. And repairs can be expensive, especially if they involve major items like the transmission or HVAC system or anything electronic.

That said, a little due diligence goes a long way. You do not need to be a mechanical engineer or even a professional mechanic to get a good intuitive sense of a vehicle’s general condition. The same rules of evaluation apply today that applied 30 or even 50 years ago:

Does it start easily and run/drive smoothly?

The engine should not make “funny” noises. No clicking, clattering or knocking sounds. No visible smoke at start-up and especially during off-throttle deceleration. Have a friend in another car drive behind you to check for this. Find a downhill stretch and abruptly let off the gas; if your friend behind you sees blue smoke coming out of the exhaust, the car has problems.

Check the operation of all gauges and lights at start-up. Note any light – especially the “check engine” light – that doesn’t come on or doesn’t go off. It comes on and stays on, there is a trouble code stored in the computer and you need to find out what it is – and what it cost to deal with it – before money changes hands. If the “check engine” light doesn’t come on at start-up, it may have been disabled to hide a problem.

The engine should reach normal operating temperature within a few minutes of start-up. Engine temperature and oil pressure should stabilize in the middle area of the gauges. Be wary of any gauge reading that is high or low or fluctuating. It might be a bad sending unit or the gauge itself.

It might be something worse.

The transmission should engage quietly and shift smoothly through all gears (don’t forget reverse). Any sensation of “slipping” is a bad sensation.

Eric Peters
Eric Peters is a freelance car/bike/political columnist. He escaped the corporate-owned media Big Boys years ago. Without the censorship of the corporate tools

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