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Big Thompson Diesel and Automotive

Loveland and Northern Colorado's Diesel and Automotive Repair Specialists

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I am buying a used vehicle what should I do?
Many people come into our shop that have already bought a vehicle and find it is having problems once they get it home. These problems can sometimes cost a considerable amount of money to fix. Fortunately this is usually avoidable. I think many people that are trying to buy a used vehicle get overwhelmed easily and tend to make hasty decisions that they will usually come to regret later on. So what does Big Thompson Diesel and Automotive think is the best approach to buying a used vehicle?

Step one is to do research. If you are one of the lucky few that already knows the exact year, make, and model of the vehicle you want than you can skip this step. If you are not sure which one is right for you then the best thing you can do is spend some time researching the vehicles you are interested in. Make sure the vehicle you are looking at is going to do what you need and want. Look for things like consumer reports, ratings, complaints, recalls, and technical service bulletins for the vehicles you are interested in. You may find out here that the vehicle you were interested in is overall a really bad investment but one of the similar vehicles in its class has a lot better consumer ratings and overall customer satisfaction. Now that you have narrowed it down to a few models you like, ask a mechanic their opinion of them. They will have a good input on what is really failing and a general cost of the typical repairs that particular type of vehicle needs. This may help you narrow your search even more. Go for several test drives. Drive the vehicles objectively. Too often I do a pre buy inspection on a vehicle and when I get in the vehicle the radio is cranked all the way up and the ac is blasting at full speed. This is good to know if the ac works but it won’t help you to hear anything that may be wrong with the vehicle. Turn the radio off and pay attention to the vehicle. Does it feel like a car you can see yourself in, does it handle like you like it to, or does it feel too big or too small? Is it cramped feeling or is the storage adequate for your needs. So now that you have driven a vehicle, do not buy it yet!! This is where the customer usually feels overwhelmed because you have the pressure of the dealer trying to make the sale. You just fell in love with the car and your emotions are on a high. Take a step back and do not forget the rest of these important steps.

The Aftermarket warranty

Should you purchase an aftermarket warranty or not? I can only give you my opinion and the rest is up to you to decide. In my 20+ years of auto repair experience as a mechanic, shop foreman, and shop owner I have seen many more negatives than positives with aftermarket warranties. I believe, in theory, they are a good idea but in reality they never work the way they are promised to. In the hundreds of aftermarket warranty repair claims I have been part of submitting over the years there are only about 10-15% of the submissions actually get covered. They are not always as good as they sound. The dealer selling the car is going to try to pressure you into one. In my opinion you should not purchase one even though they will make it sound like you need one. If the aftermarket warranty company actually does pay for any repairs than it is a good deal. However, more often than not, it ends with the customer being disappointed that they bought the warranty and wishing they had saved their money.

So what is the next step and how can I assure I am getting a good deal? Do not buy the car yet! Make an appointment to get your car checked out by a professional. The best method for us to look at a vehicle is when it has sat overnight. This especially important for a diesel powered vehicle as they have a lot that has to be exactly right to start a cold engine but with all vehicles it can show things you may not have seen during you test drive. If you can let it sit overnight with us we test the vehicle at the coldest part of the day so we can catch any faults that may not occur when the engine is warm. We do understand if you can’t leave the vehicle overnight with us and we can still provide a very comprehensive test. When we start the vehicle cold, we are checking its cold start ability, batteries, injectors, how does the engine sound cold (does it knock or misfire). Then while it is still cold we drive the vehicle to check engine and transmission cold performance. We drive it through a complete warm up cycle to check the thermostat performance and cooling system performance. We are also checking to see how it feels on the road. Does it wander? How do the shocks and struts feel? We check brake and abs brake performance, heater and ac operation, drivetrain operation, 4×4 if applicable, lights horns and etc. We bring the vehicle into the shop and thoroughly check it over from top to bottom. We check belts, hoses, all fluids, see if anything is leaking, brakes, suspension, frame(for evidence of a crash or flood damage) and all visible aspects of the vehicle. We strive to provide a very thorough check of the vehicle as if it were our own. That being said, we only have the vehicle for about an hour or two. It can be difficult to find everything that could go wrong. However we can give you an impartial assumption of the vehicles previous life. We can assess what it will take to get the vehicle back to 100% by letting you know of repairs needed and any maintenance it has been missing out on. I will also give you my personal opinion as to if I would purchase the vehicle myself or not. Now you have a complete detailed comprehensive list of needed repairs with an estimate of the costs to fix what is needed so you can use this as a bargaining tool to take back to the seller.

Once you are serious about a particular vehicle you should do a Carfax on the vehicle. I do think Carfax is a good idea. Because of my experience, I suggest you purchase your own car fax or let us do it for you. I have my concerns about the Carfax reports that dealers tend to print for you. I’m not sure how they do it but they always seem to have a clean car fax. When you get one yourself or we get it for you than you know it is not doctored. With all Carfax reports the key is “what has been reported”. If accidents are not reported they will not be recorded. Usually what is reported is title changes, and insurance claims. It can be argued that not all flood damaged or crashed vehicles get reported. Also not all mechanical repairs are reported. There is really no system for mechanics to report to car fax what they have repaired. My advice for reading the Carfax is to look for frequent title changes or a one that has seen many dealers or auction sales with long gaps in owner registrations. These can be a BIG RED FLAG! This can mean there is something critically wrong with the vehicle. It may be due to an issue that is extremely expensive to fix, an issue that is random and very difficult to diagnose or someone is simply trying to cover something up. It bounces from dealer to dealer until someone purchases it as is. So be careful when analyzing the Carfax report. If anything looks unusual it probably is.

The bottom line is buying a car or truck can be a big purchase. In my opinion a small investment like a pre buy inspection and a Carfax report can shed a lot of light on a vehicles previous history. In many cases we can save you from inheriting someone else’s nightmare vehicle and potentially hundreds if not thousands of dollars on repairs on something you may not have seen in all of the excitement of looking for a vehicle. You should always proceed with skepticism, if something sounds too good to be true it more than likely is. We will offer a non-biased opinion and help you keep the emotions out of the process and get the most bang for your buck when purchasing a used vehicle.


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