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How to Buy a Used Car,

Especially in the State of Illinois

There is a difference between a car in good repair vs. one that is well-maintained
But B4U-BUY, know these tips

  1. The most important thing to know is that Illinois is a “Buyer Beware” state; that means you are responsible for what you have purchased!  This is the second-largest purchase you will make, and a bad buy can be devastating.
  2. Pick popular.  The more popular a vehicle is, the more likely that parts are easy to obtain used, new or aftermarket (meaning another manufacturer is making a similar part).  Also, it’s easier to find repair and service information.  Cars have become complex, and the information and specialty tools are just as complex.
  3. Research websites such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds for values and general ratings.  The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) tries to track and prevent the unknowing sale of flood-damaged vehicles.  When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, we heard that truckloads of flooded vehicles were shipped to other states to be dried out, cleaned up, retitled and sold to unsuspecting buyers.  You need to know that of all the states that are participating in the NMVTIS program at some level, only one state does not participate at all. Want to guess what state that is… http://www.nmvtis.gov/NMVTIS_Map.pdf
  4. Beware of Carfax and Autocheck.  They can only report what has been made public or they have been told.  We often find evidence of body work that was never reported.  Try tip #5 first.
  5. Google the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number found at the base of the driver’s side windshield.  We are often surprised by what we find when we do a possible purchase inspection.  (I was inspecting a vehicle for a possible purchase, and while Googling the VIN, I found that it had been "For Sale" for 19 months between 5 different car lots.  How is that possible?  Keep in mind that if a car lot hasn’t sold a car within 90 days they will usually trade it off to another lot, so as to keep their lot looking like everything sells.)  Buying a used vehicle is very risky business, especially in Illinois.  Make sure you always involve a professional.  Just like a house, it should be inspected because beauty is only skin deep.
  6. The walkaround.  Walk around the vehicle, and verify that all four tires are the same brand and size; that the paint and body panels look even and clear; and that the glass is clean and free of major chips and cracks (small cracks will grow into large cracks).  Open the trunk and smell the inside for musty odors (leaking trunk or rear window seals).  Sit in the back seat; it gives you a whole new perspective.  Leave what’s under the hood to a professional, but make sure you can pop the hood and get it open on your own.
  7. The test drive.  Before starting the engine, turn off the radio.  Now listen to the engine while you start it.  Do this a couple of times; starts don’t always act up every time.  Listen to the vehicle as you place it in gear and drive backward and forward.  Have someone watch the tailpipe for smoke when first started and when revving the engine a little.  Operate all buttons and switches; listen to window, seat and sun roof motors.  Do all windows go down and back up?  Does the blower motor have all speeds, and does the air switch from floor to vent to defroster?  Notice any odors?  Hear and whistling?  All this information can be helpful to your technician when he examines your vehicle because he has only a small window of opportunity to look over your vehicle.
  8. Involve a professional.  Beauty is only skin deep, and car lots have a great deal of experience in curb appeal.  But the true story lies underneath.  No one can tell you how long it will last and whether or not the transmission or engine will last.  What we are looking for is evidence of past care.  Was it well-maintained or ignored?  Was it repaired correctly or were shortcuts taken?  Its state of health at this point in time will dictate its future reliability.   You should get a detailed inspection report and a list of current issues.  We also provide a reliability report from a specialized website.
  9. A must do!  The State of Illinois requires an official scan of the OBDII Emissions Test (the onboard computer runs the test and has verified that the vehicle has passed – 1996 and newer).  However, unlike Missouri that requires it tested and verified before licensing, Illinois does not.  This is where most buyers get tripped up.  The “Check Engine Light” is out, so therefore there is no problem.  Right?  WRONG!  Many times the car lot or previous owner will reset the light to clear the code.  Until the vehicle has been driven for a while to run its emissions tests, it will not have the light on.  After the new owner drives around for a while after buying it, the light comes on.   Have a professional verify that all the emission monitors have run, passed and no pending codes have been set.
  10. Here is another key tip.  Make sure you get 2 sets of keys and fobs with that used car deal.  Some of the computer chip keys go as high as $300!  Now take only 1 set of the keys to the car at a time and use the key to lock and unlock the door (many locks don’t mechanically work), start the engine and then lock and unlock the door with the key fob.  Go get the other set and repeat the above process.  Why not both sets together?  Because many computers will recognize a key with a security chip nearby and allow a blank key to start the vehicle.  You don’t want to get home to find out one set of keys is a fake.

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