Used Car Reliability - my take

Concerned about used car reliability? Who isn't, even the people driving their "used" cars are concerned about reliability, and they don't even have the slightest interest in selling them to you or anyone else.

My 2001 Saturn is used, it's used to the tune of 181,000 miles, and I'm concerned about its reliability because I depend on it to get me from one place to the other - sometimes 1,000 miles at a time.

The key to satisfying our interest in reliability is to know something about vehicle failures, and to distinguish between used cars and abused cars when we're in the market for another vehicle, and we just don't want to pay the price for a new one.

I don't expect anyone to be good at understanding all of the possible failures that a vehicle might experience. There are so many to consider. Some are predictable, and others are rare occurrences. The best we can hope for is to buy a used car with our eyes open to the potential for problems.

If you're expecting to buy a used car that will never have any problems, then perhaps you're demanding too much in a world where things can and do go wrong. Nevertheless, a well care for vehicle is surprisingly reliable, considering the many hundreds of moving parts associated with even the most simple designs.

The key to our used car reliability is to know when a vehicle is used versus one that has been abused. And, it reliability also hinges on our ability to spot trouble brewing, even if the car has been well cared for. My hope is that my used car checklists will help you in having your own "crystal ball" with respect to spotting potential car trouble.

Now, let's first focus on determining when a used car has been abused. In the absence of that, we should assume some level of used car reliability, unless there are "other factors" that cause us to place it in doubt. Those "other factors" will be the second of this used car reliability discussion.

Determining Used versus Abused

Here is what I look for to help make a judgment about used car reliability, regardless of what I'm looking to buy.

Type of service it has seen. Highway miles are much more kind to a car than city miles. Long hauls are better than short trips. Look at miles, body condition, driver seat wear, and age of the car. Those are hints as to the type of service it has seen.

Maintenance records. If an individual has taken good care of the car, there is bound to be a record of maintenance, even if it was serviced by the owner.

General condition. A neglected vehicle will often show it's neglect on the outside as well as the inside. If you're looking at a car at someone's home, you can get an idea of how well they care for other things they have. Just take a look around.

Reason for getting rid of the car. There should be a good reason for selling the car. If the reasoning isn't plausible, I'd be suspicious and look harder for the reason they're trying to sell the vehicle.

Willingness to answer questions. Any person who would like to sell their car and not have "come backs" will be open to answering questions about its condition. If you doubt the veracity of the answers or sense unwillingness to discuss it, then consider the source as unreliable. I'd also assign that vehicle a score of "questionable" with respect to used car reliability.

The rest of the factors that will help you determine whether the car has been used or abused can be found in my checklists for examining and road testing a vehicle. Follow these links to checklists for examining:

Other Factors

Here come those other factors that might cast doubt on used car reliability.

Independent reports about used car reliability. These can usually be found at Consumers Reports, either on the web or in print version. Typically, they have a good handle on vehicle reliability issues.

Your own experience. Trust your instincts. If you see or hear something that makes you twinge a bit, then investigate further. If you're not satisfied, then walk away.

The experience of others. No one can guarantee used car reliability, but sometimes the experience of others can help suggest how reliable a used car might be. Find someone who knows vehicles, especially someone with experience with car repair. Find someone who has owned a similar vehicle and see what they have to say.

My view is that used cars are generally reliable. The ones that aren't will likely give you an indication up front with funny noises, a "feel" that isn't just right, or the owner will give you the creeps or an add feeling. There are plenty of good used cars out there and you shouldn't be overly concerned about finding one.

Women in particular will pay a much higher price to have the feeling that their vehicle is reliable. Toughen up ladies and take a chance - an educated chance - with a used vehicle. Use my checklists for inspecting a used car. They should help you weed out the lemons. And get a friend to help you as well. After a while you'll feel more comfortable at forecasting used car reliability just by what you see, hear, feel and sense.

No one should feel compelled to buy a high-priced new vehicle (or used one) just to get a feeling of having purchased something that is reliable. Within reason, you should be able to determine used car reliability on your own.

Done with Used Car Reliability, take me back to Buying Used Cars

There certainly is a broad scope of topics here at Frugal Living Freedom. When you think about it, money permeates so very many activities in our lives, therefore, being frugal encompasses a wide range of interests, from being employed to taking a vacation, and just about everything in between. Enjoy the variety, pick up some new ideas, and start making frugality a part of your signature.

I'm a big proponent of being debt-free, and I mean entirely debt-free - no mortgage payment. It's not essential for financial freedom, but you'll love the feeling once you get there. If you didn't have a rent or mortgage payment, how much more could you do for yourself with your current level of income? I suspect plenty.

If you ever hope to see an abundance of wealth, you need to plug the hole in your boat. The wealthy don't necessarily make lots of money, instead, they know how to hang onto what they make, and make it work for them.