Tips for Buying a Rental Car


Let’s face it, buying a car can be pretty painful.

Buying new means getting a car in pristine condition — at a pretty steep price. According to Kelley Blue Book, new cars can depreciate as much as 73 percent in the first three years. After that, depreciation moderates. New cars also come with higher registration and license fees.

Buying a used car raises the question of “has anything happened to this car in the time it’s been driven by somebody else that will make me regret buying it?” This is especially true if you’re thinking of buying from a private owner. You could try to find a quality pre-owned car from a dealership, but you’ll pay more and you’ll have to deal with the haggling process.

Another option to consider is buying a rental car from an agency. Once rental cars have a certain amount of miles on them, the companies put them up for sale. And if you look in the right place, you can get a great deal on a car in solid condition.

You should perform the same due diligence when buying a rental car as you would from a dealership or private seller. That means comparing the list price with the market value of the car for sale, inspecting the vehicle for its condition and obtaining a vehicle history report. Other considerations when buying a rental car from a rental agency include:

No price haggling!

You won’t be negotiating over price. Rental car companies have other options beside selling to you, namely back to the dealer they bought they car from. Also, because they are looking to refresh their inventory, they want to sell old stock as quickly as possible and have priced it accordingly.

Rental cars can be financed!

Financing and trade-ins may be available. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, you can obtain financing from a rental agency to purchase a vehicle. And you may also be able to trade in your current vehicle to go toward the cost of your new one. Research where financing is available and the possible terms.

Warranties are available!

Take advantage of what’s left on vehicle warranty. Rental agencies limit the use of vehicles to 18 to 24 months or 20,000 to 30,000 miles. That means when your buying a rental car that the original manufacturers’ warranties are often still valid. Ask the rental agency salesperson for the applicable warranty on the car you’re interested in buying. Some agencies also provide a limited powertrain warranty.

And maybe even additional incentives!

Look for additional incentives. Rental car sales divisions sometimes offer buyers added services like repurchase agreements if they decide they don’t want the car. You might also get the benefit of roadside assistance agreements and/or vehicle service contracts.

Used rental cars represent the “cream of the crop” and are often considered some of the best used autos on the market. While they are driven by multiple motorists, they receive much more care than the average consumer-owned used car.


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Buying a Used Car? 5 Questions to Ask the Owner


buying a used car

While it’s cheaper than purchasing a new car, buying a used car from a private owner carries some added risk. You don’t have the benefit of being the car’s first owner, so you might be taking on someone else’s problems or mistakes. You have less of an idea of the car’s condition, and in most cases, no warranty to protect you if something goes wrong the day after you bought it. If you are looking for a used car, it’s always a good idea to check out used rental cars that come with both warranties and full histories. But if you’re set on going through a private seller, we have five questions you should always ask when buying a used car!

1. How does it run?

Unless you’re foolish enough to consider buying a used car without a test drive, you’ll find out for yourself how it operates. So why ask? The way the seller answers the question could provide clues. If the seller hesitates or stumbles over the answer, he or she may not feel comfortable disclosing its actual condition. Also, if the owner says it runs great and you hear a lot of knocking during the test drive, it’s probably a good idea to walk away.

2. Why are you selling it?

If the seller provides a legitimate reason without thinking or hesitating, you can trust their motives more than if they nervously search for an response. This question may also help when it comes to negotiation, because you can gauge how motivated the seller is to get rid of the car.

3. Do you have service records?

If you want to increase the chances of buying a reliable used vehicle, find one in which the previous owner kept meticulous service records. How often was the oil changed, the tires rotated and the coolant flushed? Will the car soon be in need of new shocks, brakes or belts? An owner with this information recorded can provide a more accurate picture of the car’s condition–and also a little more peace of mind that he or she cared for it.

4. Has it ever been involved in an accident?

It’s almost never a good idea to buy a car that has been involved in a collision, because it will be prone to more problems. Even if the seller says no, have it checked out or look for signs that it’s been repaired, such as filler spots on the body, evidence of repainting and uneven body lines. A vehicle history report can also help you answer this question. If the seller tells you the car is accident free, and then you determine it’s been damaged and repaired, he or she is either untrustworthy or not knowledgeable about the car’s condition.

5. Does it have a clean title?

Again, don’t take the seller’s word that the car has a clean title. The seller should have the title in hand, and it should be in the seller’s name (unless they are selling it on behalf of an aging parent or similar circumstance). Not having a clean title can cause headaches when you go to register the car in your name.

Though you may not always get an honest answer, these five questions are designed to help you consider “how” the seller answered as much as what he or she actually said. If you ask these questions, and consider the responses carefully, you’ll feel more secure buying a used car!

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Am I a Good Candidate for an Electric Car?


Electric CarEvery time the price of gasoline skyrockets, many people have the same thought: I should buy an electric car, so I don’t have to worry about gas ever again! But as the case with many things in life, eliminating one problem raises others. Driving an electric car brings other concerns not associated with gas-powered automobiles.

Rather than listing the pros an cons of owning an electric vehicle, I think it’s more helpful to identify the characteristics of someone who may appreciate its benefits despite the downsides.

You use the car primarily for commuting to work and running errands. Electric vehicles are utilitarian. You typically won’t use them to take a nice Sunday drive through the country. Since most are compacts and sub-compacts, they are not great family cars (A few mid-sized sedans and SUVs exist, but they are considerably more pricey). With no cargo space and limited battery life, electric cars are not designed for long-range travel. (Although you always have the option of renting a car for travel purposes!)

You can afford the higher cost of ownership. Electric vehicles will cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 more than a similar gas powered car. The home docking station to recharge a Nissan Leaf costs $1,000 if you install it yourself and $2,000 to have it installed. Even though it’s cheaper than gas, electricity isn’t free. Charging from home will definitely increase your electric bill a few bucks each month. Public charging usually involves paying per kilowatt or getting a subscription. Some of these costs can be offset by savings on fuel and maintenance, and tax credits, but you’re still paying a premium upfront.

You have a good memory or plan your day well. If you forget to fill up with gas, chances are your warning light will turn on, and the next gas station will be right around the corner. At worst, if the car runs out on the road, you can walk or hitch a ride and bring back a gallon of gas to get you to nearest station.

But if your electric car’s battery is near empty, it may take several hours to fully charge it. Even charging just enough to travel 50 miles can take 20 to 25 minutes, far longer than it takes to top off a gas tank. Depending on where you live, recharging facilities are not always accessible, and you can’t carry around a can of electrons back from the charging facility if the battery dies on the highway! Depleting your car’s batteries can cause ‘range anxiety,’ or the fear of being stranded without enough juice to get home or to a charging station.

You live in the city. There are about 8,800 charging stations with a combined 21,600 public charging outlets in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of these are concentrated in major cities. Living in a rural area means you will be mostly dependent on a home charging system.

One more thing: the environmental argument

Some people like to drive electric cars because they believe they’re helping the planet. And they may be. For sure, they are reducing tailpipe emissions. However, unless you’re hooking up the car to an electric-generating wind turbine or solar panel farm, you’re still using a power source deriving from coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. On the other hand, electric vehicles use their energy more efficiently than gas-powered cars, and they do not require lubricants for engine parts that need replacing every few thousand miles. Whether electric vehicles are truly better for the environment has been debated ad nauseam, and it’s difficult to trust these reports given the politics involved.

The electric car market is still relatively new. But as it gains more acceptance, the sticker prices will come down, the number of charging stations will increase and more people will be able to benefit from owning one! Will you be joining the electric car movement?

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New Car Shopping? Five Questions to Ask Your Salesperson


new car

Do you know everything about that new car you’re about to buy?

In some ways, the process of buying a new car has never been easier. You can find the information you need to make an informed decision including projected resale values, safety ratings, expert reviews and customer opinions.

But there are some things about that car you can’t find on the Internet. Here are five questions you should be prepared to ask a salesperson before agreeing to buy a new car:

What is the TOTAL cost of this new car?

The sales price is just the beginning. Some of the fees you’ll pay are legitimate and required, such as transferring the car’s title, registration fees, vehicle inspection and state sales tax. But often dealerships include extras that increase the total vehicle cost unnecessarily. It’s up to you, the buyer, to determine if these add-ons are worth the extra cash. Examples include:

Dealer preparation. New cars should be ready to drive off the lot as soon as you sign the papers, but sometimes dealers like to add a few hundred dollars to “prepare” it, which in most cases merely involves washing and vacuuming. You can always take it to the car wash down the street and pay $10 if you want a spotless ride.

Paint and fabric protection. Dealers will pounce on your desire to keep your new ride looking new inside and out for as long as possible. Advancements in interior fabrics and paint quality make both options unnecessary and definitely not worth the extra charge.

Duplicate fees. Watch for items like delivery charges and advertising fees that manufacturers add to the invoice price. Dealers sometimes add these charges again to the final retail price charging you twice for the same item.

What are you willing to sell the car for?

Information is power in the negotiation process. At some point, either while you’re looking around the lot or going for a test drive, the salesperson will ask what your budget is or what you’re willing to spend.

Don’t tell him or her.

I repeat: Don’t answer.

One more time: Don’t give the dealer that information.

Instead, put the ball in their court. Ask the salesperson: What are you willing to sell me this car for? Hold out for an answer and use that as a negotiating position, rather than giving him or her the upper hand.

If the salesperson won’t give you his or her best price, feel free to walk away.

It may be a new car, but has it been damaged?

How can a brand new car become damaged before it’s ever owned? Let me count the ways!

  1. It may have left the factory with a defect.
  2. It was transported hundreds, even thousands, of miles from the factory to the lot by train or truck with little protection from road debris, outdoor elements or being jostled during shipping .
  3. It can get dinged being parked on the lot after delivery.
  4. It may have been scratched or dented during a previous test drive.
  5. It could suffer hail damage.

Unfortunately, dealers sometimes use their in-house body shops to cover those imperfections. If you notice evidence of this, ask about it.

What’s the warranty coverage? 

The warranty is one of the most important items to discuss. Don’t just accept the terms from the TV commercial or the big sign in the showroom. There is always fine print. Get as much information as you can about the terms of the warranty and what it does and does not cover.

What financing options are available?

Don’t be pressured into terms that are not in your best interest. For example, a dealer might try to talk you into a more expensive car with a low monthly payment by offering a longer loan period. But that means you’ll pay more interest over the long-term and you may still have a loan balance when you go to trade it in. Ask about all finance options and check with outside lenders before you walk into the dealership so that you gain a little leverage.

The bottom line: Be ready to interrogate your salesperson when it comes time to close, so you can get the best vehicle at the best price.

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Diesel Fuel and the Future


Diesel Fuel

Have you been searching for the perfect car? One that fits your needs while helping protect the planet and saving the most on your fuel budget? If so, you’ve probably been looking at smaller cars with 40+ mpg, flex-fuel autos, electric vehicles and hybrids. Now you have one more option to consider: diesel fuel cars.

Yes, you read that correctly! Diesel is no longer the air-polluting fuel that smells bad and belches out black smoke from a semi-truck. Laws that went into effect in 2007 helped create Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel that contains 97 percent less sulfur than the old version. Combined with cleaner burning engines, diesel is now really no more harmful to the environment than similar gasoline-powered engines.

Why Should You Consider Diesel Fuel?

It’s time to get rid of those old stereotypes of loud, clanky, smog-inducing engines. Are they gone? No pre-conceived notions? Good. Because here are the advantages!

The combination of diesel fuel and new engines makes vehicles more fuel efficient, in some cases getting more than a third more miles per gallon than a similar gas engine. Diesel engines are said to be more reliable and better performing, and they do have more torque than gas which is just a technical way of saying they can tow more weight. That’s why they work so well for 18-wheelers.

So it’s a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast. There are downsides (Isn’t that always the case?).

A Few of the Downsides

Diesel FuelDiesel fuel cars typically cost more than similar gasoline-powered ones. The fuel itself is also more expensive, and diesel engines need more oil changes than gas engines. This is an example of why I encourage you to determine a car’s total cost of ownership before making a decision. This means estimating what the car will cost you for as long as you own it, including financing, insurance, taxes, licensing, maintenance, depreciation (which I covered recently), and fuel.

Another negative: Starting a diesel in cold weather is like waking up a teenager on the first day of school! Unless you park in a heated garage or next to a heat source, you’re going to have issues in wintry climates.

Diesel fuel can also be more difficult to find. It’s currently available at about half of fuel stations across the country according to the Diesel Technology Forum. And you have fewer model choices than you would with gasoline or even hybrid vehicles. There are currently only 23 diesel car models compared to 50 hybrid choices.

Diesel FuelBut the diesel trend is picking up steam, and manufacturers are responding. Diesel sales climbed 30 percent from 2010 to 2013, so manufacturers plan to add 10 new vehicle models in the next three years. Even Mercedes has introduced a hybrid diesel model in Europe, and other car makers are looking into combining diesel with electric motors.

So, as with any vehicle purchase, when considering a diesel fuel car, you’ll want to do research on not only diesel, but also on different types of vehicles to find the right fit for you. But if you decide a diesel-powered car is the way to go, you no longer have to feel guilty about fouling up the environment!

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Resale Value: Buying for the Future


Resale ValueMany variables come into play when buying a new car, but there is one you should definitely be focused on: resale value. It doesn’t seem natural to think about selling the car as you’re buying it, but in terms of an investment the car you buy today will likely be the down payment for the one you buy in three, five or seven years. The more value it retains, the less you have to finance for your next purchase.

The best resource to determine potential resale value is Kelley Blue Book which reports market value prices for new and used automobiles of all types. Each year, the company publishes its Best Resale Value Awards ranking an overall top 10 and a top three cars in 22 categories.

Who Wins the Resale Value Game?

Resale Value: FJ CruiserIf you want your car to retain the most value, you almost can’t go wrong buying a Toyota, the company that gave us an iconic ’80s tagline and the greatest minivan viral video! When it comes to resale value, the automaker:

  • Has claimed Kelley Blue Book’s Best Brand award for each of the last three years.
  • Manufactured four of the Top 10 for 2014 Best Resale Value: FJ Cruiser (#1), Tacoma (#2), 4Runner (#4), and Tundra (#6).
  • Has claimed the model, the FJ Cruiser, with the best overall resale value the last two years. This year it is projected to keep 81 percent of its value after three years and 70 percent after five years!
  • Sells the 2014 model with the best projected resale value in the following categories: mid-size pickup (Tacoma), mid-size SUV (FJ Cruiser), full-size SUV (Sequoia), full-size pickup (Tundra), minivan/van (Sienna) and full-size car (Avalon).

Along with Toyota, Honda is another brand name that will hold more of its value because of strong reputation. In fact, the two most stolen used cars in 2013 were Hondas: Accord and Civic. You know your car is in demand when it’s ripped off more than others!

How Well Did it Sell?

In addition to the Kelley Blue Book rankings, another way of determining potential resale value is looking at supply and demand. High-production vehicles will likely not retain as much value, especially if demand fell short of the number made. Also check out the incentives, such as rebates, being offered for a model. If manufacturers are offering generous incentives for a particular model, it could indicate that it’s not selling well, which means its resale value will probably be lacking as well.

Resale ValueCars don’t have to be high-priced to maintain their resale value. The 2014 Nissan Versa is the lowest priced new car this model year, yet Kelley projects it will have the highest resale value of any subcompact in the industry. Likewise the Subaru Impreza is the most affordable all-wheel drive vehicle on the market and was named the compact car with the best resale value this year.

Appearance Matters

Don’t overlook the importance of color when it comes to resale value. Remember the key to getting maximum value on a resale or trade is based on the potential number of buyers. Bright orange, lime green, and metallic purple might make a statement, but it’s a statement not many drivers want to make. Cars of unusual hue will therefore be tougher to sell and worth less. If you’re planning to resale or trade in a few years, stick with the beige, silver, blue, gray, black or white.

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3 Advantages to Purchasing a Rental Car


Used Car Lot

Buying a car can be an overwhelming experience with numerous options, decisions and dealerships to visit. One way to alleviate the stress of buying a car is to scout the inventory offered by rental car companies that sell their vehicles once they reach a certain age or mileage.

The idea of purchasing a rental car may be surprising, but with customers wanting to rent the latest and greatest cars, companies must turn their fleets over regularly. For buyers, this means you can purchase an affordable used vehicle, often equipped with the latest safety features, that feels like new!

The greatest advantages of buying from a rental car company instead of a dealership or private owner are price, history and convenience.

Reasonable Prices
In most cases, you can get more car for less money, because the bulk of the car’s value has been recouped through renting. Depending on the situation, it may even possible to purchase a rental car for less than the Kelly Blue Book Value!

If you dislike the car buying process because of the pressure to haggle, you’re in luck! Rental companies often have no-haggle policies. The price is you see is what you will pay.

Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
The rental car company should be able to give you a full history of the maintenance and inspection on the car you’re interested in. It’s likely that these one-to-two year-old rental vehicles have remarkably low mileage and have been maintained far more regularly than those available from a standard used car lot. And, depending on the car’s mileage, the factory warranty may even still be available! Even if it’s not, these companies often offer their own warranty and roadside assistance programs as well. Since the car has only had one owner—with a dedicated interest in maintaining it properly—you’ll have access to far more dependable data on the car’s history than you would through traditional buying channels.

Rental car companies often will let you test drive the car for a day (or even two!) unlike the usual five minutes “around the block” from a dealership or private owner. This lets you really get an idea of how the car drives, how comfortable you feel and if it meets your needs. Most companies also offer short-term repurchase agreements in case you change your mind.

A rental company will also have a wider selection of inventory for you to choose from. With such a huge fleet of practically every make and model available, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs and price range.

Although these cars go through rigorous inspections before going on sale, just like with any car you buy, you should have it inspected by a mechanic you trust. Do your homework on comparison pricing, and ask for the car’s vehicle history report which most companies will provide for free. Regardless, it’s well worth the money to avoid any potential problems in the future!

Click here to check out Enterprise’s current inventory of cars for sale

If you or anyone you know is looking to buy a used rental vehicle, email me at or give me a call at (614) 418-7574!

Brian Schneider

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Researching Alternative Fuel Vehicles


Electric Car - VoltWhether you’re trying to be kinder to Mother Nature or looking to save on the high price of gasoline, if you’re in the market for an alternative fuel vehicle, we have some tips! Auto manufacturers are unveiling more models each year that operate on power sources other than gasoline like traditional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, flex fuel vehicles and battery electric vehicles.


Vehicle Cost
Choosing which type of alternative fuel vehicle and model is best for you will depend on a number of factors, including the interior space you need, how much you drive and even which part of the country you live. Of course, most buyers will base their decision on one thing: cost.

But determining the best buy requires you to look at more than just the sticker price. Even with an eco-friendly car, you can’t base the decision solely on how much gas you will save. For example, you may instantly decide that never having to buy gasoline again warrants spending an extra $6,000 on an electric vehicle instead of a hybrid. But certain hybrids only use an average of $1,000 of fuel per year, according to That means buying the electric car only saves you $1,000 a year while costing $6,000 more up front. In that case, depending on gas prices, it may take six years to break even.

Total Cost of Ownership
As with any vehicle, you need to research an alternative fuel car’s total cost of ownership to determine the best buy. The total cost of ownership takes into account the initial price of the car plus taxes, registration, insurance, financing, fuel costs, maintenance and depreciation.

Alternative Fuel PriusAnd it’s important to not forget depreciation–the most overlooked aspect of figuring total cost of ownership. At some point, you will probably either sell your vehicle privately or trade it in at a dealership. The more your vehicle retains its value, the more of your original investment you recoup.

Electric Cars
For example, electric cars overall are the costliest types of non-traditional vehicles. Advocates point to the fact that they never require fuel, and with no internal combustion engine, there are fewer parts to break down meaning less maintenance and repair. Another benefit of electric cars is that many qualify for an initial $7,500 federal tax credit that can mitigate some of the depreciation loss. However, an analysis by Kelly Blue Book at the request of USA Today reveals that 2014 electric vehicles will only retain between 15 percent and 30 percent of their original list price in five years.

Hybrid Cars
Hybrids can also potentially be a losing proposition. An analysis of 2012 models done by automotive research firm Vincentric and published by Forbes showed that, on average, a hybrid car or truck went for $5,243 more than a gasoline-only equivalent but only saved owners $3,583 in fuel expenses. However, 11 of the 25 hybrids analyzed were better buys overall than gas equivalents.

No matter what type of car you plan on buying, always do plenty of research to make sure you’re getting the features you want!

Do you currently own an electric or hybrid car? If so, let us know you’re experience in the comments below!

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Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Drive the Wrong Car


Teen with first car

For some parents, it’s the worst day ever. Your teenager somehow figured out a way to obtain a legal driver’s license, and your state is actually permitting them to operate a motor vehicle on the road with other drivers.

You can fight this by never letting your teenager drive, but, unfortunately, this will mean chauffeuring your son or daughter to school, athletic practices, dates, etc…. forever! And unless you want the inconvenience and anxiety of sharing your vehicle, you’ll probably have to give in and either buy or help your teen buy a car.

Teen DriverFinding the Perfect Car Balance
Finding the perfect car for a teenager is like trying to get a group of people to agree on pizza toppings. Your teen wants style and a great sound system. You’re more interested in cost and safety. Before buying that first car, do your research.


Some guidelines to choosing the best option include:

  • Check out the crash-test data., operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has an easy-to-use database showing how different cars fared in crash tests.
  • Go with a midsize. Compacts may be better on gas mileage, but they also provide less protection in the event of an accident. At the same time, trucks and SUVs may be too difficult to handle for new drivers, and they are more prone to rollovers.
  • Four Cylinders rather than Six or Eight. Smaller engines will save on fuel and limit the speed your teen can drive. Pro Tip: Insurance rates are typically lower on four-cylinder engines!

Dad and teen with car

Used Car Danger
Parents may be tempted to purchase a 20-year-old beat up jalopy for their teenager to save on both the cost of the car and insurance. Plus, if you assume your inexperienced driver will likely run into a tree or scrape the side of the garage, it’s better to do it in something that’s seen better days.

I caution against this for a few reasons:

  • Reliability. The more miles on a car, the more it will cost to maintain. Any used car can break down, but an older model is more likely to leave your teen stranded somewhere.
  • Safety. Older models won’t include safety features that are now standard on all vehicles–including dual-side airbags and electric stability control. This latter feature is one I highly recommend making sure is available on your child’s first car. Stability control automatically engages the brake and throttle to help prevent a vehicle from spinning out of control in sudden and/or extreme maneuvers. These mistakes can be common with novice drivers more prone to panic in certain situations.

Enhanced Safety Features
MyKey DisplayIn the last several years, Ford has introduced its MyKey system. This is a special key used by a teen driver that parents program to limit the top speed the vehicle can travel when your child drives and sound alerts when seatbelts are unfastened.

Hyundai’s Blue Link system, available in most 2014 models, provides speed alerts and can track the vehicle’s location. It also sends text messages if the car is used outside of predetermined times.

If you can’t find or afford a vehicle with these features, don’t worry. If you have a smartphone or tablet, there are dozens of apps available that can block text messages while driving, alert you of speed and track movements. You can also monitor your child’s driving through a subscription to an Internet-based GPS tracking service. Features may vary, but these surveillance systems keep you updated on speed and location.

It’s scary letting your teen drive. And expensive. But making a prudent choice for your child’s first vehicle can take some of the worry and cost out of the transition into adulthood.

Click here to check out Enterprise’s current inventory of cars for sale

If you or anyone you know is looking to buy a used rental vehicle, email me at or give me a call at (614) 418-7574!

Brian Schneider

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What’s Hiding Underneath that Used Car’s Hood?


Often the signs that a used car has seen better days are obvious. There’s the dented fender, the busted headlight and the rips in the upholstery.

But pre-owned vehicles have a sneaky ability to hide their worst problems. You can easily make the mistake of assuming a car that runs fairly well and doesn’t make obnoxious noises must be free of engine trouble. And that’s what an unreliable car wants you to think.

To assess whether a prospective car is road worthy or on the verge of leaving its driver stranded, you need to do some detective work.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago when advising you on looking through the glove box, the clues you will find under the hood may reveal how well the vehicle has been maintained. You want to avoid taking over someone else’s poor habits and vehicle neglect, as they are sure to cost you later.

Clues regarding the condition of the car’s mechanical components come in four categories: Leaks, Cracks, Colors and Smells.


Leaking Crank SealYour first clues are signs of fluid leaks. Sometimes they
can be easily fixed. But often they foreshadow major engine repairs.

Look closely at the underside of the hood. If oil leaks are apparent, you might be dealing with bad bearings or excessive oil leaking from the engine. Black dirt or dust accumulated on the engine block also signals oil leakage.

Trace all of the vehicle’s hoses to check for coolant, transmission and power steering fluid leaks. Any one of these could be minor, but could make your purchase even more expensive down the road. Also look for coolant stains down the side of the engine, because this likely indicates gasket failure.

One of the worst places for a leak is the master cylinder that controls your brakes. Look for the reservoir where brake fluid goes and check the level. If it’s low, it could be a leak–or simple neglect. Cylinder leaks will also reveal themselves with stain marks, wetness or excessive gunk on the cylinder.

The next clues to investigate are any noticeable cracks. Specifically, you should examine all belts and hoses for signs of excessive wear. Many of these can cost hundreds of dollars to replace when they finally give out.

This is especially true of the car’s timing belt that synchronizes the movements of engine parts. Replacing a timing belt is costly. Plus, if the belt breaks before it’s replaced, it could cause further engine damage.

Provided they haven’t all leaked out, the color of certain fluids can warn you of future problems. For example, brown coolant could disclose that it’s never been flushed, a major area of neglect. It could also inform you of a leaky head gasket.

Brown is also a bad color for transmission fluid and power steering fluid. The former could mean a failing transmission; the latter might indicate a worn out power steering pump.

Anything that smells burnt–be it antifreeze, oil or transmission fluid–is always a bad sign. At the very least, a burnt smell should be addressed by looking for the other warning signs listed.

There are a few other indicators of poor maintenance or potential damage. Corrosions on battery cables means a new battery and perhaps new battery cables are in order. While not expensive to replace, corrosion is often a sign the car hasn’t received regular maintenance and tuneups.

Also study the engine’s alignment within the engine compartment. If you see marks where the fan is nicking the radiator of if the engine just looks crooked, it’s a possible sign that motor mounts are going bad.

Of course, you can greatly reduce the risks of buying a lemon by having a certified mechanic check out a car before you buy. Another way is by purchasing from a reputable dealer or rental car company that has performed a full inspection before putting the vehicle up for sale.

photo credit: Ernesto Andrade via Flickr cc
photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr cc