Pay Attention To Your Car. It Is Talking To You!

by Don Elliott on September 28, 2011

Keeping your used car maintained properly will help you maintain a good used car value. Noticing issues with your used car can help you discover auto repairs your car needs. When it comes to used cars, it is important to pay close attention to the car’s details at the auto auction, auto repair shop, and during daily driving.

At The Auto Auction

A few weeks ago, I bought a 1995 Mercury Sable at an auto auction. I did my homework before the car auction, including taking the used car for a test drive. A test drive is the first chance to have a relationship with your car. On the test drive, it is important to listen to the engine and transmission for sounds that “don’t sound right.” How does the car feel? Does it steer the way you expect it to steer? Is the seat comfortable? Does the air conditioning blow cold? Do the brakes stop as expected?

After the test drive, I spent a little time walking around the used car. I estimated what it would take to get it ready to drive. Little things stood out—the broken turn signal housing, the peeling clear coat on the paint, and the unusual shade of green. I figured out my maximum bid, added the buyer’s fee, and tallied up the costs to fix problems. On an old car like this one, I always expect to pay a few hundred dollars for things that I can’t predict.

One problem concerned me. The used car would not go into park. It could go in neutral, drive, and reverse. However, it required a brick to keep from rolling away in park. A quick call to my auto repair mechanic confirmed that I should take a chance on this used car. He had me check the steering column for missing bolts. Sure enough, two bolts were missing. That was a cheap fix that only I knew about. Thanks, Chuck!

There weren’t many auto auction bidders on my Mercury Sable. The ugly color and the problem with the brick kept even the savviest buyers away. I picked up the used car for just $900.

At The Auto Repair Shop

The next stop was at the mechanic’s shop. I had to spend $359 to fix the steering column, put on a new belt, have an auto locksmith remove a broken key in the trunk lock, and to repair a broken stud that holds on the wheel. And that is where I made the mistake of taking my new relationship with this car for granted.

During Daily Driving

A car is a mechanical device with hundreds of moving parts. When new, all of those parts are in the best possible working order. As the car ages; parts wear out, break, loosen, and sometimes fail. Pay close attention to changes in the car. Changes in the feel, sound, and touch will let you know when there is a problem. Every drive should be like a test drive. Walk around your car regularly to notice changes. Are the tires wearing evenly? Is there oil on the garage floor? Is there a chip in the windshield?

What did I miss in my relationship with this not-so-beautiful Sable? I didn’t ask the question, “Why did the wheel stud break off?” Just a week later, the used car began to sound like a washing machine. There was a vibration in the steering wheel that couldn’t be avoided. Three more studs had broken and the wheel was flopping around like a fish on dry land.  We all missed a bad wheel. Fortunately, for just $21 at the Pic-A-Part salvage yard, I was able to get the used car safely back on the road.

Moral: Pay attention to your car. It will tell you when something’s not right.

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