When buying a car most of us, me included, tend to get so caught up in the looks and performance of the machine, we might overlook some really important factors. Sure, we check the body and suspension, run the engine and make sure the equipment work. But rarely do we take into account the costs of maintaining the car. And often it comes back to haunt us a few months down the line.
This applies to both new and used cars. In fact, in some cases a new car needs more attention during the first couple of services than an old one. And the more expensive, sporty or luxurious your car is, the more temperamental it is, which means you need to lavish more care on it than your human baby. Service and maintenance, then, is something we all need to pay attention too when we chose our new rides. Yes, a lot of it is about the money. But more important than that is the headache. I love cars to death, but even I cannot be bothered to spend time in the mechanic or tire shop. I’d rather spend my time driving the car and going places in it. I want it to service me, not the other way around.
In light of this realization let us to go through a few of the checks one needs to do in order to enjoy years of trouble-free, low-cost motoring. Of course, consulting with an expert and paying a small fee to have the car you are looking to buy apprised is always recommended. But if you have the wit and knowledge to recognize some of the more glaring red flags, you can save yourself that cost as well. Just to be clear, determining the maintenance cost of a vehicle is apart from gauging its overall health. The maintenance has to so with what keeps the vehicle in good health, but it could prove as costly as a full repair job.
The first and, most obvious, item on your checklist for ensuring you won’t end up with big maintenance bills is oil and fluids. Now, some may say that’s being stingy wanting fresh oil in a second-hand car you want to buy. But that depends on the make and model of the vehicle. Sure, if it’s an average family sedan or hatchback whose entire oil change job can be done with 50 bucks, do not even mention it to the owner. But some of the sportier models or 4x4s require special oils and additives, the cost of which could in some cases get into the thousands. So it helps a great deal if the seller has taken care of it already. Also, automatic transmission fluid is something to be wary of. Auto ‘boxes are very sensitive to the age and quality of their oil, and they often need a bespoke formula for optimum performance. Again, depending on the make and model you can be looking at a $300-$400 bill or more. While you are at it, check the steering hydraulic and brake fluid as well. These are also expensive stuff to replace.
Next you need to get on your knees and thoroughly examine the condition of the brake pads, brake discs, and, above all, the tires. As mentioned earlier, the sportier the car you are buying, the more expensive these parts can be. So ideally you want them in proper health so that you can get some good mileage out of them before having to worry about their maintenance. You want your discs to be have a smooth surface, your pads to have a good deal of meat on them, and your tires to be tread-full and crack-free. The cost of a new set of tires alone could ruin the whole experience of ownership for you. So make sure you turn the steering wheel and check the inside wall as well, as sometime they start to go bad from there, especially if the car has some alignment issues.
One would be smart to also consider the condition of less expensive parts such as the lights and filters and such. Granted, they don’t usually cost much to replace, but you still have to deal with the trouble of popping to the shop or getting the part and spending your precious free time working on the car as opposed to enjoying it. Some may go as far as making sure the AC has enough gas in it and the tires enough air. You don’t want to be like that because it’s discourteous, and it might make the seller so angry he’d rather burn the car than sell it to you!
Still, should you end up with a car with poor maintenance record, it’s not the end of the world. These days, thanks to the hard-working industrialists in China and Vietnam and what have you, you can buy knock-off parts for pretty much any car you can imagine. Of course, it is not at all recommended to replace an original part with a Chinese knock-off. But speaking from experience, and considering the massive cost of original parts for high-end brands, sometimes it is more logical to go for the cheap copy. Even if the part brakes three times over, the cost of having it replaced with another copy three times still won’t come close to the cost of the original part. But yeah, it is more troublesome. So, you know, pick your battles…