Checking out a Car

Hey guys,

You’ve covered this in other threads, but I’d appreciate a quick re-cap on this question. I’m going with a friend on Saturday to look at a used car. It’s a 2002 Ford Focus. 80,000 miles, manual transmission.

She found the car on Craigslist. By the look of the photos, it appears the car is for sale at a small used car lot, though i could be wrong.

So, what kinds of questions should my friend ask as she considers buying this car?

I had some thoughts:

1) How many owners?

2) Maintenance records?

3) (connected to number 2) Does the car have its original timing belt?

Do you have other suggestions? Anything to look out for with older Ford models?

She’s a graduate student on a limited budget, but she needs the car because she has to do a lot of field work for her classes, and she needs to be more mobile. Any advice is appreciated.

There is still no replacement for a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic. It will be money well spent, whether she buys the car or not, as this is a good way to spot any potential deal-breakers. At minimum, she should take along a mechanically inclined friend or someone who can pay attention to details without being in the heat of the moment or caught up in the excitement of buying a new car. Someone not blinded by excitement can point out things the purchaser may not notice that would be potential red flags and prevent an expensive headache from being purchased. Your friend should also budget for a timing belt replacement for this car if they buy it and have it done unless proof can be produced that it has been replaced recently.

There is a possible problem with cars for sale at small car lots. Oftentimes, many of those vehicles are procured from car auctions or they’re wholesale buys from a new car dealer who has no interest in keeping it around.
The small dealer selling them may not really even know much about the condition of the car but may make many claims about the car being great, mechanically sound, yada, yada, yada.

I’m in agreement with mark9207 that an inspection will be money well spent. If it comes down to a purchase without doing an inspection then I would strongly advise a very lengthy test drive of this car.
This does not mean one those obligatory 2 mile hops where the fuel gauge is hovering around E. (Many dealers leave them on empty as it discourages a lengthy drive.)
This means a 50 mile hop with the radio turned off. What you want to do is just pay close attention to the car as to how the transmission shifts, any noises or smells coming from anywhere, any pulling and vibration, temp gauge normal, no oil light flashing at the end of the drive, etc. You want to focus (pardon the pun) all attention on what the car is doing.

Tell the dealer you’ll put the gas in it. If the dealer will not consent to an inspection or a lengthy test drive then I’d walk away.
These are good little cars and 80k miles is not bad but a lot also depends on who was driving it and how it was maintained in those 80k miles.