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Theory on used vehicle purchase

Okay, here’s the situation. When looking to purchase a used vehicle, how important is it to actually view it in person and/or test drive it? In this day and age, would a video/FaceTime with the salesperson going over the vehicle be sufficient? As someone who knows less than nothing about cars, what would seeing it in person actually do for me in terms of deciding whether it is a good buy or not? In theory, if it has low yearly miles, a good service record, and comes from a dealership with a high rating online, wouldn’t that be good enough? Especially if you had video of the vehicle, asking to inspect various parts on it?

The reason I ask is because this method greatly improves the net that can be cast when purchasing a vehicle, ie I’m not pigeon holed into a certain radius based on where I live.

Would purchasing a vehicle and having it delivered on flatbed be setting myself up for failure? Personally, years ago my dad and I flew to a dealership to buy a car he found online and we drove it back together. We did this twice. The first vehicle worked out great, the second had some issues 200 miles in on our drive back home. I don’t remember what his parameters were when he was looking for a car as far as due diligence.

Overall, is this just a bad idea? Or is it feasible based on the amount of information that can be found online nowadays?

Side note: this method also has the positive option of buying a vehicle in a low stress environment (ie flat terrain, not near ocean (salt), not near mountains and snow (salt again), in a semi arid climate). Or is it silly to base car buying on location?

Yes. Why are you making this so complicated ? Did you decide against the vehicle in your other thread ? A test drive is almost imperative on a vehicle used or new . I don’t even have a clue why you think mountains or oceans have anything to do with the vehicle . Maybe you might be a candidate for new as low a cost lease as you can find and just do that every three years.

For me, it is everything! I can see and feel what I cannot from a picture. I can place a small piece of magnetic sheet on the body to see if it sticks or falls off (bondo!) Look for out of skewed body panels, crushed seats or the stink of body odor or smoke. You can’t smell photographed funk!

But mostly I can look at the person selling the car in the eye to assess whether or not they are lying to me. A car salesman, well, they all lie to you, some of pure ignorance but private sellers aren’t pros. Plus, and this is a big plus, I can take it to a mechanic that I pay and I look into their eyes when they tell me, It’s Good or Run, Forest, Run away!

I’d travel to see the car before I buy it if it had the options I want. I’d fly if I was really serious.

I’ll put this to you. Would you pay me an nonrefundable $1500 BEFORE I let you drive it or even see it in person? No? That is exactly what you are doing if the car you are buying is shipped to you before you’ve even gotten to drive it with the right of refusal. If you’ve fully paid for it you basically are buying the car blind at a price premium, no less!

In living near the ocean, sea spray seems to have a detrimental effect in terms of rust. Mountains (and snow) with the salt that’s put on the roads, that also seems to rust out a vehicle faster than normal.

But maybe it’s coincidental, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t know much about cars. I’m just doing research and asking questions.

I guess I’m just curious for the casual consumer who doesn’t know what to look for. If I were to go look at it, I would doubt my ability to look at something and say, oh that’s bad. Assume you could have a third party inspect it in your absence, that still wouldn’t be good enough?

Ok , just put ( How to buy a used vehicle ) in your search engine ( Google or what ever ) and you will find articles by people and companies that have already done that . Edmunds , Autotrader and others all have excellent points for guidance .

But this is so much more fun. And google didn’t answer this particular question so I came here :slight_smile:

Not for me. What if you drive the vehicle and you just don’t like it nearly as much as you thought you would? Bad seats, terrible driving position, hard sharp surfaces that bite into your knee when you drive. A bounce or wiggle that the car does naturally that you simply cannot stand. Test drives have totally turned me off a car or 2 that I thought I badly wanted.

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No. You really need to be there in person. You can be sure that the salesperson will chose to not show you all of the (or any of) the flaws in the car if you just facetime it.

Even a person who knows nothing about cars can see things like a dent or scratch or a rip in a seat cover and know it’s not supposed to look like that.


Again, you’re entrusting someone else who has vested interest in selling the vehicle to be 100% transparent about the vehicle with you. That’s good for the salesperson, not good for you.

It can be. I have a friend who about 18-20 years ago bought a used truck online, the ad had pictures and gave information about the truck (K1500/4WD/350/automatic/mileage/etc.), and it did say that the truck needed some work, but was roadworthy. The truck arrived from out of state on flatbed, it was dropped off at my friend’s parent’s house. It was in far rougher shape that the photos suggested, it could not move under it’s own power. Undaunted, my friend had it towed to a shop where it sat for months, turned out the engine was junk and the truck’s wiring was a DYI affair with lots of shorts. Fixing it correctly would cost far more than simply just buying another truck in good condition. So the ebay truck was sold at a loss.

Unless it’s a rare or collectors car that has an easily traceable history, I would never buy a car without seeing it first. And if I had the money to buy a high end collectors car, I would certainly hire someone who knew what to look for to do a pre-purchase inspection on my behalf. I would also highly recommend having a mechanic of your choosing do a pre-purchase inspection of the car you decide on.

It’s a bad idea IMHO

Depends on the car, If I were buying John Cena’s 2017 Ford GT. I would feel okay about buying it sight unseen because it’s the only 2017 Ford GT on the market and it’s an incredibly high profile vehicle, it’s history is well known and there’s a lot of information available about that specific car. If I were buying a 10 year old Civic, I’d definitely have it inspected before I bought it, and I’d have to see in person as well. The reason being there are literally hundreds of thousands of these things and they are going to run the gamut from cream puff to deathtrap.

It wouldn’t be the end-all-be-all, but it should factor into the decision.

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Use my method for searching out a good used car and it will save you money. Visit car lots on Sunday afternoon when the agencies are closed. Pick out a couple used cars that you like. Revisit the car lots two weeks later on a Sunday afternoon when the dealers are closed. If the cars you liked are gone, they were probably good cars. If the cars you liked are still there, stay away from them as they probably have something wrong with them.
See, I told you I have a method of saving you money. I didn’t say the method would get you transportation.


… and then there is the reality that far too many car salesmen know very little about cars in general, or about the specifics of the cars that they are selling. Even if a particular car salesman is scrupulously honest (please stop laughing!!), his automotive ignorance would likely cause him to skim-over details that are truly important to the prospective buyer.


I won’t even buy a new car without test driving the exact car I buy.

For a used car, if it is over two years old I will look carefully at it, test drive it, and if I’m still interested, have it evaluated by a mechanic to see I found there are any unseen problems.

Most sales people know less than crap mechanically about the cars they sell but you wouldn’t know it by the spiel they provide.

The best method is to view the car, test drive it for 40 miles, and then have a competent mechanic go over it first. That won’t prevent all problems will increase the odds in your favor a bit.

Anytime something like this comes up my first thought is always VDCdriver and his brother in law with traction control/increasing the gravity bit from the car salesman. Who needs physics…

Actually, it was my brother and my sister-in-law. For any newcomers, I will repeat this tale:
They were looking at new cars, and had already done their due diligence. In order to determine the level of automotive knowledge of a car salesman, my brother pointed to a button on the dashboard marked “traction control”, and asked the salesman what that button did.

The salesman’s response was, “Oh… when you push that button, it makes the car heavier”.
My brother replied, “Wow! I’m really impressed that this car company has figured-out how to repeal the laws of physics.” While my brother and SIL attempted to stop laughing at the moron salesman, they departed in search of intelligent life.


My Wife’s nephew just bought a car from Carvanah (SIC?). It was delivered to him sight unseen but had a 5 day or so return policy. His only interest in a car is the radio. Carvanah was the only place willing to finance him, so his choices were limited. If he decided he didn’t want it, (there was no third party inspection), he would have to pay to ship it back; and he has no money. . It may have come from 100 plus miles away, he did not know. He asked what they would finance and then picked a red one.
It may work out, it may not. He now has a multi year financial obligation on a roll of the dice .
The OP asked if location mattered. The location where the car was used matters, but that may no be the selling location. Cars are bought in the rust belt, and shipped hundreds of miles to the seller. Car fax can help.