he used car market is being flooded with late-model vehicles that were turned in at the end of three-year leases. After they have been “detailed” by car dealers, they look brand new or close to it. But there are six things that car shoppers must check before they’re overwhelmed by that nearly-new-car smell:
Brakes, batteries and tires are three “wear” or maintenance items that after three years may be near the end of their useful life but often are not replaced by used-car sellers. They are likely candidates for replacement within the next year, maybe sooner.
Battery: Ask the dealership to test the battery for voltage and cold cranking amps (only takes a few minutes) to determine how much battery is left.
Brakes: Checking the brakes requires removing the wheels, so it’s more involved, and a dealership may decline to do it. If they won’t, you could try to make it a negotiating point on price. Or you could say you’ll come back later or tomorrow to give them time to do it, but ask for actual measurements (32nds of an inch) or other written confirmation of how much pad and rotor life is left.
Pads and rotors start out at about 11/32-inch when new (varies slightly by vehicle). If the pads are at, say, 4/32, then they will need to be replaced soon. You will probably hear scraping noises before they get to 2/32.
When dealers or repair shops inspect brakes they often give a report with green, yellow or red ratings for the brakes at each wheel to indicate how much life is left. Some give an actual measurement in 32nds of an inch. If you ask, they usually give more detail on the condition.
If you buy a used vehicle and find out later that it needs new pads and/or rotors, it’s going to be harder to get them to fix it than if it’s addressed before you buy it. Brakes are a “wear” item that aren’t covered by a manufacturer’s warranty
Spare tire: All vehicles don’t come with a spare tire, and that’s not something the seller is likely to disclose. Some late-model Chevrolets, Fords, Hyundais and Kias are among those that don’t have a compact spare as standard equipment (they usually are available for purchase). Instead, they have inflator kits that might be able to seal some punctures. Most BMWs and many Audis come with run-flat tires and have neither a compare spare nor an inflator kit. On cars that came with inflator kits, were they already used up? On those with compact spares, are the tire, jack and lug wrench present and accounted for?
Spare key: A surprising number of used vehicles come with only one key, especially those that started life as daily rental cars. A close look at online photos for used cars often reveals only a single key. The cost of buying a spare key is probably a minimum of $150, usually more, and it can top $400 for a “smart” key fob for a vehicle with push-button starting.
Recall history: The auto industry has had a slew of safety recalls in recent years, but there are no guarantees that all the recalls have been performed on a used vehicle, especially if it’s being sold by a dealer for a different brand. You can check on the vehicle manufacturer’s web site to see if there any open recalls for a used car; you will need the vehicle identification number. Also, technical service bulletins that address non-safety issues may apply to a used car, though usually only while the original basic warranty is still in effect.