Everyone needs wheels. If you are a typical Cracked reader, though, you have maybe 400 bucks and a half eaten burrito to spend. We are here to help.
People get their first car in many ways: buying one, stealing one, being given one. We'll assume that you are buying a car, and have sold your body behind the bowling alley often enough to have a size 12 asshole, no gag reflex and some cash. You have three choices.
Family and Friends
Dad is a real dick sometimes
The Advantage: the least expensive option, and you have a pretty good idea about how badly the car has been treated.
The Disadvantages: You'll drive a dinosaur with a "Vote Reagan" bumper sticker. When it shits its transmission out at 2 am, you really can't kill your grandmother over the lemon she sold you.
They are loathed for a reason
The Advantage: The car will have been checked over and any faults painstakingly hidden from view. You have some buyer protection in the "shitting out transmission" scenario.
The Disadvantage: Cost. It will cost you more, and you find out firsthand that high pressure salesmanship is like being repeatedly given an enema with a firehose.
You are relying on the sellers honesty and literacy.
The Advantages: Fairly inexpensive. There are certainly deals to be had. The above ad is not one of them.
The Disadvantages: You must know what you are doing as there is no buyer protection for private sales. That is what this guide is for.
Important note - do not get your heart set on a particular make and model, and make sure there is a Haynes or Chilton manual for the car you are looking at. A good 80% of repairs and servicing of a car can be carried out by anyone with the manual dexterity to perform a classy headshot in Halo. So most of you are totally boned.
Always go to the seller. Never let him come to you. And since the only thing you know about cars is that the Zaibatsu have the best, take someone with mechanical knowledge if you can.
She also rolls double distraction damage.
When you arrive to look, immediately open the hood and feel the engine. If it is still warm, be very cautious - they may have force started and allowed it to run to make it start first time when you try it. Walk around it and check your first impressions.
First impression: "I want this fucking thing NOW!"
Do not be afraid to take your time. The guy selling wants this piece of shit out of his driveway as soon as possible - so he'll put up with you taking a careful look at both the car and the paperwork.
Do not be impressed if the car is clean. Check twice as hard for faults.
The heart of the car
Open the hood, and look at the engine as if you have some clue as to what you are doing. Is there a shitload of rust or black slimy oil streaks? Neither is terribly good, hinting at serious neglect or incipient failure.
Check each of the filler caps - the little twisty things that work like the top of a bottle. The oil filler cap should be clean with a light film of oil on it. Any whitish gunk - walk away at once, as it shows either a blowing cylinder head gasket, or the most perverted car owner this side of Shreveport.
Like this, but less appetizing
The brake fluid and power steering fluid should be the colour of dark honey - no darker. Any worse and the beast won't steer or stop - good for LA traffic, but not for any civilised area.
The water for the cooling system should not be opaque with rust, but should not, in any car over three years old, be completely transparent either. It is an easy fix if you have a garden hose, so use that to knock the price down.
Look at the spark plug leads - are they clean and do they bend freely? The battery terminals should also be clean and greased - if the terminals look like they have 5 day stubble or have gone mouldy, this is a sign of water damage or overcharging. Batteries are meant to be rectangular - bulges are from overcharging and are very expensive to set right.
Cars do not drink beer. Be warned.
Basically look for anything out of place - - holes or duct tape on hoses, wires taped or blocked together rather than held with the correct connectors.
Nor do they eat chips.
While you are under there, take a good look at the metal plate with the serial numbers on it - make sure it has not been altered. This normally means stolen or cloned car, which may be awesome for avoiding tickets, but will catch up with you sooner or later.
Remember - check under the car too.
Look along the metal of the car for any body lines that do not flow naturally. Dents are not a problem unless they are gaping pits of hell, but if the body is not flowing correctly it normally means a home filler job due to accident or corrosion.
Check for rust too. Excessive rust is a hint to run, not walk, away.
As is excessive welding.
Check the tyres - is the tread legal depth? Look at the wear patterns on the tyres - is it even? Too much wear on one part of the tyre is normally a tracking problem - not expensive but annoying and potentially lethal.
Do all the tires even match?
Finally, do a quick check of the other two main components of the body: the suspension
and the exhaust system.
But Red Bull gives them wings.
Driver comfort is vital. Check it well
Check that the gear selector moves freely. We are assuming you are American, where manual transmissions are treated with fear and loathing as an imposition on your God given Liberty to consume fast food as you drive.
The downside of "All You Can Eat" drive thrus
Now start the engine - does it start easily?
Try each selector position to see if the car creeps forward or backwards - listen for any clicks, crunches or screams. Put the selector in neutral but leave the engine running. Try the brake pedal - do you feel resistance when you press?
Make sure you test the parking brake too.
Hey - it works.
Look at the pedal rubbers and look at the mileage - if the pedal rubbers are as worn out as a 60 year old ho on payday, you expect to see a mileage over 90k. Get out of the car, look at the front wheels and wiggle the steering wheel. The steering wheel should move absolutely no more than 5 degrees before the wheels start to turn - less is better.
Check that every interior control works, and that all lights work. While you are checking the lights at the back of the car, briefly put your hands over the exhaust - if the engine revs drop, you have a good exhaust system - if it carries on idling as normal you have holes in the system somewhere.
Central locking is now standard on most cars.
A rigorous test drive is recommended
If it passes all of these inspections, take it for a test drive. The seller is going to want to come along with you - get in some additional practice at ignoring people so you can disregard the shit that comes out of his mouth.
Keep the driver's window down, unless you are checking the air-con for it's inevitably needing a rather expensive recharge.
Um, yeah, about the aircon ...
You need to feel the response of the throttle and brake, see if the car sways on corners (either suspension going - expensive, or 200 lbs of coke in the door panels - total result) and listen to any noises it makes. Drive it both on the freeway to check it's acceleration and the horn function, and on city streets to check it's responsiveness in evading gunfire.
This one failed the city test. Badly.
It is considered courteous to return the car to the seller's address with minimal additional damage to the vehicle or the seller.
Fail. Not sale.
It is unusual to pay the full asking price for a second hand car. A certain amount of negotiation is expected, the level depending on the type of seller.
A typical seller - expect to shave 10% off the asking price
A wimpish seller - normally good for 20% off the asking price
Pay the full asking price. At once. In cash. The chances are good for coke in the door panels.