One of the biggest warnings you should never ignore is how hot your car is running. Never, ever, under any circumstances drive your vehicle when it is overheating or about to overheat. The engine inside most newer cars is made of aluminum. Heat and aluminum do not get along very well. If you overheat an aluminum engine the chances are you will warp the head and your head gasket will fail, or worse. This can mean thousands of dollars in repairs. If your vehicle begins to overheat, turn the heater inside your car on full blast and pull over as soon as you can. The heater in your car pulls heat from the engine to warm the cabin, so it may buy you a few precious seconds. If you notice your car is starting to run hot, get the problem investigated before you end up pulling off on the side of the road with steam billowing out from under your hood. A $12 thermostat can cause huge problems and make a mess of your engine if you ignore when things get hot.
In my opinion the biggest warning sign your car can present is low oil pressure. This is usually displayed as a little red light with a picture of an oil can. If this light comes on while you're driving it means the engine isn't producing enough pressure to properly lubricate it's internal parts. This is the equivalent of having a heart attack. Without engine oil, or oil pressure, the engine will definitely fail and leave you stranded. When the light comes on you should do everything safely in your control to turn that engine off as quickly as possible. This is where seconds matter as the engine can't survive without oil. Whether it's leaked out, or burned off completely, an oil pressure warning light should never be ignored. A good rule of thumb is to check your oil ever time you get gas, or ask the attendant to check it for you. It's cheap insurance against a catastrophic failure.
My focus here is not to make you feel bad for not maintaining your car. I understand money can be tight and if something isn't broken then don't pump money into it. The exceptions I've listed above do warrant your attention though to make sure you're safe and don't find yourself on a walking tour of our nation's many interstates.
Recently a client asked me whether Craigslist was a viable option for purchasing a new car. My answer to her was yes and no. Now that may sound wishy washy, but it's true. Craigslist can prove to be totally perilious when it comes to buying a used car. It can also be a tremendous asset and save you thousands of dollars if you're careful and follow a few basic practices. Let's talk about them.
1. If you can, bring a mechanic along with you. If you're not car saavy, you'll want an expert to look at the car with non -biased eyes. You may have already fallen in love with the color, or options the car has, and may already be subconsiously talking yourself into buying it. If you don't have a friend who has an eye for these things, you can hire a mobile mechanic in your area to join you on the test drive. These mobile mechanics typically charge around $120 for their door to door service. It sounds like a lot if you don't end up buying a car, but take this into consideration. Another friend I have recently used this option and was advised of a $2000 failing turbo on a car he was seriously considering buying. That $120 was money well spent. Some mobile mechanics will even offer a small warranty if you buy the vehicle they sign off on. That's even more insurance when navigating the used car market.
2. Make sure the car has a clean title and is legal. Craigslist is very easy and free for people to post on. This is great because deals are out there, but so are cars people shouldn't buy. If the seller says the title is anything other than clean and in hand, then walk away. There are simply too many cars out there with clean titles to even consider buying a bad one. There is different verbiage for a bad title such as: Branded, marked, theft recovery, flood, totalled and salvaged. If the seller can't show you the clean title when you go to buy the car, that's a major red flag.
3. Know what you're looking at. Before you go to look at a car on Craigslist you should research the blue book value of the vehicle so you know whether the person has priced the car right. I've seen ads where people have asked 150% of blue book because they love their car, and so you should pay accordingly so you can love it too. If you know what the car is worth and how many of them are out there for sale, you'll be in a better position to barter and let the seller know you may walk away.
4. Be mindful of the visuals. Is the car squeaky clean? Has the engine just been pressure washed? If you can't spot a speck of dirt, it may be because someone has spent a great deal of time trying to hide something, like a potential oil leak. Also, was the engine warm when you arrived to look at the car? A warmed up engine can mask major problems. I love to arrive and find a cold engine and a somewhat dirty car. That means the seller uses the car, and isn't trying to visually hide something from you.
5. Be safe. This is the most important tip when shopping on Craigslist whether your a buyer or seller. Never let the other party come to your home or place of business. If something goes wrong with the deal, they may come back to find you. Meet the person at a neutral location in a well lit area, preferably during the daytime. Always write or bring a bill of sale to finalize the deal and try to share as little personal information as possible.
If you follow these tips, you're much more likely to find a great car and be happy with the deal you got yourself.