By Jordan W. Charness

With sunny weather comes the urge to buy a new car. New, does not necessarily mean brand-new: it could simply mean a car that is used but is new for you. With the advent of leasing there are a whole bunch of “pre-owned” cars that hit the market and are just three to five years old. These cars are returned by those who have leased them and are usually sent off to an auction where they are bought by used car lots.

Most used car lots are legitimate and do their best of to provide the consumer with the value he or she should get for their money. The price of a pre-owned car however, is rarely fixed in stone since there are many variables that affect its value. The age of the car, its general shape, maintenance and appearance are all factored into the equation before you can come up with a price for a vehicle. In addition there is the sentimental value that certain people give to certain cars. Some people will pay more for a sports car then they will for a sedan, while still others are willing to pay a premium to have four-wheel drive.

One of the most objective criteria is the mileage on a used car. (I suppose we should now be saying kilometerage instead of mileage since all of the cars sold in Canada register the distance travelled in kilometres. However since my spell checker does not recognize the word kilometerage – thank you, Microsoft – I’ll just stick to good old-fashioned mileage). Most people would pay more for an eight-year old car with 100,000 kilometres on the odometer then they would for the same car in identical shape that shows that it has travelled over 170,000 kilometres.

This little bit of common sense is used by unscrupulous people who try to get more for their car by re-setting or turning back the numbers on the odometer of the car they’re trying to sell. Apparently it’s not all that difficult to accomplish if you know what you are doing and only takes about half in hour of labour. This illegal half-hour can mean that some sucker, maybe you, overpays by hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Not only will your purchase price be greater than it should be, you will probably be stuck with additional repairs and a car that wears out much sooner than you expect it to.

Most people drive their car an average of 20,000 kilometres per year. This amount is not fixed in stone and will vary depending on the type of driver and the mission the car is used for. If the car is a summer sports car never driven in winter, it should have significantly less mileage put on it every year than a family minivan that is used throughout the year.

If you find a car that seems to have unbelievably low kilometres on the odometer, remember that it is just what it appears to be: unbelievable. Don’t be taken in by the famous story that the car was only driven by a little old lady on Sundays on her way to church……. and that she always walked back: ask for proof.

If you buy a car from a used car dealer you should be able to get the name of the previous owner of the car even if the car was bought by the dealer at an auction. A quick chat with the previous owner may be enough for you to learn the truth about the car.

If the dealer had nothing to do with turning back the odometer and the real culprit was the person who originally put it up for sale, speaking to the seller will be of little use. See if you can get a hold of the repair records of the car. Find out where it was serviced and see what the records show as mileage at the last repair.

If five months ago it had an oil change at 150,000 kilometres, it is seriously unlikely that the 120,000 kilometres listed on the clock is anywhere near true.

I’m told that on those cars that have analog odometers (the spinning wheel with numbers that goes around instead of electronically generated numerals) you can bang on the top of the dashboard and see if the numbers jiggle. If they do the chances are that it has been turned back.

Although these tried and true tests are useful they are not always conclusive. Just remember that a good car costs money and if you are being offered an unbelievable great bargain. You are probably being ripped off.

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