The Truth About Cars » inspection http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 09 Dec 2014 11:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » inspection http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Piston Slap: CPO, PPI…STFU and Buy? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-cpo-ppi-stfu-and-buy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-cpo-ppi-stfu-and-buy/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 13:09:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=653802 Vincent writes: Hi Sajeev, I plan to by a Town and Country Touring-L within the next month (hat tip to Jack Baruth!). One vehicle is a 2012 with 41.1k miles, has the Certified Pre-Owned 7yr/100,000mi warranty and listed for $19.0k. The other is a 2011 with 43.3k miles w/o CPO listed for $17.0k. Both are […]

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Vincent writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I plan to by a Town and Country Touring-L within the next month (hat tip to Jack Baruth!). One vehicle is a 2012 with 41.1k miles, has the Certified Pre-Owned 7yr/100,000mi warranty and listed for $19.0k. The other is a 2011 with 43.3k miles w/o CPO listed for $17.0k. Both are otherwise almost identical.

My question is whether or not it the $2,000 is worth it for the CPO vehicle. The primary difference is another 2yrs to the warranty (actually, 3yrs b/c one is a 2011 and the other is a 2012), and mileage limit stays at 100kmi, but then again I’m thinking that $2,000 is a lot of repairs for a vehicle. Then again, the piece of mind is worth something to me, but is it worth $2,000?

Sajeev answers:

Is this adequate information to make a fair assessment of the situation? The sad reality is–much like how the 24 hour news cycle distills impossibly complex situations into easy to digest bits of polarizing bullshit–deeper investigation nets the truth. It won’t net you a Peabody award, it merely ensures you pick the best machine.

So you say the difference is the warranty. I say the difference is condition and longevity of wear items and THEN the modest bonus of a warranty on a non-European vehicle.

More to the point, pull up the CPO inspection paperwork on that unit, and get a PPI on the other one. Inspecting for obvious mechanical problems, accident damage, etc is still a good idea in this age of CARFAX and DIY forums, but I’m more concerned about those wear items.

  • A CPO Warranty doesn’t cover wear items, so how new are they? Tires, brakes, etc.
  • What did the PPI uncover about wear items?
  • Do both vehicles have a service history? If you get lucky, both were serviced by the dealer: the digital ink spilled is rather easy to spot with a visit to a Chrysler service drive.
  • Does the PPI make the non-CPO vehicle a better value…or worse value?
  • Learn how to inspect some of the basics of a PPI yourself, and feel confident you can answer the questions asked here.

No decision made, go back and do your homework. Or not: because the odds of making a horrible decision are less than likely. Short of major collision repair or flood damage, modern cars are pretty good.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Shakken Up: How A Little American Persistance And One Little, Old Japanese Man Beat The System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/shakken-up-how-a-little-american-persistance-and-one-little-old-japanese-man-beat-the-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/shakken-up-how-a-little-american-persistance-and-one-little-old-japanese-man-beat-the-system/#comments Mon, 04 Mar 2013 10:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479631 Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man. Despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. When seats are limited I will […]

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My 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man. Despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. When seats are limited I will stand so my elders can sit. I always hold the door open for ladies, and I keep plugging away no matter how hopeless the situation might seem. There are a few things here and there that can cause problems once in a while, too. For example, I won’t be deliberately insulted, I need my personal space and, of course, I feel like I am loser if I don’t have my own set of wheels.

Don’t leave home without it

Owning a car in Japan is a bad idea for most people. To begin with, getting a driver’s license costs thousands of dollars and involves and extensive training program. Then there is the cost of the car, insurance, gasoline and tolls to consider. Also, unless you are fortunate to own a place to park, you will have to pay rent on a parking space and, of course, anywhere you go you will pay to park, too. Then there are the costs of oil, tires, repairs, even car washes to consider. Let’s not forget taxes and, of course, the great terror that is the vehicle inspection system known as the Shakken.

The Shakken system began in the post World War II era when the few cars remaining on the roads were generally old and unsafe. Shakken’s stated purpose has always been to ensure that all vehicles meet certain safety requirements, but it is also generally acknowledged that the policy has helped to ensure consistent sales of new vehicles as people seek to replace cars that they believe will fail the test. The guidelines are stringent, and without the correct inspection sticker affixed at the top of your windshield, where it is easily spotted, your car cannot be legally driven. There is little tolerance for lawbreakers.

Of course, when I purchased a 14 year old Toyota Supra, everyone thought I was nuts. In general, the Japanese do not buy used cars outside of a dealership, and person-to-person sales among strangers are almost unheard of. For the most part, the Japanese trade-in their cars when they purchase new ones or they sell them to companies like “Gulliver” that buy old cars for a pittance and then take them to auction. Cars that are worthy are bought by dealers, marked up considerably and then resold in-country. Cars that are unworthy are sold to exporters and eventually end up in places like Australia, Russia or parts of the third world. From my friends’ perspective, a car as old as my Supra was not worthy and should have been on its way to the southern hemisphere, preferably as scrap, instead of sitting in a Kyoto parking spot.

My 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

The whole thing was quite a scandal and everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. Two buddies, Matsuda and Taka, were especially critical of my purchase. Self styled car guys, they began to speak ill of the Supra the moment it arrived. Never mind the fact that it was a Toyota that had less than 50,000 kilometers on the clock. In their minds, simply because of its age, the car was in grave condition. Unfortunately for them, they made the mistake of spouting off and insulting my intelligence in front of my girlfriend, who, in typical Japanese fashion, believed everything they said. I, of course, in typical American fashion, ended our friendship right there on the street. So much for fair weather friends.

It wasn’t like I had paid a lot anyway. I had purchased the car from the Japanese wife of a New Zealander for roughly $600. The car didn’t have a mark on it, the engine was spotless, it sounded good, drove flawlessly and it even had about 8 months of shakken left on it. I figured that even if it somehow failed the dreaded inspection, I would have a cool car at my disposal for the better part of a year at nominal cost, and so it really didn’t matter. But then, of course, I got attached to my little car, and as the dreaded day drew nigh, I decided to ask around.

The women at my office were worse than useless, they were misinformed. They told horrible tales about the inspection process, about what would happen if the car couldn’t pass, and how certified repair shops would use the process against me. No matter how small the trouble, the women told me, the mechanics would insist upon costly repairs before releasing the car. They told me that there was no way a car that old would ever pass, and that I had been a fool for buying it in the first place. They even told me that I would end up paying to recycle it. There was the air of plausibility about what they said, but even so, I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

Another shot of my 1986 JDM Twin Turbo Supra

In addition to my workmates, I also solicited the opinions of my students, some of whom, it turns out, were much better informed. For the most part, I learned, the average Japanese man took his car back to where he bought it for the shakken. Upon buying a brand new car, another inspection is not needed for three years. After that, inspections are required every two years, and a typical dealer, I was told, pretty much rubber stamps the next two inspections so long as they have had a hand in maintaining the car. Therefore, most cars are about 7 years old the first time they really go under the microscope and, like most Americans, the average Japanese person is ready for a new car after 7 years whether they actually need one or not. The car is traded in, and the process starts anew.

Simply follow the easy instructions

Once in a while, there are people like myself who have purchased a car outside of the dealer network. People in my situation usually end up taking their car to an independent shop and, as the women at my school had said, most of these shops will go over the car with a fine tooth comb. The result is usually a pretty stiff bill and, as a foreigner, I was especially ripe for the picking. But then, one of my oldest students, a Mr. Hanaoka, a retired engineer in his 70s who spent most of his free time drinking heavily and studying English, told me about another little known option, the “user shakken.” Amazingly, in a land where there isn’t much DIY, there is a DIY inspection.

Following Hanaoka-san’s instructions, I went to the Kyoto DMV and collected the paperwork. While I was there, the helpful clerk sat me down in front of a video that explained the entire process. Then I was sent home to complete my own inspection. Although it was all in Japanese, the documents were well illustrated, and I was able to go through it at my own pace. Although there were some parts of the form I did not fully understand, the inspection was not complicated. I measured tire tread depth, checked all the lights, looked for leaks, etc and found that, as expected, the car was in generally good condition.

I did, however, uncover a leaky shock absorber and a burned out driving light. The light was an easy fix, but the shock was more problematic, there was no real way to fix it myself and unless I was damn clever they were going to see the dark stain of shock oil under the car at the inspection station. Fortunately I am damn clever.

The day I took the car to the inspection station it was raining like hell. I rolled up to the main office and took my paperwork, as complete as I could get it, inside. After waiting in line I approached the counter hoping for a little help to complete some of the informational blocks at the top of the form and was pleasantly surprised to find that for a fee of around $5 that the clerk would actually do everything. I paid my money and ten minutes later took my car around back to the inspection station.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The inspection station was set up like an assembly line and I was required to drive the car from station to station. There was a brake test where I put the car up onto a set of rollers followed by speedometer test on the same machine where I was required to run the car up to 45 kmh. There was an underside inspection station where I sat in the car while a guy underneath tapped about ten spots with a hammer and, thanks to the wet weather, failed to notice my dripping shock absorber. There was a headlight test where a set of robotic cameras examined the front of my car to make sure everything was working within proper specs, a horn test, a brake light and blinker test and an emissions test. It was all quite efficient and I don’t think the entire process took more than 30 minutes.

As I recall, the total cost was around $450. Some of that was for the inspection fee, some for vehicle taxes, and another large part of it was for some kind of insurance that would pay for any public property I might damage in an accident. The whole thing was quick and painless and after weeks of consternation and worry, I was highly satisfied when I was awarded a new two-year sticker without a single hitch. I drove home in triumph.

Wherever I am in the world I will always be a typical American man and, despite a lot of the stereotypes that spring to mind when I say that, I learned a long time ago that it isn’t a bad thing. I was raised right and I have solid values. I keep plugging away no matter how hopeless the situation might seem and sometimes that can pay big dividends. I remember the people who helped me, too. Today, many years later, when I have the opportunity to raise a glass, I often find myself thinking about those days and of Mr. Hanaoka. He was a man who knew how to get things done, and when the whole system is stacked against you, you need a guy like that on your side.

Mr. Hanaoka at one of our school parties. Even though he was older than every other student, he never missed a single party.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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How To Buy A Used Car Part Two: The Test Drive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-buy-a-used-car-part-two-the-test-drive-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/how-to-buy-a-used-car-part-two-the-test-drive-2/#comments Thu, 09 Aug 2012 16:59:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=456083 [Editor’s note: Part One of Steve Lang’s updated guide to used car buying can be found here] Schedule the test drive for a time when there’s no rush. If it’s bad weather, reschedule. Take a little notebook, write a quick check list based on this article, and make notes. When you approach the car’s owner, be […]

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Picture Courtesy of Gameguru.in

[Editor’s note: Part One of Steve Lang’s updated guide to used car buying can be found here]

Schedule the test drive for a time when there’s no rush. If it’s bad weather, reschedule.

Take a little notebook, write a quick check list based on this article, and make notes.

When you approach the car’s owner, be friendly, polite and courteous. Do NOT try to “beat them down” to get a better deal on a test drive. Ever. While you have every right to ask direct questions, you have no more right to insult their car than one of their children.

 

Fluids

Open the hood and look at five big areas. Oil dipstick, coolant, power steering fluid, radiator cap and brake fluid.

Oil: Golden brown, light tan, a little dark, or even dark brown to light black are fine. The oil is just doing it’s job. A tar color or tar like consistency is not good.

Check the dipstick for level and color. Then check the oil cap on top of the engine (on most models) for anything that resembles milky crud. If it has a thick film of milky crud, that’s engine sludge, you’re done.

Coolant: Check the coolant reservoir for level. Most sellers pay attention to this. But a few don’t. Remove the radiator cap if it’s accessible. If you see crud on the cap, you’re done.

Power Steering and Brake Fluid: Check for the level. In the case of power steering, check for any heavy leakage around the hoses. If the power steering hose is saturated with oil, this could be a sign of a more expensive repair in the times ahead. Make a note of it.

 

The Tires And Body

Tires: First, check the tires. Pull the steering wheel all the way to the left (and then right later on) so you can see the entire tread. Uneven tire wear– marks on the side or deep grooves in the middle– may indicate suspension issues. And nothing screams “lemon” louder than cheap, bald or strangely worn rubber.

Doors: Next, open and close all the doors several times, including the trunk and hood. This will also give you the opportunity to inspect the seats and floor. On the doors, check for paint on the hinges and black moldings. If a door creaks, it’s usually no big deal. If a door has trouble closing, make a note of it if you later chose to have the vehicle inspected. It can signal anything from a broken hinge to frame damage.

Panel Gaps and Trunk: Have a quick look at the panel gaps, especially the hood and trunk. Unless you’re looking at an old Land Rover, they should all be even. Check for water leakage in the trunk. Damp and/or a mildew smell often indicates problems underneath if you live in an area where rust is an issue. Lift the trunk’s carpet and see if there is any water or damp residue underneath.

 

The Interior Features And Lights

When you climb aboard, don’t be put off by worn seats or busted radios. Most interior surfaces and parts can be repaired or replaced easily and cheaply.

Windows: Lower each of the windows first while the key is at the ‘on’ position, and fire up the car.

Engine: Do you hear any tapping or pinging sounds, or does it kick over with a smooth ‘vrooom’ and settle into an easy, quiet idle? Start it up again if you aren’t 100% sure.

Buttons: Test all the buttons and switches including the radio stations. Ask for help and have the owner turn on the ‘left’ signal and look at the front and rear to make sure the bulbs work. Repeat with the right.

Exterior Lights:  Then check the headlights along with the brights. Brake lights should be checked in the rear as well as reverse. This may be your only time to verify their proper operation before owning the vehicle. So take the time to do it.

Windshield Wipers and E-Brake: Finally have the fellow spray their windshield and make sure the wipers are in good order. Thank them for helping them you and then test the emergency brake to ensure that it’s operating properly. If you’re driving a stickshift you will want to do this later in the test drive on a steep upward incline.

Air Conditioning: Flip on the A/C. It should kick out cool air within fifteen seconds. With an older vehicle the performance of the A/C system should be one of the more critical concerns. (HVAC repairs can run as high as $500 to $1500.) When you’re on the road, test the heat and the A/C again to make sure the temperature and fan speed are constant.

Power Steering: Finally before going on the road lower your windows and turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and right. The motion should be seamless and silent. If there’s a lot of resistance, or the force required is uneven, the steering system may need anything from power steering fluid (cheap) to a power steering pump assembly (moderate) to a new rack (first born). Make a note of it.

 

The Drive

Shift: Now put the car in gear. Aside from a few models (older Mercedes in particular), a late or rough shift from park indicates that the car’s transmission may soon give up the ghost. If you experience very rough or late shifting, you’re done.

Brakes: Brake force should be quick and constant. Unless the brakes have been recently replaced (ask), you shouldn’t hear any squeaking sounds. Keep the driver’s window open during the first half of the drive.

Transmission: Drive the car through a variety of traffic conditions, inclines and speeds, for at least fifteen minutes. When going uphill, take your foot off the accelerator for a moment. Coast downhill as well. If the car’s transmission hunts, clunks or has trouble catching, the vehicle probably has a transmission or linkage issue. Make a note of it.

Engine: If you hear a lot of ‘clacking’ or other unusual engine noises on initial acceleration, the engine’s components may need attention. If there’s an oil gauge, keep an eye on it. It should show approximately 25 to 80 psi during acceleration, and 10 to 20 when idling. The coolant temperature gauge should hit a fixed point within ten minutes and never move.

 

Quick Stop

After about twenty minutes of driving, take the car to a gas station. Keep the engine on.

Gas release: Open the hood and the gas cover release to make sure they’re in proper working order. I also take this time to put $5 of gas in as a goodwill gesture.

Most folks will not have a car buyer as studious as you, and it’s nice to reimburse folks for an expense.

Transmission Fluid: Restart the car. If you know where the transmission dipstick is (and it’s a damn good idea to find out), check the level and color. Does it have bubbles? If the fluid is very dark brown or black, or smells burnt, it could be a sign of future transmission issues.

Final Oil Check: Turn the vehicle off and again, check the oil. If it’s not between the marks (too low or too high), or if the oil cap is milky brown, you’re done. I’ve dealt with more than a few cars that had their oil caps wiped clean before the test drive.

 

Last Inpsection And First Decision

After leaving the gas station, see if you can find a nice open parking lot or area where you can do a few ‘figure 8’s’.

CV Joints: Lower the windows and turn the steering wheel all the way to the left. Drive very slowly and see whether you have any ‘clicking noises’ near the wheels. If it does, you will likely need to have the CV axle replaced on that side. Now turn it all the way to the right side and repeat. The turns should be ‘click’ and noise free.

Decision Time: By this point, you should have a pretty good idea whether your next step is towards purchase or home sweet home. If you’re blowing it off, thank the owner politely and leave promptly, without engaging in any further discussion whatsoever. (“It’s not what I had in mind.”) Show them the gas receipt as a goodwill gesture and thank them.

If you’re ready to move forward, it’s time to schedule a professional inspection.

[Mr. Lang invites TTAC readers to share theirused car test drive advice below. He can be reached directly at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com]

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Piston Slap: In God We Rust, Part II http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/piston-slap-in-god-we-rust-part-ii/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/piston-slap-in-god-we-rust-part-ii/#comments Mon, 25 Jun 2012 11:12:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450066 Keith writes: Hello Sajeev, My conundrum is as follows: I am a graduate student with another 1.5 years left of school. I commute at least 200-300 miles a week living in rural Maine (so a car is a must for me). My ride for the last 4 years has been a 2002 Mazda Protege5 with […]

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Keith writes:

Hello Sajeev,

My conundrum is as follows: I am a graduate student with another 1.5 years left of school. I commute at least 200-300 miles a week living in rural Maine (so a car is a must for me). My ride for the last 4 years has been a 2002 Mazda Protege5 with manual transmission. Bought in August 2007 with 69,000 miles, now at 143,000 miles. The car has never outright let me down and I love the balance between fuel efficiency, utility of the hatch, and fun to driver factor. What I don’t love is that it keeps rusting away. I have had minor rust repairs performed in the past to get it to keep passing inspections – the rear wheel wells, the floor beneath the rear seats. The rust around the windshield became bad enough that it started to let a little rain water in (though me and a tube of silicone quickly “cured” that). This car is by no means cosmetically perfect anymore, but it still drives great and has been kept up mechanically. Again, grad student – I feel like I am supposed to have a beat up looking car.

This past August, while undergoing the yearly inspection by the trusted family mechanic, I received the news that the rear sub-frame of the car was now approaching a level of rust that would cause it to fail inspection. The mechanic’s thinking was to take a very close look at it this coming summer and judge if it has another year in it or if it has reached a point of structural concern. He told me to be prepared to look for another car, as replacing the rear sub-frame would be prohibitively expensive considering the overall poor condition of the car. The rocker panels are rusted pretty bad and would probably not go another year, and the strut towers are pretty rusty as well. I recognize that this isn’t an overall mint automobile with just a single issue, so throwing money at it isn’t sensible.

If the rest of the car were to be judged to last another two years and thus make the money and effort worth it, what would the replacement of the rear sub-frame cost? The one bonus that I haven’t mentioned (the thing that prevents me from feeling really anxious) is that my brother’s 1998 Chevy Cavalier coupe is available for free, he being away at college. The Cavalier has about 135,000 miles and keeps on chugging. I live at home and it has become the shared household vehicle in order to keep it from sitting. It has been pretty cheap to maintain and barely has any rust. And did I already mention it is free? Honestly, this is a question of heart vs. head. The Cavalier used to be mine. Once I obtained the Protege5, I never looked back.

Would it be pure foolishness to put any significant cash into the Protege5, especially since I have a much cheaper and less rusty option in the Cavalier? My stronger preference for the Mazda clouds my judgement.

Sajeev Answers:

We covered this before, and the answer has not changed. Look, you’re in grad school: your  prime earning years are coming shortly.  With any luck, your career means you’ll purchase a host of fun vehicles in the future. But right now make that future even brighter.  Ditch the 5, drive the Chevy. The Cavalier isn’t known as a chronic rust bucket like these particular Mazdas, and it is free.  Free is quite good.

Moment of Truth: when I was in grad school (i.e. the place where my TTAC career began) I had no idea where my career would take me.  And how much I’d make.  Not that I’m especially wealthy, but things kinda made sense about 5 years after getting my MBA. Your degree will take you far, and you’ll be happier with the money saved in lieu of buying a Cavalier replacement.  Who knows, maybe the extra savings and mundane machinery will land you the ideal lifestyle and loved one to go with it.  It’s amazing where that degree will take you, trust me on that.

So don’t let the cooler car cloud your judgement, says the MBA-clad TTAC veteran who drives a Ford Ranger. Believe that.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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