If the vehicle in question has passed your “five-minute” inspection and performed well during the road test, you are now back at the dealership or private party location and you’re still interested enough to continue the examination. This time the inspection is going to be a little more thorough. You are now looking both for signs that indicate potential problems, as well as accumulating “points”.
Points, for lack of a better term, are strikes against the vehicle. None of these points by themselves would be big enough factor to keep you from purchasing the car, but added together and written in your notebook, can be used in your negotiation with the seller to adjust the price. The seller can choose to either have these points fixed or knock down the price (unless it was spectacularly low). He can bring the condition up to the point where you would be willing to pay the asking price, or if he isn’t willing to deal with repairs, these points should add up to a reduction in the price, based on some ballpark estimate of what the potential repairs could cost (call a trusted shop for estimates).
For instance, if you find a small amount of brake fluid seepage around the brake master cylinder where it is mounted on the firewall (you can tell it’s brake fluid that’s leaking because it will wrinkle the paint on the firewall), this is not uncommon. It may have been simply the result of a sloppy job of topping off the cylinder, or the master cylinder. Even in the latter case, replacement of most master cylinders is not difficult, and a new cylinder isn’t terribly expensive. The potential need for a master cylinder replacement should become a bargaining chip for you. On the other hand, seeing similar leakage around the power steering lines of a power rack-and-pinion steering unit (such as is found on most front-wheel-drive cars) could be much more serious. The lines can be expensive to buy and to install if you’re going to have to buy and to install if you’re going to have your mechanic do the work, and if the rack-and-pinion itself is leaking, this is a serious repair that could cost $500 or more. If you spot a leak in this area, this is not a bargaining chip, it’s a reason to pass up this particular vehicle.
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