I’m going to agree with a previous post that there are no honest and reliable used car salesman anywhere, in any country. You have to basically go in armed with knowledge on how to spot lemons, and with the knowledge of what the car you want is generally worth. It helps if you go with someone that knows the dealer or salesman personally. Many car dealers have a guarantee in their contract that states if you find out that it’s a flood damaged or accident damaged car within a certain timeframe, you can bring it back for a full refund. Not sure how difficult it is to collect on that though, and if you are going to rely on that, make sure it’s in writing, and you have a copy of it.
Here are some general tips to follow, and that I used when buying my car, based on my own experience with cars, and my Taiwanese friend’s knowledge of the used car business in Taiwan. This is by no means comprehensive, but just some general tips. I am not responsible if you end up buying a lemon after reading this.
As far as I know, there is no blue book, NADA guide, or it’s equivalent. The best way to determine a price is to look at all the ads for the car that you want to buy, and get a general idea of the range of asking prices. If you want a nicer condition example of the car in question, then the price will fall towards the higher end of that range. If you just want something that runs, and don’t care about the condition, then you can get away with the middle to lower end of that range. Once you’ve established the general asking price for what you want, depending on the make and model, you can usually negotiate anywhere from 5-15% off that price. How much you can negotiate will depend on factors on how long the dealer has had that particular car on the lot, the popularity of that make and model, how many of that particular year/make/model are currently for sale, etc.
The best way to avoid a flood damage car is to buy a car that was initially registered in 10/2001 or after, as the big flood was 9/2001. If you go this route, make sure you are checking the actual first registration date, and not the car’s model year. In Taiwan, the year of the car goes not by the manufacturer’s model year, but by the date the car was first registered. While this method is generally safe, I have heard of some imported cars that were awaiting entry at the port, and got flooded there. These cars were written off and later sold to employees at a discount. While the import record should show this, it’s safer if you can verify that the car was manufactured 10/2001 or later, or has documentation that it arrived at the port after 10/2001. If it arrived at the port before 10/2001, but the first registration was after 10/2001 to a non-employee, then that should be ok. If you are buying a car that pre-dates the flood, while a dealer can clean up a car well enough to disguise flood damage, unless they did a complete teardown to the frame, and complete rebuild of the car (not likely, as that is very costly and time and labor intensive), there will be telltale signs that you can look for. You can look at places such as under the carpet, or under the trunkliner, or on the inside of the body panels for marks/dirt left by water. Sometimes, you can look inside the headlights/taillights for signs of water entry. Sometimes you can look at the underdash area for signs of dirt/grime, and you can look at the
wire harnesses for dirt/grime between the individual wires. Look at steel/iron parts, and look for signs that it has been corroded, but cleaned off.
This is not necessarily a bad thing in Taiwan. It’s not uncommon for people to get their car repainted every 1-2 years, simply because Taiwan driving is really ding, scratch, and scuff prone, and they can get their insurance to pay for it. But, to spot repaints, you should check to see if the color of all the body panels and bumper match correctly. You can open the doors/trunk/hood and run your finger along the area just inside where the doors/trunk/hood closes (both on the adjoining panel, and on the hood/trunk/door itself. Unless the painter was very meticulous (not usually), if it’s been painted before, you can usually feel either the line where the new paint meets the old, or you can feel overspray. Check the underbody, or surrounding components for overspray.
The first thing to look for is a repaint. Once you established there has been a repaint of some or all parts, you can ask the dealer why it was repainted, and see what they say, and how believable it is. To look for signs of accident damage, you might look for bumpers or body panels that are not properly aligned, uneven body panel gaps, or unconsistent spacing between body panels. You can open the trunk and hood and look at the body panel fixing bolts. If there are signs they have ever been removed, ask why. Look under the trunk liner, both on the sides and bottom. Remove the spare tire, and look for signs of bucking, or any unevenness or repair/repaint. If you can, bring a magnet, and in areas where you suspect damage, see if the magnet sticks with the same resistance as every other part of the car. If not, that is a sign that there is bondo or other filler there, a definite sign of an accident repair. Look on the inside of the body panels, and see if you can see signs of repair.
This is a bit harder to check out, because in Taiwan you usually can’t test drive a car until after you’ve agreed on a price. The best is if the car is still within the manufacturer’s original warranty. If so, then this is a non-issue. If it’s outside the original warranty, and if you have not yet agreed on a price, you can still start the car up. When the car is idling, listen for any noises, smoke, basically anything out of the ordinary. Rev the engine, and again, listen and look for anything out of the ordinary. Does the engine sound “labored”, or strained. Do all the belts look like they are in good condition? While the car is running, do all the accessories and features work? Does the engine compartment look either overly dirty, or look “too” clean (as in the dealer went to a lot of trouble to clean it to hide something). Are there any fluids leaking? If you have agreed on a price, before you close the deal, then ask if you can take the car back to the dealer for a pre-purchase inspection. Usually the mechanics can tell if there is something wrong, or if it has been in an accident before. If the dealer says no, or tries to persuade you that it doesn’t need one, then that may be a red flag. After you have agreed on a price, go for a test drive. Don’t listen to the radio, and keep conversation to a minimum. Listen for squeaks, rattles, and noises from the engine, transmission, and suspension that may be out of the ordinary. Does the car feel solid? Does the suspension feel “right”? Does the air conditioning blow cold? Etc., etc. Finally, does the car come with service records?
By now, you’ll probably have already put down a deposit. If you know someone who can pull up the car’s title and insurance records, do it. Unfortunately, you have to know someone in the industry. This information is not available to the general public. This check will tell you all the title, registration, and transfer records for the car, as well as any insurance payouts. You can use this information to spot any anomolies that might point to either accident history, title problems, or both. If the car ever had it’s license plates changed, ask why. Usually, a car wears the same license plates for the life of the car. There really isn’t a whole lot of reason to change them. If there are any insurance payouts, find out what they were for. Make sure the title is clear and in your name with no problems before you pay the full amount. As someone previously mentioned, make sure that the traffic fines are paid off, although I think you won’t be able to transfer the title if they are not. Another thing to look for is to make sure that it’s not a car that the previous owner defaulted on the loan, then sold to a dealer, but didn’t pay the loan back. There is a chance the car could still be repoed. Often, you will see an ad for a really low price, and then you make payments or something like that. Try to steer clear of those, as often times, the dealer doesn’t actually own the car or have rights to sell it.
Hmmm, well, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. If I’ve missed anything (and I’m sure I have), or if anything is wrong, feel free to add or correct. In the end, it’s always “Buyer Beware”.