Monday, May 11, 2009

Buying a used vehicle, what to look for.

As our 2001 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee went over 100,000 miles, things started to occur including a front differential/axle assy at about 130,000 miles. The previous 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee had issues about 120,000 miles. We tend to keep our cars well past 100,000 miles.

Our old 1998 Jeep had a steering 'shimmy'. The front track bar was the culprit, discovered after the shock absorbers and idler arm damper were replaced with no improvement. The small items of maintenance, such as lubricants, fluids, batteries and tires are obvious and covered extensively in other publications, along with brakes, rust and appearance, so I will not dwell on these.

Technical things to look for, have changed drastically in the past years, since even when I sold cars for a living 1996 to 2002. Even then there was All Wheel drive with ABS stability control. Along with rain sensor controlled sunroofs with auto-vent positions (tricky to control on some cars), including auto-vent position windows. All of the 'automatic' features take a 'standby' parasitic current draw on the battery.

Our last well maintained 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4, we towed behind our Motorhome for many years. They have a 'neutral' transfer case for towing, and in an emergency can easily Push a stalled motorhome. We had the starter replaced, new Michlin tires and a complete brake job, along with a front drive axle replacement. It finally had a serious problem at 144,000 miles this last trip.

The overhead cam, nylon timing chain tensioner broke at idle without warning. We were on North Padre Island National Seashore
  • about 3 miles from the paved road (driving on the 63 mile primitive beach is allowed and enjoyed by many 4x4 drivers)

    Environmental note:
    during your back to nature, leisure drives, carry along a big plastic garbage bag. Load up plastic debris (an 800 year environmental disaster) that has washed ashore or on the trails. Toss it in the dumpster as you leave the beach or public areas. The environment will reward you for doing your little part.

    Luckily (....tides are sometimes very high), we were able to restart and drive the shaking Jeep back to the parked Motorhome on the paved camping site. A stop at the Jeep dealer in Corpus Christi, mis-diagnosed it as a valve keeper. The cost for diagnosis was $97 dollars. Auto Zone in Corpus Christi, after doing a free diagnostic scan, actually was an accurate diagnosis as mechanical. We towed it to Alb NM, our home turf.

    Our faithful 144,000 mile, 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee is now in a local shop, an estimate of $1,500 dollars was made for repair. Several weeks later and 'back order' of parts given as an issue, the repair shop called. Now after a serious teardown, they find out they mis-diagnosed the total effects of the problem. The 4.7 litre V8 Jeep engine (also used in other Chrysler vehicles) is an 'Interference' designed engine.

    When the timing chain loses its 'Timing' (broken nylon tensioner), a valve or two hangs low into the path of the pistons. The valves get bent, the rocker arms and the pistons are affected. I am surprised that this experienced shop was not aware of the other problems before installing the new timing parts. Maybe a tiny camera system to inspect inside the cyclinders?
    An expensive lesson learned by myself and also the repair shop.

    Chuck at Ethridge Tire Center
  • (and repair) just offered to buy the Jeep for a fair amount, after agreeing the expense and time was climbing well past estimate. Sleep will be easier tonight for this longtime Ethridge customer, Mac Ethridge would be proud. After repair, this 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, equipped with a Blue Ox tow base plate, will be a nice vehicle for someone. Call and ask for 'Chuck'.

    We traveled to Santa Fe NM to buy a ''
  • 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee limited
  • repo from the NM State Employee's Credit Union. After driving it around for a few miles (no spare tire or gas) we returned to make an offer based on the damage visible. The CU manager responded with a printout and a counter offer. We estimated the cost of repairs at over $1,000, we accepted her counter offer. While driving back the 70 miles to home, the 'airbag' (SRS) light came on periodically.

    After Crown Coachworks
  • expertly repaired the obvious body damage, Installing a new Track Bar in the clunking rear suspension, replacing the damaged spare wheel and a new tire (complete with internal air pressure sensors), The repair shop's subcontractor, Christian's Automotive
  • ran a 'diagnostic' during a mandatory pre-registration emission test and wheel alignment. Christian found an irregularity, an airbag module failure report in the chain of sensors.

    Whenever buying a used vehicle today, run a Carfax
  • (some vehicles have been in floods) They also indicate any factory recalls. Have a reputable shop run the diagnostic report as well, unless the dealership/owner makes a recent one available.

    Have a very reliable collision repair facility check for undisclosed repairs. Their day to day rebuilds, train them well for this job. The best ICAR
  • trained and certified shops can rebuild a collision damaged vehicle to nearly new (sometimes even better) reliability and appearance... if allowed to by the 'cost cutting' insurers or previous owner.

    The cars of today are similiar to an F-22 RAPTOR
  • on four wheels. They have so many expensive computer controlled features and functions, it is impossible for the layman to fully check out each item.

    We demand so much in 'Fool Proof' safety and control, Computerised suspension and stability control combined with ABS 'automatic brake system' and All Wheel Drive, for example. The complexity is skyrocketing exponentially. Extreme Legalities in this 'Lawyer Festering' USA, are the one main reason for so much computerization including tire air pressure sensors. 'Designed in', 'vehicle life shortening features' are becoming commonplace to force timed replacement of the vehicles, due to costs of repair. Many dash panels and instrumentation clusters are now designed around a complex computer circuit board. The cost involved when the indirect lighting, florescent tube or any display component fails, is from $400 to easily over $1,200 dollars. End of the simple dashboard light. Be prepared to rig an alternate source of illumination or instrumentation, if cost is a factor.

    The ignition and door locks are 'key sensitive' (door switch internal). If they do not work by key (alarm sounds), they may have been damaged by (a 'Slim Jim' or) a collision repair not properly adjusted. Test the alarm system, they all have individual quirks. The keys are programmable (with internal transponders) in order to activate the ignition electronics and unlock the doors. If you use a wrong transponder coded key, the engine will only run for a second. Many internal lights are activated by the entry system. Another computer logic 'box' is involved and sometimes mounted in the drivers door.

    If tried too many times the system will lock up and require a specialist to reprogram. Make sure you have at least two sets of keys and two remotes. They are costly, even on the internet. You will either have to program them yourself (don't try too many times, they will lock up the system) or pay to have it done by the dealer service dept.

    Some vehicles no longer require a key to start the engine or unlock the doors. The mere 'presence' of the wearer of the remote, receives and responds to an encrypted transmitted signal to activate all systems (transponder). Fingerprint recognition is now available. Voice recognition and control is becoming common as well. In the future, look for even more communication between your car and other vehicles as you drive.

    The original (Rashid) anti-collision radar system is being expanded to actually communicate with the other traffic around your car, to determine if you (or they) will be allowed to proceed safely. Rear seat video monitors are becoming common. SAT TV and phone systems are an option sometimes built into a roof panel, thoroughly test the surround sound DVD changer/player. GPS 'Navigation' systems are ever more common in vehicles. Tracking (On-Star) is also being increasingly viewed as a necessity by certain owners. The 'One Screen Does All' (climate control, radio, multi-function 'menu' programs) monitor concept, is a huge frustration and takes your concentration away from your primary task...DRIVING!.

    You, as a driver soon will only 'Convey' your wishes. The vehicle will respond only to the limit it beleives safe and prudent to do so. Notice the foot throttle on cars of today. It only registers the TPS or 'throttle position sensor'. The engine only responds to the limit allowed. No longer are you allowed to over rev the engine. (speed zone controlled in the future?) The details of your driving habits and what you did within the last minutes, are now stored in the computer for use by authorities, after a crash...or?

    Definetly make sure you have the proper owners manuals, they are extremely important today as you try to ascertain all of the possible functions of each feature. Internet Web sites are a good source of replacement for keys, remotes and owners manuals (at a substantial cost of course). Most cheap keys and remotes are 'rebuilds'.

    Look for 'manufacturer New' at a somewhat more expensive price, it's worth it. If you only have ONE transponder key (remote), a trip to the dealer must be made. The 'pin' number on the original sales invoice is used for reference to reprogram the system to accept the new duplicate key and to 'reactivate' the radio code if program is lost. Document this number to save problems later on.

    This 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 drove fairly well but as mentioned, had some obvious issues. We tested the electronic 4x4 'Low' feature, which we use on occasion, and the electronic 'Neutral' feature of this model transfer case (Quadra Drive II). Both are technically more complex than the manual system of previous Jeeps.

    The ICAR certified tech's at Crown Coachworks are accustomed to looking for 'replaced' parts and workmanship. The radiator had been replaced, along with the AC condenser, this indicated a 'hard hit' front end. A reinforced structure bar was present, confirming the same.

    The entertainment/radio system is sometimes programed to 'not' turnoff with the ignition until the drivers door is opened. Test ALL steering wheel mounted controls (including it's radio control buttons and cruise control) playing CD's and changing tracks periodically. A 'Clockspring' connector film in the steering wheel, is sometimes damaged, causing failure to these items. Some collisions damage the complex player/changer mechanism.

    A Hard Hit collision blows the Passenger airbag and destroys the dashboard, including the technology loaded radio system at times. If the radio has lost it's 'Code', the dealers service dept will reprogram it $$.
    Side curtain airbags destroy the interior door and roof trim. The windshield is an integral roof structure support and is often blown out by the passenger airbag deployment. Airbag deployment does $$$$ damage...

    The windshield had been replaced on this 2006 Jeep with one of 'lesser cost'. Fortunately the VIN number opening matched the little plate (many times they do not). This practice most times is initiated by the insurance adjuster holding costs low for financial reasons (that's their job). The problem was that on this model, a 'rain sensor' above the mirror, looks out through the windshield. The Sirius system and voice recognition (Bluetooth) is mounted there as well.

    The 'low cost' replacement windshield had no clear opening and the sensor had been damaged during the attempt to remove and re-install it. (this shows up on good diagnostics) The 'rain sensor' will only function again if the windshield and/or sensor are replaced with the correct parts. This sensor is also the automatic headlight dimmer, so that function is now possibly lost. If vehicle is equipped with Satelite radio (Sirius) or cellphone handsfree wireless or On-Star, these features may no longer function.

    The left rear passenger window had been replaced (and scratched) with yet again 'one of lesser cost'. It is easy for a trained eye to see the wavy glass. Poor quality windshields are a potential disaster in night driving. Look for the manufacturer's new car trademark brand to be the same on all of the windows. Mexico and China along with other sources, are making low quality glass available 'at lower cost'.

    The rear bumpers and hatches are increasingly being fitted with a variety of ('parking assist') back up sensors or cameras to detect a post or a child crossing below eyesight level. A system of tone and led's (visible in the rearview mirror) alerts the driver in reverse, to any obstacle during backing, including the angle and sides. Even motion from another vehicle nearby will sound the tone 'chirp', momentarily cutting the radio, alerting you to look behind before actually backing. One day soon, the vehicle's computer will prohibit the driver from initiating the reverse move until clear.

    Many vehicles have back up cameras that indicate through superimposed lines on the GPS multi-function screen, the path you are on track to follow.
    Some show any area out of the normal line of sight. The various degrees of vision enhancement are too numerous to describe in this write-up.

    A 'cost cutting' insurance adjuster or owner may some day only want the repair facility to use a cheaper bumper. No longer is that vehicle equipped with the sensor features, even though the VIN serial number (data storage increasingly becoming referenced to a 'build' number), shows it on the appraised printout you are shown. (along with all of the other features now possibly non-functional)

    The various 'Menu' functions are so numerous as to require a co-pilot to actually operate them. Add to that, the options for many foreign languages and their defaults are extremely frustating if you tap the function in error. Unless thouroughly familiar with the system, 'Do not' attempt to access the Trip odometer (a 'step' function) while driving, especially after you make one mistake on the 'Menu' selection and reset the tiny display language to 'Swahili', or whatever nation Chrysler is apparently attempting to sell its vehicles in. Their brilliant program insists that you accept or pick a different language each time you access the menu, as if you suddenly speak a different language each time you drive? Where do these people think the buyers are, touring the universe on 'Star Ship Enterprise'?

    This 2006 model I bought, weighs 365 lbs more and actualy succeeds in getting 20% less fuel economy than the old faithful 2001 model with the same size engine. In this category they now compete with the GM Hummer. Maybe Chrysler's current bankruptcy will allow the other far brighter manufacturers to run the race less impeeded.
    "Either lead, Follow or get out of the Way"...

    Be alert to the various optional engine configurations in use today. The engine displacement (size) and fuel economy are relevant. Basically the larger the heavier the vehicle, the more fuel is consumed.

    If the vehicle is to be used for towing, (TOW Package) such as a camping trailer, while carrying cargo and passengers, these features are desireable.
    The amount of 'enclosed' cargo carrying capacity is another reason we bought this model. My 16 foot extension ladder (8ft) fits inside as well. A 4x8 sheet of plywood can be tied on the roof racks as easily as a canoe. Some people own pickup trucks only to carry cargo exposed outside. For our personal needs, we appreciate the five passenger carrying advantage of an 'all wheel drive', towable SUV added to the cargo carrying abilities of a truck of similar size.

    Many vehicles today require that only the dealer disable the many automatic functions you will eventually find Annoying. Look forward to traveling further and waiting in ever longer lines, as dealers are dropped from the local areas. I arrived at 6 am this morning, first in line to have the spare key programmed. The system only allows a 'third' key to be programmed by the owner. I must repeat this on tuesday to have a safety re-call EBS (electronic brake system) program initiated.

    Dropping the keys in the trunk, or anywhere inside of some vehicles, prevents their trunk from latching, even the doors from locking. Soon the record of absolutely everything the vehicle has been forced to do by the operator, will be stored in it's own mega-gig flash memory locked away from your access. This record will be admissable as 'evidence' some day in a court of law. This system, which already records every move you made before a crash, has the future potential of even deciding the drivers competance to operate a motor vehicle.

    One big 'First Check' should be to look for the factory Vin Number plate being in it's proper position in front of the drivers side dashboard (visible through the proper windshield. These VIN # plates are proprietary and are NOT legally copyable. If showing ANY sign of damage or re-mounting ..'be extremely wary', ask for documentation explaining the reason why. Auto theft and their re-builders are a menace to the auto industry.

    Another little known feature, alerts the driver if that person exits the vehicle with the engine running and shuts the door with the drivers window closed. A small 'tone' sounds from within the drivers 'side view' mirror. Side view mirrors automatically fold in for protection and ease of walking by them. Seats that position themselves for each driver are becoming common.

    Turn signal relays are no longer mounted in easily accessed areas, Yup, Dealer service only $$. Side step rails that extend and retract automatically, add complexity to the new vehicles along with the ease of entry. Collision repair is changing in complexity and only a competant facility with the highest morals is recomended. Thinking new or used Prius? Keep in mind the cost of repairing one of these technological wonders after a collision.

    Test every one of the momentary buttons on the control panels. In addition to the radio and climate controls, they turn on or off the anti-skid control, The park assist, heated seats, adjustable pedals and various other pieces of equipment. If the detailer sprays a 'new look' treatment directly onto the dashboard, or it gets sprayed with a sugary soda, all of those little buttons are now possibly 'stuck'. "O the Joy"

    A very important little icon that light's up on the dash display, has a picture of an airbag and a figure, with it's face planted firmly against it. (SRS, 'suplemental restraint system') It is red and sounds a chime (similar to the seat belt warning) if it activates. This alerts you to a problem with this very complex safety system and it's chain of sensors, including the very important adult/child/..empty (disabled) sensor in the passenger seat. If it lights info warnings and chimes , you are possibly no longer completely protected by the airbag system or even possibly the seat belt locking devices (small internal explosives).

    If not disclosed, this is a Liability issue on the seller. It is a safety issue and should be addressed. You are to be alerted to this safety failure before you even drive the vehicle. At this time we are involved in negotiation with the State of NM Employee's Credit Union about just this issue as well as it's satisfactory resolution.

    The small cheap cars that are looming on the horizon from China and India are starting to look pretty good in comparison to today's US-UAW models. I don't think the lawyers will let the 'simplistic models' survive long in our legalistic environment of this USA. I know how it must have felt to buy a futuristic (at that time) Studebaker, Kaiser-Fraser, Nash, Packard or Hudson...just before they were assimilated into the UAW jungle many years ago.

    The purpose of this information post is to alert the unaware buyer to new situations in today's highly complex vehicles. It is in no way meant to insert paranoia into the buyer. The informed buyer is more comfortable with the transaction. Knowing and revealing the facts, lets the buyer 'and seller' sleep well at night.

  • for their extensive Technical knowledge and advice in writng this report. Things in this world are changing fast. Stay aware of the changes and you will do just fine. If not, 'PRAY' it's your last chance.

    We live in the greatest nation history has ever known. Lets enjoy the amenitys in this 'One Nation Under God', 'The United States of America'.

    Blogger Blogengeezer said...

    Beware the adamant 'recomendations' from the Insurance 'Adjusters'. Their job is to save the most money for their company, by any means possible, on any collision repair or damage claim. You as the owner of your vehicle, have the right to take YOUR car to the shop of your choice. Blogengeezer at DaFlikkers

    7:43 AM  
    Blogger Blogengeezer said...

    The latest pitfall of buying a car, any car, is the attempt by the seller to hold the title (if they even have one) for as long as possible.

    This treachery allows the seller to use the title as colateral on their 'floor plan', while they scramble to float cash through the system as many days or months as they can. This trickery presents the image of profitability (false) to their lender.

    Another scam came up on local news. The titles are held by another car dealer as colateral until they receive their money for the cars sold to yet another dealer. If that dealer sells you the car, he must pay the original dealer for it before he will turn over the title.

    Guess what.. They don't like to pay the original dealer, sooo you get No title without a lawsuit.

    The latest 'fun and games' in the buying of a vehicle, any vehicle. Sounds 'third world' to me, but what do I know.

    Maybe you can ask to 'see' the title somewhere before even entering negotiations? Be sure you are dealing with a well referenced dealer before buying 'anything' today. These are not Honest days.

    7:29 AM  

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