When you live in a climate that involves snow and ice, your car can feel the brunt of treated roads. Rock salt is enemy number one. While salt makes winter travel safer, it can wreak havoc on a car. When salt mixes with water, and there's plenty of that on a winter road, rust becomes a clear and present danger. A car owner can prevent rust by avoiding deep slush and snow and by washing their car including the undercarriage throughout the winter months, ideally every 10 days of driving on salted roads and once more after temperatures climb above 40 degrees.
Another threat is damage to the windshield wipers, windshield, and washing systems. Layers of ice can form under your wipers. Even if you can't see the ice buildup, an invisible layer might be there. Leaving your wipers up before a snowstorm or removing any ice buildup before use is a good idea. Otherwise, the windshield might get scratched and damaged without you even knowing it!
If you're considering buying a used car in a climate where snow and ice are always an issue in winter, like in Idaho, you may be wondering if all-wheel drive is a good option to choose. This one is a mixed bag for used car drivers. All-wheel drive does better getting you going in snow, but it actually can make braking tougher because of the extra weight of the vehicle. Depending on where you live and what you need, you might want to consider all-wheel drive when looking at buying a used car.
Spotting Warning Signs in a Used Car
How do you know if someone has treated their vehicle well? The first thing to look for is damaged glass. Cracks, scratches, and pocked areas might be an indication of improper use of the windshield wipers in wintertime or a lack of repair when problems occurred. Wipers are easily replaced, but the damage that icy or old ones do is not so easy to repair. Damage in the windshield has a tendency to worsen over time, so even a minor crack or scratch should be repaired or replaced.
Check for rust. The tailpipe is often a canary in the coal mine, so look there first. But if the ground clearance is high enough, get under the vehicle with a light to check for rust. Some rust is normal, but heavy deterioration might mean replacing entire parts or systems. A fresh undercoating might give a used car a new-car look, but beware because the new coat might hide existing damage due to snow and salt. Ask more questions of the dealer if you see a brand-new undercoating.
All-wheel drive does better getting going on snowy roads, so ask whether the car is AWD or FWD. If it is front-wheel drive, check behind the front wheels. You should see round, black, rubber bellows at the ends of the axle shafts. If the boots are cracked and leaking, that probably means the car has bad constant-velocity joints, which could mean another costly repair.
Kick the Tires and Examine the Interior
Obviously, winter weather wear isn't the only problem your previously owned vehicle could have encountered. You'll want to make sure that you get a CarFax report, or the equivalent, to see if your vehicle has been in an accident. Often those reports will also detail the car's maintenance records, which should give you a snapshot into how well the vehicle was taken care of by its previous owner. A one-owner car can be an incredibly good deal, especially if that one owner was dedicated to routine maintenance.
When you're looking at a used car, make sure to check out the tires. You can tell a lot about the vehicle by the tires. Even tread wear means good care and driving habits, including regular rotations and safe driving. Aggressive drivers often wear out the outside of the front tires, near the sidewall, so if you see that pattern you can deduce that the car has been driven hard. You'll also want to make sure the tires are in good condition, with enough tread to be safe. Stick a quarter in the tread with Washington's head down. If you can see the top of our First President's head, you should negotiate new tires into your deal.