EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in Auto Buying Guide 2017. Find the full magazine at http://gatehouse.morecontentnow.com/article/20170316/NEWS/303159999.
Used-car shopping can be tricky, as there are many ways to end up with someone else’s problem. Car history sites are fantastic, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Should you buy a car if it had a big problem — say an engine or transmission failure — that was then repaired by a reliable mechanic?
On the one hand, a component that failed may have a design issue, and could fail again. On the other hand, many failures are not common to every car of that model type and year. Perhaps a car with a major problem is a gem since it is “pre-disastered.”
To answer the question, we reached out to a diverse group of industry experts, folks who have had a lot of used-car experience of their own. Here are the arguments for and against buying a used car that has had a major repair properly completed.
• John Paul of AAA Southern New England and author of the syndicated “Car Doctor” series, told us that “ ... with enough time, money and talent just about anything can be fixed, cars included. If it is a major mechanical issue such as an engine or transmission, these can be refurbished or replaced as an entire assembly.” Paul does say he’d walk away from any flood-damaged car, however.
• My trusted local mechanic, Mark McMullen of G&M Services in Millis, Massachusetts, says, “As long as the car was repaired and documented and has some warranty, there is no reason that the vehicle shouldn’t be reliable for years of service to a buyer.”
• Another experienced mechanic, Brian Mushnick of Brian’s Garage in Needham, Massachusetts, said, “Buying a used car that has had a major mechanical issue solved by a competent mechanic is not a bad decision, so long as the job is done correctly.”
• George Kennedy, an automotive journalist who’s written for the Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, BoldRide and BestRide, thought outside of the box and gave a qualified “yes” answer. He says a certified pre-owned car solves the dilemma entirely.
“I’d consider certified pre-owned, not because they are any better than any other used car on the lot, but because they are more likely to have a factory-backed extended warranty,” he said. “Having a warranty from the automaker itself is the most crucial element. If you break down in Poughkeepsie, the local service department might not honor the warranty of a hole-in-the-wall dealer in Watertown, and then you’re left with a big repair bill.”
• Freelance auto journalist Tim Esterdahl said “yes” about as definitively as anyone we spoke to.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a vehicle after a major mechanical problem has been fixed,” he said.
However, he also offered the same good advice many of our experts brought up: “Just because the vehicle had a problem with one part, even though it may be major, doesn’t mean the rest of the vehicle’s parts are broken. In the end, a vehicle’s reliability has to be larger than one issue. I would look at the vehicle as a whole and then decide if I wanted to purchase it.”
• Bill Griffith, the Boston Globe’s current and longtime car reviewer, himself the owner and rebuilder of some modern classics, was uneasy with the premise. He feels that no matter what, a car that is used should always be pre-inspected.
• Junior D’Amato, a writer who goes by Auto Doctor, an ASE-certified Master Technician and the owner of Junior’s Automotive Sales & Service in Massachusetts, is also hesitant to answer with a blunt “yes.”
“Was the failure due to lack of maintenance or just a mechanical failure like a valve or head gasket? Does the major repair have a transferable warranty? Does the make have a history of the failure?” he asked. “Mileage and service records are also very important. Either way, the vehicle should have a pre-purchase inspection by an ASE professional technician.”