Dear Car Talk:
I am about to buy a 1998 Volvo S90 with 133,000 miles on it. The smog sticker is expired. The seller tells me it’s only $40 to get a new one. Is it possible that it won’t pass the test? What would you recommend that I check for? I am one of the sisters who’s ignorant about mechanics. What a shame. Thanks. — Ati
The best way to find out if it will pass the smog test is to get a smog test, Ati — before you buy it.
It’s entirely possible that it won’t pass. That may be why it’s sitting on Goober’s lawn with grass growing up to its side-view mirrors. And in fact, you really should have the whole car checked out by your own mechanic before you buy it. It could be parked because the transmission refused to go beyond second gear, or because it burns so much oil that it was used in a community mosquito-abatement program.
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You can handle your pre-purchase inspection one of two ways. You can volunteer to take the car to be inspected yourself. The seller might want some sort of deposit to make sure you come back, so you can give him a check for $100. But I’d make any deposit refundable, contingent upon it passing inspection.
If the seller doesn’t want to release the car to you, then have him take it to a mechanic of your choice to have it inspected. If you need help finding a trusted nearby mechanic, try searching at www.mechanicsfiles.com.
That mechanic will be working for you, Ati. So have him start with the smog test. If the car fails the smog test, you can tell him to stop there, and you can return the car. You’ll have wasted $40 but saved yourself a lot more than that in time, money and trouble.
If it passes the smog test, then he can check out the rest of the car and tell you what else is wrong with it, what needs to be fixed right away and what can wait. That’ll give you a much better idea of what, exactly, you’re buying, and what it’s going to actually cost you in the next six months to a year.
You also can use that information to negotiate with the seller.
But by all means, get it smog-tested before you buy it. The law may require you to pay another $40 to smog-test it once you register it in your name. But at least you’ll know it’s going to pass without a new $800 catalytic converter and two $300 oxygen sensors. Good luck, sister.
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