There's a 1992 Toyota 4Runner SR5 V6 4WD for sale locally. It's got 198k miles on it. The listed price is $5k. I haven't seen the car in person, but I want to be ready for when I do check it out.

From the photos the car seems to be in pretty good condition. The interior looks very clean and the exterior seems to be in good condition (paint seems good, no sign of rust in the photos). Overall, it seems like quite a pretty car. It's had 5 owners (a lot) and one accident of which I don't know the details. It comes with brand new A/T tires (I can't quite see which model).

To be honest, I don't know much about cars, and I've never actually purchased a car myself. What should I look for when I check out the vehicle? In your personal opinion, should I buy the car just given the make, model and mileage?

If I like what I see when I go check it out, I'll then have a mechanic check it out before I actually buy.

  • 1
    Where do you live? Where is the car from? Does your municipality (or the one where the car was originally from) use salt on the roads in winter? Is the suspension stock or has it been lifted? Is it known that the vehicle has been used excessively off-road? Get under the vehicle and look for salt corrosion and possible rock damage particularly in the area of the rocker panels (the areas under the doors).
    – user16128
    Jan 27 '20 at 17:38
  • Thanks for the response! I live in Colorado on the front range, I'll have to check about the car (where it came from). They don't use normal salt here, they use Magnesium Chloride because it's better for plant life. They also aren't very liberal with the salt. The weather here is so dry and sunny that the snow is gone in a few days regardless. I'll definitely be sure to look for rust.
    – Alex
    Jan 27 '20 at 17:59

IMO, that's a lot of money for a 28 year old car - but 4runners do keep their value well.

Things to do, given that you've never purchased a car before;

  1. Make sure it has a clean title. You don't want a rebuilt/salvage title on the car - that means something has happened which was serious enough that an insurance company paid out on the car. If it has a branded title, walk away.
  2. Drive the car. 4runners are an acquired taste; my daughter loved hers, but I thought it drove like a tractor.
  3. Ask to see the receipts. Any car that old, if the owners care about it, will have a thick wodge of receipts showing all the maintenance and repair work made over the years.
  4. Get a Vehicle History report from Carfax. They're not perfect reports, but they can often show useful stuff up (such as an accident that you don't yet know about), or maintenance work that isn't in the receipt book.
  5. Look for any dashboard lights. If you see an engine management light, walk away - you're buying someone else's problem that they can't fix. If you have access to an OBD scanner, see if the car is ready for inspection, or if someone has just reset the computer before you turned up. If it's showing Not Ready, walk away - there's an error code that they've turned off just for the sale.
  6. If you're still interested, take it to a qualified mechanic for an expert opinion. Preferably a mechanic that you trust. Ask him for a valuation on the car at the same time, to see if it's priced fairly.
  7. Negotiate. Find out what other similar cars are going for locally.
  8. After purchase, budget about $500-$1,000 for immediate maintenance/repairs. If you don't need it all, great - but allow for it anyway. Change the major fluids straight away. Remember that you're looking at 13mpg on this, so take out a mortgage for gas..

Some other guidelines; If you don't like the owner (they look rough, or just generally untrustworthy), walk away. The car will be just like them. Don't fall in love. There are lots of other cars out there, so if anything feels dodgy, walk away. Don't think that 'it's a simple fix' for anything that's wrong; if it was a simple fix, the owner would already have done it.

  • Thank you so much! This is super helpful. The car is actually being sold by a used car dealership. This is probably why it's a little over-priced.
    – Alex
    Jan 27 '20 at 18:37
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    If you have limited automobile repair skills, I think it might be wise to walk away from this. Most everything on this is 28 years old. Things are definately going to happen. But if your mechanically inclined, it could be something to play with. If you want something more dependable you may be better off by saving more money for something less worn out.
    – Jupiter
    Jan 27 '20 at 18:52

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