Tip Sheet

'I bought a used car. Now what?'

A simple three-point instructional

Hey, everyone. Chevrolet Suburban owner here. Got mine with 107,000km on the odometer three years ago. Now we’re at 125,000km. Living with 'Arnold' (“Old, but not obsolete,” get it?) isn’t a bed of roses, but when I compare how much I’ve spent fixing him up versus spending every month to pay off a car loan, I figure I’m still on the winning side of the equation.

When I was first looking for a service vehicle several years ago, I needed the biggest one I could afford. One that would be reliable, comfortable, and if it had a certain charm that other vans or trucks couldn’t match, then that would be a nice bonus. So I ended up with a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban, paying out a little less than for a brand new Toyota Wigo.

I eventually spent another hundred thousand over the next year for things like new tie rods, brake hydrovacs, water pumps and the like, not to mention brand spanking new wheels and tires.


This year, the big expense was the transmission overhaul and brake master cylinder; two projects that cost around P85,000 including labor. Am I happy? You bet. In my line of work, the 'Burb has more than earned its keep with weekly trips to the warehouse where I get to fill it up with goodies easily three times its value. I like to think of it as my personal L300FB, except it looks and drives a lot better. Never mind the gas budget.

As my second vehicle, the one assigned for workhorse duty, I have no regrets about this investment. If, like me, you also browse the used car/truck sites for what could be your next bargain automobile, allow me to share with you this simple three-point list for the things you need to work on immediately after bringing your new (old) ride home.

Important note: Before we go on, let me preface by saying I assume your vehicle can, at the very least, be locked and has all its windows. If it doesn’t, get these fixed first and foremost! Because you can’t work on a car that’s been stolen not five minutes after you park it.

The three most important points you should attend to are summarized into Going, Turning, and Stopping.

* GOING pertains to the drivetrain and ancillary components that keep your car running.

1. Open the hood, start the engine, and listen for any high-pitched whines or squeaks or anything else that isn’t part of the normal engine hum. Those noises could mean a belt needs to be replaced. Or perhaps a water pump.

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2. Check the oil dipstick. If you see traces of white, that could mean water contamination, which means you may need to open up the engine for an (expensive) overhaul.

3. Rising engine temp? Oh boy, better get your cooling system fixed pronto, because if that melts down, then you’re going to need an overhaul, too.

4. Consult the maintenance manual and check the odometer. Whatever’s recommended there, follow it!

* TURNING means the steering, suspension and tires.

1. If your tires are nearly bald or fail the coin test, get a new set for obvious safety reasons.

2. Have the camber and alignment checked. If your tie rods are shot, then you can’t have a proper wheel alignment. In theory, you could get away with having misaligned steering for a while, but then your car would gradually steer worse and worse until you become a danger on the road. 

* STOPPING obviously means the brakes. If the brake pedal feels mushy, have the brake lines and hydrovac checked. Don’t put this off for later. You don’t want to lose your brakes when you need them the most, which is the moment you hit the street.

Once you’ve got the basics down, then you can think about the complementary systems that are still important, but would not really make your vehicle unsafe if they weren’t 100% perfect. Things like bushings, A/C system and shock absorbers.

If you have worn shocks, you can still drive your car, just not as enjoyable as it should be with fresh ones. I had to wait several months for a new set of bushings for the ‘Burb, and while the ride wasn’t as firm on the old bushings, it didn’t make it undrivable.  Your A/C system is essential for our tropical climate, but if your budget is tight you can hold off on it until you get the fundamentals worked on first.


Last on your to-do list should be the cosmetic details and entertainment system: bodywork, tint, big-ass wheels, and any other accessories you may want to splurge on. While these will make your new (old) acquisition more personalized, what’s important is to get your car as roadworthy as possible. After all, a fancy touchscreen stereo with GPS won’t help you much if your engine throws a belt in the middle of the highway.


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ILLUSTRATION: Raynand Olarte
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