You're really looking at the wrong car. Audi, Volkswagen, GM, and BMW are the worst manufacturers in the world when it comes to customer-unfriendly business practices. You are going to need a lot more money to keep on running back to the dealership for every repair. Programming computers is one of the tricks they have designed in to cost you money after the sale.
To add to the confusion, you're taking someone's word that it even needs a computer. If that's all it would take to solve some problem, the current owner would have done that so they could sell the car for more money. There's a reason they didn't have it fixed. Most commonly that's because there's some next-to-impossible-to-find electrical problem, and a lot of people fall back on "bad computer" when they don't know what else to do. Suppose you DO have a computer installed. You can't get a used one from a salvage yard. It has to be a new one from the dealer, ($$$), and it has to be programmed to your specific car. What are you going to do if that doesn't solve the problem other than pay the bill?
As for the title being stamped "salvage", that lets you know it had major damage, and it lets your future buyer know you have nothing to hide. It does lower the value of the car a little, but that's only fair. You're buying it for less too. My understanding is that gets removed if the car is registered in certain states, but that may have changed. What I'd be more worried about is having the car inspected to see if it is sound mechanically, and if the repairs were done professionally. If there was major crash damage, I've seen some cars that were repaired very nicely, but I've heard horror stories too, mostly on those tv shows where they go looking for trouble to create news. If the car was flooded, expect to have even more electrical problems in the future than normal. Electrical systems are so extremely over-complicated and troublesome. Salt water adds corroded splices, connector terminals, and corroded computer boards to the long list of potential problems. Many of those can take years to show up as that salt works on the wires it got into.
When you test-drive the car, the steering wheel should be straight when you're on a straight road. When you let go of the steering wheel, the car should not head to the ditch or oncoming traffic for a reasonable distance. If you have to constantly hold onto the steering wheel to keep the car going straight, it's out-of-alignment or has a tire problem. Feel the tire wear patterns. You don't want to see one tire worn excessively on one side, both tires on the same axle worn on the inner or outer edges, or a "feather edge" pattern. That's where each block of rubber has one raised edge and one that's worn down. You'll feel the raised edge as you run your hand across the tread one way but not the other way. That feather edge is another sign of misalignment. Those problems can all be corrected with an alignment, although some manufacturers, Ford in particular, don't bother to put some adjustments on their cars. The question then becomes why is the car out-of-alignment? An inspection will reveal worn steering or suspension parts that could be the cause. Improperly repaired crash damage can cause alignment problems that may not be fixable.
A lot of cars today are being "totaled" by insurance companies simply from hail damage because the cost of replacement panels, and the bodywork are more expensive than the car is worth. That wouldn't detract from its mechanical reliability and it wouldn't add to the electrical problems you're going to have, but it would result in that "salvage" designation.
A thorough inspection will take about an hour and a half. If the owner won't let you take the car for your own inspection, say "goodbye". He's hiding something. You choose your mechanic and shop. Don't let the seller dictate the shop because he may use a friend's shop or the one that did the previous repair work. Specify that you want the brake, steering, suspension, and mechanical systems checked as well as structural damage and diagnostic fault codes stored in the Engine and Transmission Computers.
We did these inspections on every car that was traded in at the dealership I worked for. An hour was enough time and that included an oil change. Remember that the car is ten years old, so there's going to things that are worn out, like wiper blades, belts, and normal things like that. Ask the seller why he's selling the car. If he recently spent a lot of money on maintenance items, that shows he wasn't expecting to be selling the car. There's a reason he is selling it now. If the car needs a lot of maintenance caught up, he may have been planning on selling it for a while. That's less suspicious. A major electrical problem could just be the last straw that convinced him to get rid of the car.
Friday, September 5th, 2014 AT 6:27 PM