It is a right of passage that nearly everyone must go through, and then regret later: buying a used car. We have all seen it happen to people we know. They purchase a used car and later find out it was a lemon. It can be a very dangerous game because of the unforeseen costs that come along with a used car. How can you trust the person selling the car? Is the car in as good as shape as the seller says it is?

Buying a used racecar can be even more dangerous, not only because of the possible added expenses, but because equipment not up to par on the safety side of things could cost you your life. Having said that, I understand why people purchase a used car. In fact, the car I am racing this season in Hooters Pro Cup was purchased used two years ago. If you do your homework, research the car and the buyer, and avoid rushing into things, then you can end up with a great machine capable of winning.

A lot of the rules that apply when purchasing a used street car are applicable to purchasing a used racecar. However, avoid the temptation to purchase a used racecar simply because you really, really want to race. After you have determined what class you want to be driving in and at what tracks, then you need to visit those tracks. Nine out of 10 times you will find a car for sale from the division you choose. Before anything is said to the car owner, sit back and watch how the car runs that evening. Speak with other drivers that have raced against it and find out how the car usually runs. If the car is usually finishing seventh out of an eight-car field, then I would suggest spending your money elsewhere. Also, it would be wise to ask around to see if anyone recalls the car being involved in any recent hard crashes. Record mental notes to be used later.

The car itself should be looked at closely before any money is exchanged. But what if you do not know what to look at, or what to look for? That's all right, because there are a few factors that will show you what type of life the car has had. Of course there are always exceptions to the rules, but these tips will go a long way in assisting you in purchasing a good used racecar.

First, the gas tank won't lie to you. I am not speaking of the fuel bladder, but rather the steel casing the fuel bladder fits into. After a hard wreck where the rearend has been heavily damaged, teams often save money by simply beating the dents out of the tank. If you crawl underneath the car and see several wrinkles on the tank, then you know at some point a bent chassis component put that bend in the tank.

A car owner could simply purchase a new tank and hide the fact that the car was involved in a major accident six races ago. In fact, the complete front and rear chassis components (or clips) can be replaced rather easily. Most manufacturers start in front of the firewall and replace everything forward when they cut off a front clip, which means the firewall can also be a point of reference to see how many races the car has been through. I am not referring merely to bends or wrinkles here. If you notice holes that were cut for electrical wires but no longer have any wires traveling through them, then that might be an indication that the car had a previous owner, or at least another type of engine.

It all comes down to how well the car is maintained. If the car has a lot of grease and grime throughout and simply looks like it has had a rough life, then it probably has. One of the most overlooked areas of the car is the center section of the chassis. This tells more about the chassis than the front and rear clips ever will. A chassis typically has sheetmetal welded throughout it. Examine the cross member bars that run along the floorpan of the car; if any weld is broken and you can see a hole between the chassis and the sheetmetal, then somewhere the center section of the car is tweaked. If you see anything like this, make sure you have the car examined by the chassis manufacturer if at all possible.

Ideally, you should have the chassis manufacturer put the car on a jig. Or if it's a street car converted to a Street Stock or the like, take it to a body shop employing a frame expert. This is to determine whether anything is tweaked and to make sure the seller isn't trying to pull a fast one on you. If they are unwilling to work with you and schedule a time for the car to go on the jig, then something is up and you shouldn't purchase from them. If you do get it to the manufacturer, while you are there, ask the manufacturer how much a brand new, race-ready car costs. This will serve as a reference point for how much you should be willing to pay for the used car. If the asking price were only $2,000 or so less than a brand new car, then it would be unwise to purchase the used car.

The Engine
The engine is another beast entirely. Make sure you ask how long it has been since the latest engine rebuild, and who performed the rebuild. If it is someone other than the owner, call or visit the person and find out as much as you can about the engine. If the car owner was the last person to rebuild the engine, then make sure you have an engine specialist who could spend an hour or two inspecting the engine and making sure it is up to par.

Another good indication on how well the engine has been maintained is the oil pan. When an engine blows, it will often blow a hole in the bottom of the oil pan. Crawl underneath the car and look to see if the oil pan has been welded back together. While you're underneath the car take a look at all of the front suspension components and look for any hairline cracks in the center linkage. This will show you if the center linkage has drug the track because of an accident. You can see how well the car has been maintained by just looking at everything from underneath the car.

If you follow one piece of helpful information, then do not purchase the seat that comes with the car. You need to spend the money on a seat that is custom made for the driver. Remember, this piece of equipment is protecting the most important thing in the car-you. I recommend a manufacturer with a reputation for quality, such as ButlerBuilt, The Joie of Seating, or ISP.

Ask The Tough Questions
I cannot stress how important it is not to rush into buying a car. I suggest arranging a visit while the car is at the shop, and not when the car owner is at the track. This will give you more time for a one-on-one discussion about the car. You might have to ask some difficult questions, but they must be asked. One of the most important questions you can ask, and one that you more than likely won't get an honest answer for (funny how those always coincide), is "How much did you pay for the car?" If they built the car from the ground up, they might not know exactly. If they bought it used, then they should know. If they paid $20,000 for the car and are asking $20,000 after two full seasons of racing, then an alarm should be going off in your head.

Also, ask how well the car ran last time out. This is a loaded question. Here you are getting a judge on their character and how honest they are going to be with you throughout the selling process. Remember, you already know the answer. You were at the track. You saw that they finished mid-pack. If the seller says the car finished Second but should have won the thing, then you've got a less than honest seller. However, if they say they struggled with the handling, ran decent, and finished around mid-pack, then you have a little more reason to place trust in the car owner.

How old is the chassis? The engine? These are other important questions. If the price is extremely low and then you find out that the chassis is 10 years old, then you know why. Unless you are 100 percent convinced the car is right for you the first time you look at it-and usually it's not-then take the time to see what else is out there. I would even go so far as going back to the track one more time and speaking with the other racers. Ask them what they would pay for the car, as is. This could very well be a determining factor. If the prices line up and the car is still in good shape after another weekend of racing, then by all means go for it.

The fact is buying a used racecar can be dangerous. But it can be done. Just remember to not jump the gun and find yourself with a horrible machine not even capable of winning. Take your time, weigh all of your options, and determine which is the best choice, buying a car used or investing in a new one. This might seem like a lot of work, but purchasing the wrong car could potentially end your season rather quickly. Follow these tips and invest your money in the right car and you could find yourself holding the checkered flag before you know it.

Hess Racing Products
117 Talbert Pointe Blvd.
NC  28117
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