Bad car vibrations make it difficult to buy one
June 25, 2018 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I bought a car this weekend but had to return it because it vibrates so hard into the back of my head it gave me a bad headache. This was even after test driving it, although it was a short drive and I was distracted by the salesman being there. Are there any other tips to prevent making this mistake again? Or particular models I should be looking for?

I’m a little worried because I also test drove a Kia Soul which also had a bad vibrating issue. I might be more sensitive to vibrations than most people. For example I can’t use electric toothbrushes because I hate that sensation. The thing about the Soul that worries me is I had rented a Kia Soul for a few weeks and the drive was very smooth. But that was a new car and I’m looking at older cars for less than $10k. But nothing older than 2010 and I would love something a little higher off the road than a sedan. With better than 30mpg. I know I’m asking for a lot.

The advice I’m giving myself is that I just need to test a lot of cars and take longer drives. Is there anything else? Or any other advice you have in general is welcome.
posted by bleep to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Kia revamped the Soul starting with the 2016 models in order to smooth and quiet the ride. They did this by adding additional soundproofing to the passenger cabin and larger tires to smooth out the ride from the admittedly stiff suspension. That's most likely why the newer Soul you'd rented didn't vibrate as much as the one you'd test-driven.

My general car-buying advice is to research the makes/models/years in your price range, pick your top three prospects, and then find the online owner forums for those models. Those forums will give you a good idea of what are the usual issues for each model, plus you can ask owners about possible vibration issues. Then, find and test drive those cars, and drop the unsuitable ones from your list. Finally, phone your insurance agent and ask for quotes for your finalists. You'll be surprised at how much the cost of coverage can vary from model to model, and since you'll be paying the insurance long after you've paid for the car, it should be another factor in your purchase decision.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:57 AM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Sometimes mechanics, tire places, or owners chasing max MPGs will over-inflate tires causing a harsh, jittery ride and other handling issues. The pressure printed on the sidewall of the tire is a maximum inflation, not the recommended inflation, which varies by vehicle. Make sure the tires are inflated to the pressure given on the sticker on the driver's side door jamb or owner's manual. Tire balance can make a big difference in vibration too. Also, "run-flat" tires are noted for their harsh ride quality. If the car vibrates at specific speeds, you might have a balance issue. If the ride quality of the car is overall too harsh regardless of speed, it's tire type, tire inflation or you just don't like the suspension calibration of that particular vehicle. Ride quality can also vary by the trim level of the car- as you go up to higher trim levels, rims and tires are generally larger and lower profile, which you don't want for your purposes.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 11:52 AM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Can you quantify the "vibrating"? Is it like the engine is on vibrating? or is the car shakey and vibrating when you are moving? Any vibration in the steering wheel when driving and/or braking?

If this is a used car it could be a number of things like engine mounts causing the engine to vibrate, or dinged up wheels from driving over a few too many potholes. The wheels can get banged up and become out of true (not quite round anymore) and any cause vibrations. My 11 year old car would vibrate and I just got the wheel straightened out and it now drives fine.
posted by eatcake at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I commented, I was assuming you were talking about road/suspension/ride quality vibrations, not engine vibrations, but the "electric toothbrush" comment has me second guessing that. Perhaps you're sensitive to high frequency engine buzzing and such, which might just be inherent in the design of some make/models of cars.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:01 PM on June 25, 2018

For clarification I’m talking specifically about vibrations of:
The headrest
The floor where my feet are
The wheel

I don’t like the feeling of my body being shaken around.
posted by bleep at 12:04 PM on June 25, 2018

I know I’m asking for a lot

No car should vibrate as much as you are describing. What kind of used-car lots are you visiting? Do you have a Carmax nearby, or a dealer that offers certified-preowned models?

I think Larry David is right that the dealer might be overinflating tires or doing some other shenanigans to hide a more serious problem with the car.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:08 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m just going wherever the cheapest cars within my specs are. CarMax is here but they have nothing within my specs and price range. I will go there as a last resort.
posted by bleep at 12:10 PM on June 25, 2018

Are the vibrations associated with the road condition? (i.e. on a super smooth road, does the vibration go away?) Is the vibration associated with driving a particular speed, or over a particular speed? Does the vibration go away temporarily if you take your foot off the gas and coast? At this point, it's still not clear if you're talking about a ride quality issue (the ride quality of the car just jostles you too much for your tastes), a tire/suspension type vibration (does it feel like leaning against a washing machine on spin cycle?) or high pitched engine noise/vibration at high speed, which most people describe as buzzing, but could be also described as vibration. Putting all that aside, presumably you've driven or ridden in cars other than the one you bought, the Kia Soul you test drove and the other, newer Kia Soul you rented. Is this something that bothers you in many cars? I'm trying to understand if you're unusually sensitive to vibration and the normal way some cars operate is bothersome to you, or if there's a mechanical issue with the cars you've tried.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:45 PM on June 25, 2018

It’s not road conditions. In both instances I drove it on smooth new pavement and on highways at normal highway speed. I’ve driven lots of cars before that didn’t have this problem (other rentals, my husbands car, the last car I owned a few years ago, family members cars..) It’s not a sound, it’s more analogous to the way your whole skull vibrates with an electric toothbrush.
posted by bleep at 1:23 PM on June 25, 2018

I honestly think you just have to try more cars. If having the salesperson in the car during the test drive is distracting (I personally would find it super irritating) you don't have to let then come along. You can ask, or even insist, that they wait in the lot for you. I've never had a salesperson join me on a test drive.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:00 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Higher end cars usually have much nicer ride and are expected to be engineered and built better. Lexus (Toyota), Acura (Honda), Infiniti (Nissan), Mercedes, Buick, Lincoln, Audi. Within brands, there are basic and nicer labels, and build quality will vary accordingly. I know - $$ - but better built cars last longer, so maybe try Toyotas and Hondas.

If a salesperson accompanies you, which I find more typical because I'm a woman, tell them you insist on no distractions. If they are distracting, tell them so, and take a 2nd drive alone. When I buy a car, it's always used, and I test drive a lot of cars, and I get them looked at by a mechanic.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m looking at older cars for less than $10k. But nothing older than 2010 and I would love something a little higher off the road than a sedan. With better than 30mpg. I know I’m asking for a lot.

When you're asking for a lot, it can be helpful to think about what you'd be willing to give up. A little higher off the road than a sedan, but without a truck-like ride, basically means a crossover. Your desire for better than 30 mpg suggests a subcompact or compact crossover. Because of your sensitivity to vibrations, a luxury brand might be best.

I also always buy used cars, and I always buy them from private-party sellers.

If I were you, I'd probably start my search by looking for used Lexus RX's, ideally a hybrid model (that'll get you closer to your mileage goal, and the weight of the batteries will make it ride a little smoother). I would look for something with more than 100,000 miles but less than 150,000, and make my buying decision based largely on how thoroughly the maintenance history has been documented. I would consider buying something a little older than 2010, and I would include replacing the shocks and struts in my budgeting considerations.
posted by box at 8:37 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think this dealer put new (and very cheap) tires on the car, but didn't balance them.
posted by fritley at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2018

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