What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

When it’s time for you to buy a used car, you need to know what to look for in the vehicle so you don’t end up with a lemon full of problems.

It’s fun to narrow your search down to the single model you want, but if that vehicle doesn’t pass your inspection, it could mean starting all over. You need to be willing to do this with a used vehicle so you don’t end up with a car that gives you problems down the road. Whether you’re buying from a dealership or a private seller, once you take ownership of the vehicle, it’s yours, and that means its problems as well.

How Should you Inspect the Vehicle?

Thankfully, Consumer Reports offers us a handy list of things you need to do when inspecting a used car. With this list, you’ll have a relatively complete idea of what this vehicle has wrong with it. Of course, a second opinion never hurts, which could come from a mechanic you pay for an inspection or a friend that is car savvy and understands your driving needs.

Check Out the Exterior of the Vehicle

Depending on the age, you might not expect a used car to have a body that’s in perfect condition, but some models and some owners do an amazing job of keeping vehicles looking their best. Look at every body panel and the roof to see if there are any scratches, dents, or rust. The most challenging problem will be rust, which can eat away at the body. While reviewing the body, check out the glass to ensure there aren’t any chips or cracks present.

Moving downward, inspect the suspension for levelness and make sure the shocks work right. Get on the ground and look at the underside of the car to see if there is any rust that might cause issues for you down the road. Check out the lights and lenses to ensure they work and are aligned, and then check the tires for wear patterns. You want to see tires that wear evenly; if not, the vehicle could need an alignment or suspension work.

Head to the Interior area of the Used Car

You’re going to spend most of your time in the cabin area of the car. Other than walking to it and loading it, most of us spend more than 95 percent of our time with a vehicle on the inside of it. This means you want to check out this area to know what you’re getting into when it’s time for a drive.

Open the doors and take a whiff of the interior. If you smell mildew, the car could leak when driving around in the rain. Move the floor mats to inspect the carpet area for stains. Sit in all of the seats and make sure they work, and offer the comfort you need. Check the pedals for wear, and make sure it matches what you expect based on the miles and year of the vehicle.

Sit in the driver’s seat and play with all of the instruments and controls. This could be your used car, and you need to know how everything works. This is a good chance for you to visualize driving this car every day. Turn on the sound system and listen to it so that you know the speakers work right and the system functions properly. Look up and check the headliner for wear and damage that would make it problematic for you. If the vehicle has a sunroof, make sure it opens and closes properly.

The Trunk is an Important Space to Check

Many people fail to check out the trunk of a used car, but you certainly should. You shouldn’t smell anything out of the ordinary in this part of the vehicle, much the same as the interior. Look for a spare tire and make sure it is in good condition. Find the jack and tools that would be needed if you have a flat tire in this car.

Take a Look Under the Hood

If you’re not mechanically inclined or comfortable inspecting an engine, this is where your friend or a mechanic should inspect the vehicle for you. If you do understand cars and want to inspect this area of the used car you might buy, there are a few things you need to look for when under the hood.

Check the condition of the engine bay. It’s not going to be pristine clean unless the previous owners cleaned it, but the dirt and wear should appear normal. While the vehicle is sitting, look on the ground for any fluid leaks and check the battery for corrosion. Squeeze the rubber hoses to ensure they are firm and not cracked. Check the drive belt for fraying.

One thing you can do, whether you’re car-savvy or not, is to check all of the fluids. All you need is the owner’s manual to do this. Oil is the most important fluid for you to check. It should be black or dark brown unless it’s recently been changed. Make sure it’s not gritty at all. After checking the oil, look at the rest of the fluids to make sure they are at the right levels and appear to be correct in color and consistency.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure with a Used Car

Once you’ve completed your inspection and had a second person review the vehicle, you need to decide whether or not to buy the used car you spent time with. Of course, you need to take it for a test drive, but only if it passes the inspection process. Are you going to buy the car or will you look for another model?

Keep in mind most used cars aren’t going to offer a perfect inspection when you go through all of the steps outlined. Something is going to be a little off; can you live with the issue, or do you need to find a different vehicle? If you can, take emotion out of the process and think about whether or not you want to make the problems of that car yours to deal with going forward.

This post may contain affiliate links. Meaning a commission is given should you decide to make a purchase through these links, at no cost to you. All products shown are researched and tested to give an accurate review for you.

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