Buying a used car can be very exciting…but it can also be a very confusing and stressful time. How do you know if this car is good? What is a fair price for the car?  Can you trust the seller? What should you be looking at when purchasing a used vehicle? This has all those answers plus more!

Do your homework

Check the Kelley Blue Book Value of the car you are looking to purchase. This is so you understand if what the seller is ask for is reasonable and you can negotiate the price.

Get a CARFAX so you know if there has been any major damage or repairs to the car. If the car has been in a major accident or has had a lot of repairs done, it could indicate that there may be future problems with the car.


White Used CarImage by F. Muhammad from Pixabay 

Body condition: Check all panels for scratches, dents, paint chips/peeling, and rust. If you do find minor scratches/dents they are not much of a concern, but rust is. Take a close look at the car for rust or blistered paint. Be aware that scratches and chips in the paint may eventually lead to rusting. When checking for rust never forget about the wheel wells, under the car, and the bottom of the doors.

Glass: Examine the glass on all parts of the car to make sure there are no large cracks or chips in the glass. Remember that a small crack can turn into a very large crack with just a small bump.

Lights: Have someone check the front and back lights to make sure all of them are working. Check to see if they are cracked or foggy.

Tires: Check all 4 tires on the car to make sure the tread is worn down evenly across the tire and the same on both sides of the car. If the tread is only worn on the outside shoulder of the tire, that indicates the car has been driven aggressively. If the outer sides of the tread is worn that indicates the tires are not inflated enough and if they are worn only in the middle they are inflated too much.

If the car is considered a low mileage car (20,000 miles or less), the car should have its original tires still on it. If there are new tires on the car be wary of it, that may mean the odometer has been messed with.

The minimum legal tread limit is 1/16th inch. To test this easily take a quarter flip it to have the head facing down (toward the tire), place it between the treads, if the top of the head is still showing the tires need to be replaced.


Car Steering WheelPhoto by Derwin Edwards from Pexels

Oder: When you first open the car door check to see if the car smells. If there is a musty or mildewy sent to the car that may mean, there is water leakage. Feel around the car to see if it is wet including the roof, seats, and floors. If you smell smoke that could mean a smoker has driven this car, check the cupholders/ ashtray to confirm this. Be aware that a mildew or smoke smell are very hard to get out. If you don’t want a smelly car, look elsewhere.

Seats: Check ALL the seats. Make sure there isn’t extreme wear to them (especially in low mileage vehicles). Check the seats for tears, stains, if they are wet, and even burn marks. Do not forget to check the seat adjuster to see if it works and you can find a comfortable position when you are driving.

Controls: Make sure all the control work. These include blinker (both ways), headlights, cruise control (if the vehicle has it), horn, A/C and heat, and dials on the steering wheel, and flashers. If the car has a touch screen, make sure that works and there is no damage to it.

Sound System: Turn on the radio. Make sure all the speakers, display, and buttons work. If the radio has a Bluetooth connection for your phone, try to see if it will connect and make sure the AUX works as well.

Under the hood

Photo by George Sultan from Pexels

Hoses and Belts: Check all the hoses and belts under the hood. If you pinch them, they should feel firm, but they should never feel hard, they should have a very slight give to them. If they are hard, cracked or very soft there is something wrong.

Radiator: Look in the reservoir for the radiator fluid. It should be a greenish or orange color, never milky or black. If there are greenish marks on the outside of the reservoir, that could indicate pinhole leaks.

Engine: **Before checking the engine make sure it is cool** Check the engine bay. If you see oil splattered around the engine or under the car where the engine is, that is a bad sign and could indicate some serious engine issues.

Under the car

Man checking used carPhoto by Kevin Bidwell from Pexels

Feel the tailpipe for residue: Check the tailpipe for residue. If it is black and greasy, that means there is burnt oil coming out. The tailpipe should be dry and dark grey, never wet. While looking at the tailpipe, check for rust. A small amount is usually normal, but if there is a lot that may mean it will need a new exhaust.

Check for leaks: Look under the car to make sure there isn’t any fluid leaking from the under carriage.

Have an independent mechanic look at it

Mechanic working on carPhoto by Malte Lu from Pexels

Before buying any used car, whether it is from a dealership or private seller, have an independent mechanic do an inspection. Dealers shouldn’t have a problem having you take it to an off-site mechanic; they will probably ask you for a form of identification to be left there. If a private seller is uncomfortable, offer to follow them in a separate car.

Once you are at the mechanic, have them do a full inspection and ask for a detailed report of any findings.

Take it for a test drive

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

During the test drive check for a few things. Make sure the breaks work well, is there any pulsating, loud noise or grinding? Be aware of the steering, is the car drifting? Do you feel the wheel shake? Does the car shift smoothly or is there a lot of jumping? These things will indicate how the transmission is working. Are all the gauges accurate? These include the speedometer, fuel, and temperature. Are there any other noises that may be alarming to you? Do you notice anything else that doesn’t feel right?

If there are any concerns or something doesn’t sit right with the car you are about buy, then trust your gut and keep looking until you are sure about the car.

Check out last weeks article: 6 Products You Should Not Buy In August

By: L. DiBartolomeo August 6, 2019