10 Things to Look for Before Buying a Used Car (Guide)

Buying a used car can be a daunting task. But with the right guide, it can be a lot easier. Check out our top 10 things to look for before buying a used car!

What To Look For Before Buying A Used Car

If the time has come to purchase a used car, you need to be careful not to get ripped off by a bad deal. By understanding the things to look for before buying a used car, you better protect yourself.

In this guide, we examine how to ensure the used car is what you want. We also talk about the cost of a professional used car inspection if you want more peace of mind. 

Things to Look for Before Buying a Used Car

Start by examining the vehicle history and title. Look at the mileage, tire condition and body for rust or corrosion. Inspect the frame and peek under the hood at the mechanical parts. After evaluating the interior and taking a test drive, you want to get a professional inspection from a mechanic.

1. Vehicle History

Before you even go look at the car, you should ask for the VIN. The Vehicle Identification Number can tell you a lot about the vehicle when you run a vehicle history check, such as the one provided by CARFAX. You can also use a VIN decoder for the basic information about the vehicle.

In this report, you’ll learn if the car has been in any accidents, is a flooded vehicle or has a salvage title. You can also see how many owners it has had and peek at the service history to ensure it was well taken care of.

2. Title

If there isn’t a loan on the car, the person selling it will have the title in hand. If you are working with a reputable dealership, this isn’t something to worry about. However, private sellers have a way of scamming people, but you can head that off by looking at the title.

You want to see the title and it should be listed in the person’s name that is selling it to you. They can provide some elaborate excuses of why it’s not in their name, but it’s called title floating and it’s not legal. Trust your gut feeling when it comes to discerning title issues. 

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3. Mileage

On average, the typical used car should have about 12,000 miles per year on the odometer. If you want to figure out where the used car stacks up, divide how many miles are on the odometer by how old it is. 

If you choose a high mileage car, there will be more wear and tear on the vehicle. You might consider spending a little more to drive a car with fewer miles than it should have. 

4. Tires

Examine the tire tread to see if it is wearing evenly. You also want all four tires to match, even if they might need to be replaced in the future.

Uneven tread or an excessive amount of wear could indicate larger problems. It could mean that the frame, suspension or steering is off, which may cause you bigger trouble down the road. 

5. Rust/Corrosion

It doesn’t take a private eye to find rust on a car. Take a quick walk around the vehicle and look for any rusty spots or corrosion.

You also want to examine the body in general. Are there a lot of paint chips or scratches? While this might not bother you, it should help you get the price of the car down slightly.

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6. Frame

Even if you don’t have a lift to put the car on, you can get a good idea of the frame condition. Does the vehicle sit level when on the ground?

You also shouldn’t see anything strange hanging down under the car. Look at the vehicle from the front and back to see if it looks aligned. If not, it’s possible that the car was in an accident that could compromise its safety. 

7. Under Hood

This could be one of the most important inspections, but most people aren’t sure what they are looking at. Turn off the engine and look under the hood for any leaks. You also want to examine if there are strange smells coming from the engine bay. This might be eaiser to notice once you start the engine back up.

With a clean rag, check the oil and transmission fluid condition. They should appear clean and full. In general, clean oil has an amber color, while most transmission fluids are red or pink.

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8. Interior

Everyone wants to jump right into the interior, but it doesn’t need to be checked until the other steps are performed. Sure, it’s important that all of the electronics and features work, but it’s not nearly as important as the mechanical aspects. Once everything else passes your checklist, you can move into the cabin to see if everything is working right. Don’t forget to check the heating and air conditioning system.

You also want to take a look at the condition of the upholstery. If there are stains, tears or cracks in the seats, especially if they are leather, you could be looking at an expensive repair bill if you choose to fix it. 

9. Test Drive

When the used vehicle hits every other mark in your book, it’s time to take it out on the road. Plan ahead the route you will take, as you want it to provide a variety of roads and speeds. You need a route that lets you fully try out the acceleration, brakes and maneuverability.

If you can, take it on a routine route, such as your drive to work. This will give you the best idea as to whether the car will provide a comfortable ride during your commute. 

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10. Professional Inspection

If you are convinced that this is the car for you, let your mechanic make the final decision. If you aren’t an expert in the mechanical operation of a vehicle, you might have missed something that could cause high repair bills.

You will have to pay for the used car inspection. On the other hand, you could forgo the inspection because you don’t want to pay for it, but you might be left with a lemon. 

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How Much Does a Used Car Inspection Cost?

You can expect to spend $100 to $350 for a used car inspection from a mechanic. If you are choosing where to take your vehicle for this service, get a list from the garage as to what will be checked. The more systems that are looked at, the better. 

In general, the mechanic should evaluate the engine, transmission and other major mechanical components. You also want the AC system checked, along with the tires and brakes. Aside from that, it’s important to have all of the fluids examined, plus the belts and hoses. It also doesn’t hurt to have the radiator looked at, ensuring that the cooling system is in optimal working order. 

Because this can be such a hassle for buyers, many people will prefer to shop with a reputable dealership instead. When you do this, you might not need to get a used car inspection, especially if the vehicle is a Certified Pre-Owned. While these cars cost more, they come with a warranty and have already been through an extensive inspection.

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