Things to Look for When You Buy a Used Car

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By S. Larson

Buying a new car is both exciting and nerve-wracking. A new car has a lot of draw. However, a pre-owned vehicle is a great investment. Cost is not the only factor you should look at when buying a car. Below are 10 recommended things you should consider when shopping for your next vehicle.

Mechanical Checklist:S Larson_Things1

Mechanical issues can take a pre-owned vehicle from a valuable purchase to a horrible investment. Be sure to inspect your vehicle for the following to ensure you are purchasing a mechanically sound car.

  • Carefully inspect the interior and exterior of the car. Look for any rips, stains or smells that may indicate problems inside the car. Check the exterior for existing damages. Rust can indicate problems down the road. Vehicles that have been in minor accidents are not without value. It is important, however, that any repairs have been professionally done. Custom paint jobs can mask damages. Be wary of them.
  • Take the car for a test drive. It is best to take the car out on local roads as well as highways. A test drive is the clearest indicator of how the car drives and handles. Pay attention to any noises, odd sensations, lights or smells that occur while test-driving the vehicle.
  • Be sure to check for any leaking fluid. Black fluid can indicate an oil leak. Green fluids typically are anti-freeze leaks. Transmission fluids should be pink in color. To check for these, park in a clean area and allow the car to run for 30-seconds. Move the car and do an inspection of the area.
  • Having a mechanic inspect a vehicle may be a costly test, but it can go a long way in preventing you from buying a lemon. This is especially true when you are not buying from a reputable used-car dealer.


Research Checklist:

Researching a potential vehicle can help save you a lot of money and keep you informed. Be sure to follow the below to ensure you get the best value from a potential car purchase.

    • Read up on the make and model you are interested in. Consumer reports can help you understand potential problems or defects known to affect that type of car.
    • Compare prices of similar vehicles. Kelley Blue Book and dealership prices are all easily available online. While every used car is different, these sources can provide a reasonable estimate for comparison.
    • Be sure to investigate the VIN. A VIN decoder chart can help avoid scams. A VIN is like a vehicle’s fingerprint. It is unique; the title and record for a specific VIN will only apply to one car. Often, stolen cars are given VINs from legally owned cars. Do your homework and check to be sure that the VIN on your potential new car belongs to it.S Larson_Things3.jpg


  • After decoding the VIN, check the vehicle’s history report. This will allow you to review any title problems and previous accidents reported on that car. If buying from a dealership, the history report should be readily available. CARFAX also offers a report that can be purchased online.
  • A certified pre-owned vehicle may be for you. They often come with more quality assurance and offer extended warranties.
  • Do not rush into buying a car. Take your time and do your research. If something does not feel right or seems off, pay attention. Some salespersons will try to push you into a sale. This is your investment! Make sure it is one you are happy with in the end.

Editors notes:

While everything above will help you screen out vehicles that aren’t worth buying, in the end, the only way to know for sure that the vehicle you are buying is safe and priced right is to have it independently inspected. It can be difficult to and expensive to involve a mechanic that specializes in repairs to check out a car pre-purchase.

We strongly recommend finding a local inspection service that specializes in pre-purchase inspections as they will include things like VIN searches, CarFax, etc. and help establish accurate value. Because car buying is such an emotional decision and salesmen play to emotion to make a sale, you need to walk into a negotiation with a paper in hand that says the true value of the car or you’ll overpay.

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