How to Thoroughly Inspect a Used Car Before You Buy

Buying a used car

Unless you’re making six figures, you might not be in the position to buy a brand new car fresh off of the assembly line. Buying a used car is a fairly common practice – whether you’re looking to buy your very first car or need to replace that old reliable automobile that has served you faithfully for years. While buying used cars is a common practice, there is still plenty of reason to be a little wary when you are looking at a pre-owned vehicle. The following list will provide you with some helpful tips and important things to look out for when you’re examining your potential future car.


1.  Do your homework

If there’s a particular make/model you have in mind for your car, make sure you do some research before arriving on the lot. Search online for customer reviews on the car to see what other people think. This will be a big help if you are starting from square one and need some advice on what make of car to choose. If you have an exact model you’re looking at, you can cross-reference the asking price by using Blue Book. Here you can compare the value of a vehicle based on mileage, age and wear and tear.


2.  Keep an eye out for con artists and scams

While there may be some problems that a seller may have overlooked, you have to be cautious of people trying to intentionally rip you off. “Curbstoners” are unlicensed “car dealers” who repeatedly flip cars that are often very unreliable; ask for the credentials of the salesman when looking at a car. Other red flags include phrases like “cash only,” “pay in advance” and “paperwork later.” If something doesn’t feel right about the sale, follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask questions. As a wise man once said: “the customer is always right.”


3.  Inspect interior and exterior of vehicle

You don’t need to be a professional to know when something isn’t right with a car; just a healthy pair of eyes. Explore every nook and cranny of your prospective vehicle: Does the upholstery have any rips, tears or marks on it? Are the wheels scratched up or dented? Open up the hood and take a look at the engine and adjoining parts. Rusty and/or dirty parts indicate that the car hasn’t been properly attended to and will likely cause problems for you in the future. Just because you’re buying a used car doesn’t mean it has to “look used.”


4.  Test Drive

This one may seem like a no brainer, but you should get a feel for the car you are potentially going to be driving for the next several years. Not only do you want to experience “the right fit” as a driver, but you make sure that everything is working properly. You should drive it on local roads and highways to see how it handles varying speeds. It’s also important to make a pit stop during your test drive to see if there are any leaking fluids or other wear-and-tear issues.


5.   Certification

Requesting certification for the car means that the dealership will provide you a warranty for the car you purchase. A certified pre-owned vehicle is one that the manufacturer itself has approved for resale. You can also hire a mechanic to get the car certified yourself. This will of course add to the overall price of the vehicle but a little bit of assurance and peace of mind might just be worth it. Getting a used car certified will also improve its resale value down the line.


6.  Review vehicle’s history

Even if the salesperson has the proper credentials, you want to make sure that the vehicle in question does as well. Requesting a vehicle history report will give you details on all kinds of information on the car including title and ownership history, service records and any previous accidents. Using a VIN decoder chart is a quick and easy way to see if the car’s VIN info matches with its vehicle history. This is another precaution to take against potential fraud.


7.  Have car inspected by mechanic

This is a step that is often overlooked but is so very important. Paying a little extra to have a professional take a look at the vehicle in question will certainly be worth your while. A mechanic will be able to spot the things that you may have missed and will give you a professional opinion on whether or not the car is worth buying.


The process of buying a car feels long and arduous and you feel like you want to get it over with as soon as possible. Taking the proper steps to insure that you have made the right choice with a vehicle is absolutely essential however. Keep in mind that this is not a one-time-purchase, it’s an investment!

Further Reading


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