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5 Things to Look For When Buying a Used Vehicle

5 Things to Look For When Buying a Used Vehicle

5 Things to Look For When Buying a Used Vehicle
April 17
14:41 2018

In the market for a used vehicle, but worried that you might get stuck with a sour lemon?

Whether this is your first car buying experience or you’ve been burned in a car deal before, there are always risks involved when buying used vehicles.

But don’t let that scare you! Armed with a little knowledge and know-how, you can avoid the most common pitfalls of the car buying experience.

Ready to become a used car expert? Read on to take your search from intimidating to exciting!

1. Always Do Your Homework On a Used Vehicle

If you’ve found a car you’re interested in, do some research before having a look at it. Check online communities for the model in question to identify any common issues. It also never hurts to try and obtain a Carfax or AutoCheck report when you can.

Blue Book the car to be aware of the value range, so you can be prepared to negotiate!

When you arrive to inspect the car, make sure you check the title. A vehicle that has been through serious damage like a flood, fire, or accident that totaled it will have a salvage title. Be very wary about these vehicles.

If service history or receipts are available, they can help confirm the car was serviced and maintained properly. Check that the mileage is accurate versus any service reports, as well.

2. Take a Look Under the Hood

Pop the hood and observe the condition of the inner workings. You shouldn’t see any frayed wires, loose connections, or signs of nesting animals in the engine bay.

Check all fluids for proper fill levels. Pull the dipstick and wipe it on a rag- is the oil brown? If not, something could be amiss. Milky looking oil is a bad sign, as is the smell of gasoline in the oil.

Particles that look dark or metallic in the oil or transmission fluid is a worst-case scenario. Any car with this red flag means parts are wearing down from inside the motor. Avoid at all costs!

When a car gets high in mileage, replacements such as the timing belt will have to be done. Ask the current owner of a high-mileage car what sort of special maintenance they have completed to prolong the life of the vehicle.

3. Inspect the Interior and Exterior Condition

How’s the upholstery of the used vehicle? Depending on the year, a little wear and tear is to be expected. Of more concern is any missing parts like knobs, handles, levers, or panels. Check that all automatic features are in working condition, such as buttons, defrosters, and window switches.

Especially in an older vehicle, check the floors for weakness or signs of damage. Verify that the gauges work, as well as the heat and AC.

On the outside, inspect carefully for rust and any defects. Inspect the bodywork for repairs, cracks, and weakness. Little imperfections might not be a deal-breaker, but major rust is a problem that only gets worse with time.

Damaged bumpers, undercarriages, or lights may be indicators of an accident. Make sure your findings match up with the history of the vehicle.

4. Pay Special Attention During the Test Drive

Driving a car over varied terrain can give you an idea of what some of the issues might be if any. Does the alignment feel straight? Is the idle steady?

Listen for strange noises. An engine knocking is a very bad sign, as is jerky shifting or the transmission slipping gears.

Less risky are breaking issues, as breaks are easily replaced. A rough suspension could be a bigger issue, or it might just be ready for a replacement as well.

Trust your gut and let the test drive paint a picture for you. If there’s tons of noise, rattles, a jumpy steering wheel, and a shake when you press the breaks- it might not be the best investment.

5. Do a Leak Check

Last but not least, park the car on a bit of clean pavement at the end of your test drive. Let the car run for several minutes, then move it to a new spot. Check the place where the car sat to see if any fluids have seeped onto the ground.

Green fluids are antifreeze, while brown is oil. Red could be transmission or power steering. Familiarize yourself with the common fluids in a vehicle, and be on the lookout for any evidence that they might be leaking.

There’s no way in this scenario to tell how severe a leak truly is. It could be a simple fix, or could potentially be a costly repair. It’s best to make the worst assumption possible and let that inform your decision.

Ready to Get Shopping?

Keep in mind, any used car is going to need repairs. Leave room in your budget for any unforeseen visits to the mechanic. Following the tips provided here should help you avoid the worst pitfalls in purchasing a used car.

Get out there and find your next set of wheels!

For more tips on buying or selling used, visit us at

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