Buying a used car can be an intimidating experience if you are not a mechanic. At the end of the day, making a mistake can lead to issues and wasted money. No one wants to waste money. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road, either. So, knowing what to look for when buying a used car is crucial.
We all can’t be car experts. It’s as simple as that. Therefore, it’s always possible that you overlook a glaring issue. Mistakes happen. But, here are a few main things to pay attention to.
Check the Statistics
Regardless of if you are buying a vehicle from a private seller or car dealership, do not ever show up without knowing your stuff. Never approach a negotiation without knowing the item’s worth.
Use sites like Kelley Blue Book to look up the value of the car you are inspecting. You want to know the average worth of the car, then base your negotiations from there. If the average used price is $10,000, but you find a few issues with the car, you know you can drop below that rate comfortably. Furthermore, you will know if something is being overpriced.
Knowing about cars helps, but it is not the most crucial part of negotiating. Know the worth before even showing up. If you are not sure what make of vehicle you will be looking at, let the buyer know you want to step aside and do some research. Take as long as you need during the process. It’s your money, after all.
Exterior Tells the Story
Even the most unseasoned car buyers can notice something incorrect with the exterior. Rust, sizable dents, loose pieces and broken sections should never escape your eye. Give a good look at the exterior. Check from top to the bottom.
Depending on the price of the car, small dents or chips are to be expected. Remember, this is a used item. More than likely, it will not be in perfect condition. Tailor your expectations according to the age and asking price of the vehicle.
Inspect that all doors (including the hood and trunk) open properly. Check to make sure all of the car’s panels line up correctly. Any misaligned or seemingly repainted parts are likely due to replacements or damages. Do not be afraid to ask about something strange. It may just be as simple as a repaint to cover a chip. It may be an entirely new panel from a junkyard.
Ultimately, the frame is the biggest thing to keep in mind. Regardless of wear and tear, the car’s frame should never be jeopardized. Make sure the car is sitting level, doesn’t have anything hanging off the undercarriage and doesn’t have any warping.
This goes without saying, but check the interior as well. Does everything look intact? Are all the lights, seats and seatbelts functional? Any cracks on the dashboard or windows?
It may seem strange but sit in all of the seats. Make sure that each of them feels correct. Check the electronics like the clock and radio. Also, keep an eye (or nose) on the stench. If the car smells musty, there may be some type of leak.
Side note: keep note of how well the car looks. Sure, old cars may be impossible to get spotless, but did the buyer put in the effort to clean the vehicle? If the car is dirty, the seller was not willing to put in the work. This should not always be considered a dealbreaker, but it is a negative sign.
Look at Vehicle History When Buying a Used Car
One of the most important things to look for when buying a used car is the car’s history itself. Do not be afraid to ask for the vehicle’s VIN number. By searching, you can find the entire history of the vehicle. All major repairs, accidents and potential salvages.
You can even do it here for free!
Also, do a bit of research about the model itself. For example, if you find that the specific model has had a history of problems with its power steering, keep a keen eye out for it when looking at the car for sale. Feel for it when you test drive it. See if there is anything about it in the VIN history.
Ultimately, do your research! Reading this is already a good first step. Great job.
Check the Fluids
Look, we don’t expect you to be able to look under the hood and recognize issues that would take a prolific eye. Furthermore, we will get to all of that later.
You should check under the hood, though. Look for any rust, corroded parts, or leaking fluids. All in all, if something looks bad, it probably is.
Check for leaking fluids and fluid levels. Check the levels and color of the oil, transmission fluid and coolant. The oil should be light brown, and the transmission fluid should be pink or red. Sure, it’s not extremely alarming if things are slightly discolored or under the full line. If liquids are strangely colored or empty, questions need to be asked. Ultimately, any missing fluid is a bad, bad sign.
Check the Suspension
One thing to look for when buying a used car is the suspension. Walk around the car and make sure everything sits level. Push down on each corner. If the shock absorbers are in good condition, the car will bounce once. If the car bounces up and down, the suspension most likely needs repair.
Grab each of the front tires and pull them. It is an expensive and potentially dangerous sign if the tires feel loose or make strange noises.
Remember, these issues can be a costly expense.
Check the Tires
Tires aren’t an end-all-be-all in buying a used car. Tires can be replaced and don’t necessarily indicate a broken vehicle. The seller may have decided the expense wasn’t worth it before the sale.
All of the tires should be the same type and brand. See if the tread is low. There may be an issue with the suspension if the tread is worn unevenly.
If the tires are just worn all around, you can always use this to lower the buying price.
Look, we could write an entire book for what to look for when test driving a used car. But, you don’t have time for that. So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
Firstly, always test drive a car before buying it. Always.
Secondly, if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. You do not have to be a professional to feel that something is wrong. Trust your gut.
Thirdly, make sure to take the vehicle up to highway speed during the test drive. A used car may feel fine at low speeds but horrible at higher ones. Put it to the test. Overall, it should not pull, make strange noises or feel like it isn’t accelerating properly.
Furthermore, go slowly and slam on the brakes. Make sure they stop properly. Warn the seller if they are in the vehicle with you. There is nothing wrong with stress-testing the brakes. It’s your life, after all. Make sure they do not feel soft, unresponsive, or make horrible noises.
Take It to a Mechanic
If you are dead set on buying a specific used car but are still wary of its condition, ask to take it to a mechanic. Some private sellers or dealerships may decline, but it is worth a shot.
Nonetheless, if the seller gives you the okay, take the car to a mechanic. Get the shop to look over the vehicle and give you a report of all its issues. This will allow you to create a fair offer and decide if it is worth it.
Take Your Time and Ask Questions
More importantly than what to look for when buying a used car is how you do so. Take your time. Do not get rushed into making a decision. If the seller is too pushy, simply walk away from the deal. There are plenty of other used cars out there.
Also, do not be afraid to ask questions. If a seller refuses to answer them, take that as a bad sign.
All in all, you are not annoying. It is your money.
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