What To Look For When Buying a Used Car | Dick Hannah Dealerships

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Those in the market for a new car would do well to at least consider buying used. Certified pre-owned vehicles not only save you money on the purchase price, but they also yield lower insurance payments, help you avoid depreciation, and allow you to drive away in a nicer car than you may have otherwise been able to afford. 

When looking around at your options, go for something at least two or three years old. At this point, the vehicle has already experienced maximum depreciation, which saves you from owing more on the car than it’s worth down the line.

In addition to the age of the car, there are other important things to look for that will help you avoid buying a lemon. Buying a used car is a risk if you don’t do your diligence and even more so if you buy from a private seller. This article will serve as a checklist for what to look for when buying a used car so you can have a great experience and find the best deal.


Vehicle Value and History Check


Some sellers will list their car for more than it’s actually worth, but you’ll never know if that’s the case without checking the vehicle value yourself. Kelley Blue Book is the ultimate source for determining a fair price based on the vehicle’s age, mileage, features, current condition, and other factors.


What to look for when buying a used car - Vehicle History Check


Before buying a car from a private seller or a dealer, you should also invest in a vehicle history report, which will tell you if the car has been in any accidents and overview other aspects of its ownership including mileage, title status, and anything else that you’d need to be aware of. All you need in order to obtain a history report is the VIN or the license plate. CARFAX and AutoCheck are excellent places to get these reports. 


Interior and Exterior


Even if you aren’t auto-savvy, it is easy to at least look for certain functional and aesthetic defects in the vehicle’s appearance. A mechanic can take care of the rest, checking under the hood and under the car itself to look for any driveability issues.



The first thing you’ll notice when getting into a car is the smell and the upholstery. If the current owner is a smoker, keep in mind that the smell of cigarettes is very difficult to remove from the fabric on the floors, ceilings, and seats. Check the condition of the upholstery as well to make sure there aren’t any unsightly tears or stains that would be costly to fix.  


What to look for when buying a used car - Interior inspection


While examining the interior, flip on the heating and air conditioning to make sure they both work. Test out the sound system and bring what you’d need to try out the CD player, MP3 connection, or Bluetooth player. If there are automatic windows or a sunroof, make sure they go up and down and don’t have any leaks. Stains near the sunroof are giveaway signs that there’s a leak somewhere in the seal, and that there could be expensive water damage hidden out of sight. 



Consumer Reports urges prospective used car buyers to be very vigilant when looking over a car they intend to buy. Be sure to give the vehicle more than just a cursory glance so you don’t miss any deal-breaking defects. 


Walk around the car and examine the body carefully, looking for dents, scratches, or rust. Look out for pockets and cracks in the glass, which are expensive to fix, as well as the lights and reflectors. Take a good hard look at the tires, making sure they have even tread wear (which means they’ve been rotated regularly) and at least 1/16 inch tread depth. Be wary of extreme wear on the outside shoulder of the front tires, as this is indicative of aggressive driving and could mean that other parts of the car are also worn down. You can check that the suspension is in good condition by pushing down on each corner of the car and making sure it only rebounds once. 




Rust is a significant concern. Check the wheel well under the trunk carpet and lining, which is where water will end up if the rear window is leaking. Also check the lower regions of wheel wells, quarter panels, and doors for rust, which will require fixing.



Just because a car is relatively new in years and is being sold for a low price doesn’t make it a good deal. Watch out for new cars with high miles, as these vehicles have undergone extreme wear in a very short period of time. Generally, you should shoot for a car that has put on no more than 12,000 miles in each year of ownership. Check to ensure that maintenance has been performed at every milestone. 


If the car appears old and worn out but has suspiciously few miles, be very wary. In some cases, it is possible for vehicle owners to tamper with the odometer in order to sell their car for more than it’s actually worth, which is referred to as “clocking.” 


Mechanical Inspection

Even though you can get inspection reports from the dealers who inspect and certify their cars, it’s always a good idea to have your own inspection conducted on top of that in case anything was overlooked. Mechanical inspections are even more important with private vehicle sales. These diagnostic inspections usually cost about $100, but it is money well spent. 


The mechanic’s report will outline all of the issues as well as how much you’d need to pay to have them repaired. If your mechanic finds something wrong with the vehicle, you can walk away or use the defect to negotiate the purchase price. You can visit carcare.org to find a reliable mechanic for this inspection.


Test Drive


Test Drive a Used Car

Even if the mechanical inspection doesn’t show that the car has any problems, always take a test drive for at least 30 minutes. Drive the car at different speeds to see how well the transmission switches from high to low and back to high speeds. Pay attention to how the car feels and how hard it is to control, noting the brakes and steering especially. Listen for strange clunking, whirring, or screeching noises, and make sure that none of the dash lights turn on while you drive.

Here is a quick checklist of things you should always check during your test drive:
  • Is it easy to get in and out of the car for you? You don’t want it to be a huge effort to get behind the wheel.
  • Is there enough for your head, hips, and legs? Remember to check the cabin space in the back seat too.
  • Once you’re behind the wheel be sure to check if you are comfortable in the driver’s seat. Are you sitting too high or too low? Is the seat and/or steering wheel adjustable for a better fit?
  • Are you comfortable in the seat? Is there enough cushioning? How about back support?
  • Look at the warning lights on the dash. Is the engine light on? Or the oil change light? Whatever it is make sure to get it checked out with a mechanic before buying.
  • What is visibility like? Can you see out the front and rear windows easily? Check to see where your blind spots are.
  • Is the smell of the car funky at all? Can you smell gas or smoke or anything like that? If you can smell something weird add it to the list to have the mechanic check it out.
  • How old are the tires? Check the tread depth. The last thing you want to do is get new tires right after you buy.
  • Check the brakes. Do they squeak? Do they stop quickly enough? Don’t hit the brakes in the middle of traffic, pull into a parking lot, and give them a test.
  • Check under the hood. Even if you’re not a car expert you’ll still be able to tell if there is something wrong. Check the wiring. Is anything leaking? Take a long look and make sure something doesn’t stick out. If you’re not sure take it back for an inspection.
  • Test all the convenience features as well. Do the windshield wipers, turn signals, brake and headlights all work? How does the radio sound? Are the speakers doing the job?



For more information on finding a reliable used car at a fair price, contact Dick Hannah Dealerships today.

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