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Buying a Used Car? Here’s What You Should Look For

  • Cars Explained
  • Renee Martin
  • 7 minutes

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Buying a pre-owned car can be more perplexing than getting a brand-new vehicle. However, you can protect yourself from buying a lemon by following these tips.

A typical car contains 10,000 moving parts, while the gasoline or diesel engine that powers it has 2,000 pieces, almost all of which are internal. As a result, you can’t properly rate a car solely on its appearance. So if you’re trying to buy a used car, you should inspect every inch of it because it has a past that you don’t know about.

When we say inspect every inch of a car, we don’t imply that you peer at it with a magnifying glass from every possible angle. However, it does involve thoroughly inspecting the vehicle, both inside and out. 

Checking a car for faults and imperfections can help ensure that it is in good working order. It can even help you avoid any unpleasant surprises after the sale. While a test drive is a MUST, you can do a few other things to evaluate the condition and performance of a used car.

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What to look for when buying a used car

1. Inspect the car in the daylight

Artificial light will not show you small variations in the car’s paint tone. Therefore, it is best to avoid inspecting a potential pre-owned car late in the evening or at night. Scratches, poor upkeep, flaking, past repairs, and patchwork can all be seen by thoroughly inspecting the paint in good light.

Enough light can also help ensure that the body panels are in proper shape. As a result, inspect the car when the sun is up and move it to a brighter, less shady location if required. This could save you hundreds of dollars in repair bills at the body shop.

2. Examine fluid levels: coolant, engine oil & more

This tip applies to all fluids, including the radiator’s coolant level, the brake fluid level, and the engine oil level. If the battery’s seal is removed, you can also check the fluid levels in its cells. Also, make sure the power steering fluid is full in older vehicles.

Tip: Always check the fluids when the engine is cold. Opening the radiator cap on a hot engine can be harmful to you and the car!

Check the rubber hoses in the engine compartment to make sure they do not have any cracks. The hoses lose flexibility when rubber ages due to heat and time. And because there is a risk of failure when there is a lack of elasticity, have them checked and replaced if necessary.

Related: Car warning lights: what do they mean?

3. Look for any signs of leaks

Looking for leaks involves a bit of physical exercise. Crouch down and look under the car for evidence of oil leakage. It’s most noticeable where the engine and the gearbox meet or right under the oil pan of the used car. A glance under the car’s usual parking spot can possibly tell whether or not there is a leak in the engine.

signs of leaks

4. Examine the tires

If a car has all four new tires yet has a low reading on the odometer, that’s a bad sign. Since tires do not wear out quickly, there is no reason to replace them completely unless they reach the end of their useful life. 

Examine the tires

Tires on U.S. roads typically last between 60,000 miles, depending on how and where the car is driven. So, if you’re looking at a vehicle with 25,000 miles on the odometer and brand-new tires, find out why and then make a decision. 

The explanation for this could be one of two things: the tires wore out due to driving on terrible roads, or the odometer was altered to indicate a lower number.

5. Check the cabin

Examine the seat’s condition. Some mechanics can tell how much a car has been driven by looking at the foam compression level on the driver seat’s base. 

Check the cabin

Related: Top car seat cleaning hacks that will make your life easier

Make sure that the car has airbags and, if possible, look for signs of deployment. Replacing airbags can be a pricey affair. More importantly, you should ensure that this safety device functions properly.

Check for rust in the usual spots, such as the bottom of the doors, roof liner edges, the windshield base where the water drains away under the hood, and the spare wheel in the boot. If you’re looking at a vehicle that has spent its life near water bodies or down the coast, be wary of rust.

6. Before you sign on the dotted line

Now that you’ve inspected the car, it’s time to sign on the dotted line. If you think you’ve found the used car of your dreams, have it inspected by a reputable mechanic. A mechanic can identify whether the car has any mechanical issues that could develop into a major headache in the future. Although it is not a free service, it may save you from buying a lemon.

check before you buy

Once you’ve done this, gather as much information as possible about the car from the present owner. If you run the VIN (vehicle identifying number) through a paid service like CARFAX, you may find out if the car has been in an accident, if any liens have been filed against it, and if the model has been recalled.

Next up, determine how you want to finance the car. If you’re like most used car buyers, you’ll need a loan to help pay for your vehicle. The best method to save money on used car financing is to obtain a pre-approved loan offer before visiting a dealership. A dealer may be able to beat your pre-approved loan, but they won’t have any reason to do so if you don’t have one.

New car loan vs used car loan: What’s the difference

Shopping for a used car and applying for finance is comparable to applying for a new car loan. However, there are several key differences. You should expect to pay a higher interest rate on a used car loan because lenders consider them riskier than new car loans. 

The value of the car is used as security for the loan. Loans for pre-owned vehicles are considered riskier by lenders for various reasons, including the fact that their values are less predictable. Used car owners may also face greater repair costs, making it difficult to keep up with loan payments.

Getting a good deal on used automobile financing requires some planning and effort. Following these steps will help you receive the best bargain possible.

Related: Basic tips for first-time car insurance buyers

7. Almost there! But have you car insurance yet?

Although insurance is often overlooked, it is an important aspect of buying a used vehicle as it covers it from risks such as theft and fire. It’s also a legal requirement in practically every state. Even if it isn’t, most lenders will insist on insurance for any vehicle they loan. Your state’s and lender’s requirements for coverage will differ, so speak to an auto dealer or a local insurance agent before buying car insurance.

used car insurance

Read: How does insurance cover a stolen car?

Once you know the state-mandated minimum insurance requirements, it’s time to buy a policy that meets your budget and needs. At Way.com, we believe comparing insurance quotes from several insurance providers is the best method to obtain insurance that meets your budget.

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You can do just that by clicking the banner above. All we require is your zip code, and our team of analysts can help you find the best car insurance coverage for you in under 10 minutes. Best of all, it’s free!

Check out our blogs for info on finding top-rated airport parking, the best parking spots in your city, and affordable car washes near you.


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