How to Buy a Used Car

Posted Monday, Jul 31, 2023

Sometimes a car may just not be on our budget, at other times, it may be in your best interests to buy a used car instead. When buying a used car, it is important to know what to look for, the kind of questions to ask, how to inspect the car, and take it for a test drive.

The basics of reviewing a car haven’t changed, but the trajectory of used cars is a very recent phenomenon.

Choose a Reliable Manufacturer

It takes just a quick Google search to unravel some of the horror stories that may be plaguing a vehicle. For example, the automaker shouldn't have many recalls - usually initiated because a safety problem has been identified in the car that can put you at risk.

Secondly, your used car may be likely to break a few years down the line. This means that you may have to conduct repairs for the car, which usually requires costly parts. When it comes to the prices of car parts, Toyota happens to be relatively cheap, while BMW seems to be the most expensive manufacturer.

Another good idea is to look at online forums to see what other people are discussing when it comes to car faults.


Insurance Prices

Expensive cars usually have bigger insurance premiums because it is more costly to repair them. Moreover, some cars have been known to be involved in road accidents, which increases the cost of using them. Consider the price of insurance premiums before buying a used car.


Inspect the Used Car

Regardless of who you buy the used car from, it is important to thoroughly review the used car by tracking it to the mechanic for an inspection. You could, of course, inspect the car yourself if you know what to look for.

Make sure the car is parked on flat ground as opposed to an incline and hasn’t been driven for at least an hour before you start the inspection.


Car’s Exterior

Look at the car’s body panels to see if the color matches from panel to panel. An uneven paint job often indicates attempts to repair the car after an accident. These collisions may not be reported in vehicle history.


Check for Leaks

Any car that leaks fluids is a major red flag that needs repairs. Look under the used car to see if there are any signs of fluid leaking. The color of the fluid can indicate details about what could be wrong with the used car.

Black fluid is an indication of leaking oil, a reddish fluid could be a walk in the transmission or power steering fluid, and a yellow or pink color indicates that there is a leak in the antifreeze.


Look up the VIN

The car’s VIN (short for Vehicle Identification Number) can reveal many things about the car. It tells you when and where the car was built. It also tells you details about the manufacturer, make and model, year, and trim level.

You can also use the VIN to track registrations, warranty, theft, and more importantly, recalls.

Think of the VIN as the car's history, everything from as little as an oil change to an accident is recorded using the VIN.


Tire Condition

Check the tire depth of the tires to make sure they have enough traction for gripping the road. You can use the penny test to do this. Simply insert a penny in the thread to see if you can see Lincoln’s head. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible to you, the car’s tires will need to be replaced.

You should also look for signs of damage to the tire, such as any cuts, bulges, bumps, or scrapes. If you notice anything suspicious, ask a tire service professional to take a closer look.

You also want to keep a close eye on the tire’s age. All the information you need is available on the sidewall of the tire. Simply look for the letters ‘DOT’ followed by a number code. This code tells you the age of the car’s tire.


Check the Interior of the Car

Once you are seated in the car, make sure to adjust the mirrors, steering wheel, and seats into a good position. The view through the windshield, in the mirrors, and across the dash should be clear.

Remember the car must offer visibility and comfort for safety reasons. Next, it’s time to run through all the features of the car to ensure they are working properly. It starts with the interior lighting. If the lights seem to switch from bright to dim too frequently, it could be an indication of an electrical problem that may require repairs.

Look for any warning lights on the dash. Repairing a problem with the warning lights may range from a few bucks to thousands of dollars.


Take the Car for a Test Drive

Time to get behind the wheels. If possible, you should ask the salesperson to let you drive the car alone. This should help you truly familiarize yourself with the car and not feel pressured into testing the limits of the car.

Most dealerships have pre-planned test drive routes to minimize the chances of running into traffic. In some cases, these test drive routes are used to mask any defects in the car. If possible, use a different route that simulates the types of roads you will be driving on your commute.

The track should have a few bumps to help you get a feel for any suspension issues that the car may have.

During the test drive, make sure to use all your senses. You want to be able to see everything you need to see with no warning signs emerging on the dashboard. Pay close attention to the engine noises.

Pay particular attention to the brakes because they are an important component of safety. Ideally, you should be able to press the brakes without any juddering or pulsing. If safe, you should conduct a brake test at a higher speed. Brakes that judder or pulsate may indicate a problem with the rotors.