The 5 Most Important Things to Look for in a Used Car
Finding the right car at used car dealers can feel like a big undertaking. How do you know which one is right for you? And how do you ensure that the one you pick will last?
Though it can feel a bit overwhelming, there's no need to stress. If you spend time researching, and you look for these important things when you check out a car, you'll much more likely to end up with a vehicle you love.
Does the Car Match Your Lifestyle?
Before you head out to look at any used cars, take the time to do a little research. Think about your lifestyle and what kind of vehicle you truly need.
Are you usually the one driving when you and your friends go out? Do you have children or are you thinking of starting a family soon? Are you in a band that uses your car to pack up for gigs?
Picture how you'll use the seating and cargo space in your next vehicle and go from there. Make a list of the qualities that a car must have in order for you to consider it.
After you've decided whether it will be a coupe for cruising or an SUV for versatility, head online. Look for popular models, reviews, and pricing to narrow down your favorites.
Create a list of the cars you're going to focus your search around, and make sure you know how much each should cost.
When you do go to a dealership, don't spend time looking at any cars that don't match your criteria. You've already determined what you need, so use your energy to find the best match possible.
Is the Vehicle's History Clean?
Used car dealerships should provide you with a vehicle history for any car that you're looking at. If you're considering buying a pre-owned vehicle from a private seller, it's worth paying for a history report yourself.
It's important to check the report carefully to make sure that the vehicle did not sustain any serious damage in the past.
If the car was in a collision and required significant repairs, you probably want to move on to a different one. Cars that have structural damage can be very unsafe to drive.
While it's smart to check out the vehicle's history, you should keep in mind that those reports are not always 100% accurate.
Consumer Reports found that the records can be incorrect, but they still recommend getting a history whenever possible because of what it might tell you.
If the idea of an incomplete car history is rather unsettling, don't worry too much. There are a number of other things you should always check anyway when you're thinking about buying a used car.
Are the Exterior and Interior in Good Condition?
Though it's easy to feel like you're under pressure when you're at the dealership, keep in mind that the car you're buying is for you. Take your time to peruse carefully to make sure that everything is in good shape.
Start with the outside, and inspect the finish. Are there any signs of a recent paint job? Do you notice any scratches or bubbles? Those imperfections might seem tiny, but they can lead to problems, like rust, later.
Next, check out the condition of tires. Do they still have a significant amount of tread or do they look nearly bald? Is there a lot of evidence of wear?
If the tires look like they've seen better days, talk to the salesperson and negotiate a new set in as part of the price.
It's also smart to make sure all the lights are working while you're there. Turn the key so you can see if the head and tail lamps are all functioning properly. Don't forget to switch on the high beams as well.
When you're finished with the outside of the car, work your way to the interior. Start with the trunk, inspecting it for holes, tears, etc.
If it looks okay, you can move on to the cabin. See if the upholstery is holding up. Are there tears or unsightly stains?
Look for mats on the floor in the front and the back. If they're missing, talk to the salesperson about including new ones with your purchase.
Once you're sure the interior looks all right, it's time to make sure everything works. Try out the sound system, climate control, power windows, power seats, sunroof, wipers, etc. Test all of the controls in the car to make sure they're functioning.
If everything seems to be ship shape, it's time to pop the hood and take a closer look.
Any Mechanical Red Flags?
While you might not be a trained mechanic, some things are just obvious when you look under the hood of a car.
Though it's a good idea to have your mechanic check any used vehicle before you purchase, you can conduct an initial once over yourself.
First, examine all of the hoses and belts. Pay close attention to any cracks or flaws you see. Some of these parts can be very costly to replace later, so you want to catch any issues ahead of time.
One thing that is especially expensive to replace is the timing belt. It's one of the most critical parts in a car.
If a worn timing belt is left too long, it can snap and cause damage to the vehicle. But many people hold off on replacing them because it's an extremely labor intensive process and therefore very costly.
Some cars now have timing chains because they don't need to be swapped out as often as the belts do. However, if you're thinking about buying a car with a belt, take the time to inspect it.
Look for numerous cracks on the surface or broken teeth on the inside. Either or those issues indicates that it needs to be replaced.
As you explore under the hood, keep your eyes peeled for any leaks or corrosion. If there's a persistent problem that's been left unfixed, it may have caused permanent damage.
How's the Ride?
It's easy to treat a test drive like just a formality. Some people feel awkward or under pressure when they're taking a used car for a spin, so they rush things to get back to the dealership.
However, that's not the way to go. The test drive is essential because it helps ensure that you enjoy the way the car feels. Relax, take your time, and drive the car long enough to come to a solid conclusion about whether it will work for you.
Pay attention and make note of any lagging when you accelerate. Try going up a hill, braking, and parking to get an impression of how regular driving would be.
Also listen for any strange noises or vibrations while you're on the road. Those could be signals that the car has a problem that hasn't been addressed.
But if the car runs smoothly and feels like a good fit, it's probably time to go ahead and make a deal. Though it takes some time to find the right vehicle, it's worth it in the end. When you're cruising in your new ride, you'll be glad you invested all that energy.