8 Things To Consider Before Buying A Used Car

Peter recently wrote about their search for a used car and car insurance, and gave some great tips for those on the prowl for a new ride.

Once you find ‘the one,’ make sure you take note of these tips and look for the following before handing over your hard earned cash!

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car shopping tips

1. Paint Chips Revealing Past Color

Paint can tell you a lot about a used car.  As you walk around the outside of the car, look for small chips around the edges of the vehicle.  Does it look like another color is hiding beneath the surface?  If so, the vehicle may have been in an accident in the past and required a replacement part.  It’s not uncommon to simply paint over the replacement part, so keep an eye out for those chips and ask the owner about any accidents or repairs.

2. Condition of Tires

A vehicle’s tires won’t make or break a deal for me, but I’ll often point out when the tires need some attention.  New tires aren’t cheap and can cost you $400 or more depending on your vehicle.  If you’re looking at a $4,000 car, you’ve just added 10% to the cost if you need to go out and buy new tires.

Try to negotiate a better deal and ask if they’re willing to split the cost of new tires by dropping the price of the car by $200 or so.  That’s, of course, after you’ve already extinguished all other negotiations.

3. Ask to See the Carfax

If you’re buying from a dealer, they’ll probably have the Carfax already printed and ready to view.  If not, politely ask if you can see the Carfax.  A reputable used car dealer will be ready to print one off and shouldn’t give you any slack for the extra ‘cost’ of printing one.

If you’re buying a car from someone on Craigslist or another private seller, let them know that you like to run the Carfax before purchasing used vehicles and see if they’d be willing to print one?  If they don’t want to (that should be a red flag..) and you are still interested in the vehicle, spend the $20 to run a Carfax.  You’ll be glad you did.

4. Do the Gauges Work?

It may be difficult to test certain gauges on older cars like the gas, temperature, or oil gauge, so ask if the owner has ever had issues with the gauges.  I made the rookie mistake of not asking before purchasing a small truck once.  The owner forgot to mention that the gas gauge was stuck on ½ full.  When it ran out of gas two days later, I was baffled at why it had died…but soon realized that it needed gas.

5. Are there Windshield Cracks?

Depending on the size of the crack, you might not have any problems passing inspection, but they may say that you need to fix the chip before it passes.  Check with your insurance to see how much it would cost to repair – just be aware that submitting claims to your insurance for every small thing might not be in your best interest.  You do, however, want to take care of that crack soon because it can grow into something even bigger and cost you even more to repair later.

6. History of Maintenance and Receipts

I keep good records of my vehicle repairs and maintenance and will present them to an interested buyer at the time of a sale.  Not only does it boost my credibility, it shows the buyer that I took care of my vehicle.  Isn’t that what you want – someone who took great care of their car?  It’s also helpful to have these records so that you don’t duplicate maintenance items unnecessarily.

7. Unusual Sounds or Smells

You don’t need to be a mechanic to know when a car sounds or smells funny.  Listen carefully to the car while driving it and testing out the features.  Turn on the air conditioner and heater to check for sounds and smells that are unusual.  Also, don’t take the stereo for granted; turn it on and test out the speakers to make sure they’re functioning properly.

8. Take it to a Mechanic

Ask the buyer if you can have your mechanic look at the car before you buy it.  A simple look under the chassis can save you thousands of dollars; so don’t pass up this step.  If a seller doesn’t let you take it to be inspected, it might be a sign that you should look for a different car.

Have you ever made a mistake when buying a used car?  Any other tips to someone who is thinking about making a used car purchase?

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Last Edited: 6th September 2011

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  1. says

    A couple of the big things we checked recently when car shopping – as mentioned above – were the vehicle history reports for the individual vehicles, as well as actually test driving and smelling the interior – and seeing the shape of the interior of the cars before going forward.

    We found that the history reports were an easy way to weed out the accident and problem vehicles in our search, which typically also ended up being the most affordable. If they dealer won’t give you the report, run for the hills.

    We found a bunch of cars that were nice deals and looked nice online, but when we actually drove in them they smelled awful (smelled like animal or cigarette smoke), or had obvious signs of being a smoker’s vehicle – which the dealerships tried to cover up with their odor killing bombs – but which aren’t completely effective. One car smelled of cleaner when we drove it, and it was so overpowering i got a headache from a 5 mile test drive. We also realized by smelling the upholstery that it was there to try and cover up smoke smells..

    So be careful and make sure to check out all the things above!

  2. says

    Ditto on the Carfax. Other reports aren’t necessarily as good. I got another sort of report on a car a year or so ago. It didn’t record the mileage correctly.
    You got it, I got one with the instrument panel replaced. Instead of 100k, it had 200k miles on it.
    It’s a long, twisted story, but be sure that you know what you’re signing as you sign all of the papers. I would almost NEVER buy a car TMU (True Mileage Unknown).
    In the end I lost about $2,500 when I traded.

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