Used cars can be of great value, especially if you know what to look out for.
However, it’s so easy to fall prey to a clunker that will cost you more in repairs than it did to buy it in the first place!
Here are 10 things to check when buying a used car from a private seller.
If you’re looking at vehicles from dealerships, they should be able to tell you all these things during your test drive and inspection, so no need to worry about that if you’re going down that route!
1) Check the Car History Report
As part of your due diligence, get a vehicle history report from CARFAX or another reputable provider. It will include past owner information, title status, odometer readings and other useful tidbits about what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from.
You can also use websites like Autocheck and VinAudit to conduct free searches at home—just make sure that the site is legitimate first by doing an online search for reviews and scams related to it. So long as they don’t just send you straight to their paid search results page, they should return some basic history details without charging any fees.
2) Check The Mileage And The Year
When buying any used vehicle, it’s important to find out how many miles are on that vehicle and when it was made (and if possible, by whom).
Why is that last one important?
Well, vehicles made within a few years of one another will often have comparable safety features. For example, while 2014 models might have driver-side airbags as standard, cars made in 2010 didn’t have them as standard until 2013 and 2014 models. The closer together they are in production year and make – particularly made by the same manufacturer – typically means more likely similarities in performance between them.
3) Check under the hood
Before heading out for your first test drive, take a look under that bonnet for any signs of tampering. If wires or hoses have been disconnected, or if parts appear damaged or replaced, be suspicious.
These could indicate attempts at theft or fraud. If there are too many additions under that hood for it to be factory-standard, then walk away—your life could depend on it!
When checking under the hood, make sure all fluid levels are topped up and that everything looks shiny and clean. Make sure brakes, suspension and steering all feel right.
It’s amazing how many buyers don’t check these basics and end up regretting their purchase later down the line as they shell out extra cash fixing major problems they didn’t spot during their inspection!
4) Have a test drive
One of the easiest ways to tell if a used car is worth your money is by taking it for a test drive. If possible, ask permission from an employee at an auto store or dealership to take it out around town (or just around their lot) and see how it handles in real-world driving situations.
Do you notice anything off about how it feels when braking or turning?
Is the steering wheel feeling loose or tight? Does anything feel squeaky or make noises that shouldn’t be there?
Check these and other little details during your test drive, as well as any major issues like undercarriage rust and frame damage.
5) check for any wear pattern of the tires
Tires are one of those things that many of us take for granted. They’re not flashy, and they don’t really impact performance, right?
The condition of your tires is incredibly important if you want to stay safe on the road or minimize wear and tear. When shopping for a used car, pay attention to wear patterns on tires—it could be an indication that there’s something wrong with it underneath (or at least bad driving habits).
If all four tires have even wear on them, it might mean that someone was conscientious about rotating their tires and keeping them in good shape during ownership—that’s something we can all appreciate when buying used cars online!
6) Listen for any suspect noises
Pre-owned cars are typically much less expensive than their new counterparts, but many have relatively high mileage and unknown history.
To avoid buying a lemon, take your time and listen for any strange noises when you start it up—both in neutral (when it’s cold) and after it’s warmed up.
For example, if there is any grinding or shuddering when turning in either direction from a stop or at low speeds, then walk away as quickly as possible. It could be something simple that can be fixed for less than $100, but if not then chances are even replacing your transmission could cost well over $1,000. If so run away!
7) Examine The Paint
Bodywork or paint that looks heavily weathered is often an indication of prior damage and an indicator that there are issues with the structural integrity of a vehicle.
A thorough inspection will reveal any rust or spots where paint has worn away, which could indicate past collision damage, poor repairs, etc.
That said, don’t be too concerned if there’s evidence of cosmetic blemishes – minor dings and scratches are fairly common for vehicles that are driven regularly.
Inspections should focus on any areas where body panels seem out of alignment (indicating possible accident damage) and rust or corrosion that appears to be spreading throughout a vehicle’s bodywork.
8) Check if it’s registered correctly and legally
It’s not always obvious when buying a used car, but it is possible that if it isn’t legal for road use, its owner will be evading tax and will also be unable to provide you with any paperwork about it.
Check that your potential purchase has been taxed correctly, has insurance, and that there are no outstanding fines from using unlicensed cars or parking in disabled bays.
A quick internet search of their vehicle registration should get all of these details in seconds. It may seem like common sense but many used car buyers have been caught out by underhand dealers without it.
9) Negotiate price
Once you’ve found a vehicle that catches your eye, it’s time to negotiate!
Know your finances and research prices of similar cars in your area, so that when it comes time to negotiate with a seller, you know what (and how much) is realistic.
Most sellers expect buyers not to make an offer right away; they want an opportunity first to pitch their own price without feeling like they’re getting taken advantage of—so give them some space and play hardball for a while.
10) Don’t hesitate to go away if anything suspicious arises
Check every piece of paperwork and inspect anything that looks remotely suspect (or even better, have an expert friend or family member inspect it for you!).
This may sound like an overly cautious step, but your first objective is to make sure there’s nothing in play here that could result in long-term problems with your new purchase.
When buying a used car, trust your instincts! If something doesn’t feel right or seems suspicious – it probably isn’t!