Used Car buying guide – What to check when buying a used car

Very recently I have bought a used car. I buy cars rather often, therefore I asked myself: is there a good used car buying guide online?

Buying a used car can be challenging. If you are not into cars, I highly suggest bringing a friend or a mechanic to check out the car. There are many car flippers who are only interested in quick profit. There is a risk to buy a car in poor technical state just because of well detailed exterior and interior. Let’s dive into this topic to find some useful tips and tricks.

The first look

The very first thing I do when ever I check a used car is opening the bonnet and checking if there any visible leaks or signs of neglect. You can also test the seller by asking if the engine was started recently. There were few times when seller said that the car was started only few days ago, but the engine was hot on a cold day. If the seller lies about warming up the car – you already know few things: a) the seller is lying; b) This car might have cold-start problems. And that can be anything from a bad battery to a serious engine compression problems. If I catch the seller lying, I normally walk away right away. If everything seems fine start the engine and listen if the engine sounds fine and stable.

Inspecting the car body

Try to see if there are any signs of accidents or poorly done repairs. Here’s a quick list what you should look for:

  • Signs of poorly repaired accident damage
  • Peeling clear coat
  • Odd sharp edges
  • Different color tone on separate parts
  • Deep sanding marks underneath the clear coat
  • Rust
  • Poorly aligned gaps

If you find some of these body defects don’t walk away yet. Try to ask the seller if he or she knows anything about them and evaluate their reaction. I normally walk away from cars with signs of bad body repair, but if all you can find is a small rust spot which wasn’t repaired before – it’s just a little defect which will help you bargain on the price.

Inspecting the interior

Now this of course depends on the car you’re looking at. If you are looking on fairly new car, I would probably only accept very minor signs of wear. Now if you’re buying a car with a decent amount of miles on it take a look at these things:

  • Wear on commonly used dials and buttons
  • Wear on the seatbelt
  • Signs of wear on the steering wheel
  • Wear on the left part of the driver’s seat (right side for RHD cars)
  • Broken rubber seal around the door

If everything seems correct regarding the mileage. Go for a test drive!

Test driving a used car before buying

Finally! If the engine sounds fine, the seller is not looking suspicious and the car interior and exterior looks good it’s time for a test drive.

Double check if there are no errors on the dash and don’t forget to check if the airbag and abs lights light up when you turn on the ignition.

Here’s a list of things I do on my used car test drive:

  • Check if the hand-brake works by attempting to slowly drive with the hand brake on
  • Try to turn the steering wheel from left to right in short swift motion to hear if there’s any clunking noise
  • Feel the brakes. See if the brake pedal is not spongy or if it doesn’t push all the way to the car’s floor.
  • Turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and right sides, try driving forward and in reverse.
  • If the engine is hot already, rev it up to see if you can see some nasty smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe.
  • Slowly drive on a road bump – if the car is bouncing multiple times – the suspension is shot.

Conclusion: is this used car worth it?

Now when you checked the car it’s time to make the decision. If it’s an expensive car, I highly recommend going to the dealer for detailed inspection. It doesn’t cost that much and it can save you a lot of money. But if you’re on a budget and the car seems decent then evaluate all the minor defects you found. If you have no clue how much it would cost to repair the defects call few local workshops and ask for an estimate. Use that estimate to bargain on the price, and if the seller agrees to your price – enjoy your new second hand car!

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