Buying a Used Car? What to Look Out for When Scouting

Buying a Used Car? What to Look Out for When Scouting


Buying a used car can be a stressful undertaking, whether for your daily commute or even as a gift to someone. Not only do you want to get a good deal on the price, but you also want to make sure you’re buying a reliable, safe car that won’t break the bank when it comes to repairs and maintenance. Most used vehicles are sold on a “what you see is what you get” basis. So it is possible for damage or faults to be hidden, which can prove extremely costly for the car’s owner in the future. Therefore it is wise and prudent to do some research and swot up on some tips before you head down to the dealership. Here are some pointers.

Don’t rush

Before you even start, it’s important to remember to take your time. Don’t let a pushy dealer rush you into a decision, even if they tell you that the car you’re considering has been generating lots of interest. Remember that this is a big purchase, one requiring adequate research and testing. You’ll thank yourself down the road (much further, assuming you haven’t broken down).

Do your homework

After you’ve decided on a particular model(s) that satisfies all the criteria that are important to you, it is advisable to then see how those compare to some others out there in a similar class or price range. You can look up user reviews of the make and model, as well as scout for general design flaws or common problems which have been discovered. You should also be able to find a fair price which you’ll be able to take back to the negotiating table (make sure you make a note of mileage as this will play a part).

Safety first

A crucial aspect to consider before any purchase is that of the safety technology in the vehicle – both passive and active. The vehicle you are considering may run well, but how will it fare in a head-on impact? Safety is paramount when choosing any car, new or used. You need peace of mind that basic safety features such as seat belts and airbags are present, and that more advanced safety features such as Automatic braking (ABS) and traction control are installed and functioning fully.

Use online resources

After the initial exhaustive research, your next step is to start looking at the available vehicles for sale. There are numerous avenues available to you, from auction websites like eBay and Bring a Trailer to car selling websites like Autotrader (found in both the US and UK). Regardless of your location, there is most likely a dedicated website that deals in the buying and selling of various vehicles, from cars and motorbikes to powerboats and trucks. Having an extensive database of vehicles available to you will give you the necessary jumping off point as you narrow down the list of candidates before going to inspect and test drive the chosen vehicles.

The once (twice, or more!) over

Carefully check the car, inside and out. The visible condition of the interior and exterior can play a big part in the final price of the car, as well as alerting you to any potential issues with it. Open the hood and assess the engine and other parts – rust and dirt should sound alarm bells, as they can often warn of issues down the line. Check out the upholstery and other surfaces, as well as assessing the bodywork and bumpers. If the car has been in an accident in the past, you want to be sure that it has been checked and repaired to professional standards.

Another important detail that needs to be checked is the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number), which is essentially the car’s fingerprint. This will show details of any thefts, repairs, warranty claims, and insurance coverage. Make sure that the VIN and the car title details match up, and that there are no outstanding loans against the vehicle. This information should also determine whether or not the odometer has been tampered with – still a common practice – and still, very much illegal.

Test drive

When test driving a used car, it is essential to put it in all regular driving scenarios – low speeds on city roads, faster on highways, and park it or reverse it a few times. A checklist can help you out a lot. Keep your ears open – if you hear any unusual noises from the engine or brakes, this could be a signal of future problems. As well as your ears, your eyes and even your nose can detect issues – note any unusual smells which may emanate from the car while you’re driving. Likewise, test the electronic functions thoroughly. You should aim to get a feel for the handling and engine and brake response. Another good practice is to leave the car running in a stationary spot for a minute or two. After it’s been sitting running, you should be able to quickly detect any fluid leaks or overheating issues that would be definite signs of a costly repair in the near future.

Call the professionals

While paying a mechanic to look at the car isn’t free, it pays dividends in the long run. A once over by a professional can alert you to specific issues that you may not detect just with a visual inspection and a test drive. A mechanic will also be able to help you ask the dealer all the right questions. The correct questions can pinpoint and highlight problems the car might have. This information can also help to detect evidence of an unreported accident. The added knowledge of any potential problems that need fixing can also crucially serve as a bargaining chip should you decide to go for a particular model.

Used car buying can seem like an unpredictable minefield at first. It definitely presents an extra layer of challenges when it comes to choosing a car, but by being informed and prepared, you can choose your vehicle with more confidence. Make checklists and lists of questions – they can make the difference between driving away in a bonafide bargain or a beastly banger!

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