Used cars can often be the greatest value when you’re in the market for new transportation — Especially when you’re limiting your search to cars or trucks that are just a few years old. In addition to a lower purchase price, you’ll also find less expense in ownership when it comes to the insurance and property taxes thanks in part to the normal depreciation of value newer cars incur.
Whether you’re search includes looking at dealership “certified pre-owned” vehicles or dealing with individual private sellers, the key to finding the best deal and best vehicle is knowing what to look for. Follow our tips and you’ll be on your way to getting a great car and a great deal.
Take your time in visually reviewing the vehicle. Look for unusual spacing between the joints. And check that the trunk and doors open easily and close firmly. Check for rust. Check for tire wear. When you inspect the tires, look to see if brake fluid has been leaking by checking the inner side of the tires. If you have the means, we recommend putting the vehicle on a lift to really check the underside. From there you may discover serious body damage: a bent frame, spacers or fresh weld marks. Look for holes in the muffler, tailpipe and exhaust and check for abnormal oil leaks.
Check Under The Hood of a Used Car
Check all hoses and the battery for leaks and corrosion. You should always check the oil to see how well the car has been taken care of. It you pull the dipstick and find the oil to be filthy and dark, it may indicate the previous owner didn’t provide the vehicle with proper maintenance. Inspect the belts to ensure they are in good condition and aren’t brittle or worn through. Check the transmission fluid to see if it smells burnt. If the color is dark, there may be issues with the transmission.
Check The Electrical Systems
Start the car up and check that everything is working. Turn on the windshield wipers, the radio and A/C and heater and verify that all the gauges in the dashboard are functioning properly. Don’t forget the lights, including the interior, high beams, brake and turn signals.
Check The Trunk
When you inspect the trunk, take a good look at the spare. It it’s been used and shows wear on just one side, it may indicate an issue with alignment. Check for the jack and lug wrench. You don’t want to skip this and then find out it’s missing when you’re on the side of the road with an unfixable flat tire.
Springs and Shocks
Press down on both the front and back end of the car to judge the shocks. If it bounces, the shock absorbers may be worn and in need of replacement. Step away from the car and check to see if it appears level or if it seems to lean to one side which may indicate the springs need to be replaced.
Inside the Cabin
Check the upholstery and seat belts as well as the floor, taking the time to remove any floor mats or covers to get a real sense of the car’s interior.
How to Test Drive a Used Car
The Engine of a Used Car
When inspecting the engine, rev it several times and then release the gas pedal and listed for tapping sounds. If you hear a rapping or light tick in the top of the engine isn’t generally a serious issue, but a bad bearing could be indicated by a rapping sound. If you hear an abnormal sound, you’ll want to have a mechanic inspect the vehicle before you commit to purchasing it. You can also check for a burned valve or tuneup problem by depressing the brakes and putting the car into drive.
Drive Train And Back End
When you test drive the vehicle, pay careful attention to the drive train and back of the car. With the vehicle at a steady 35 – 40 MPH, listen to the engine and pay attention to how the car responds. If you notice it trembling or bouncing, it probably means the alignment is off. If you also hear an unpleasant droning sound, the drive train or joint may also be of issue.
Find some straight level road and lightly hold the steering wheel. If the car pulls to either the left or right, there’s a problem with the alignment. When rounding a corner, the steering wheel should turn easily and have a tendency to return easily to its location that is straight.
Check The Brakes
While still going 30-40 MPH and with no vehicles behind you, test the brakes several times. If the car pulls right or left consistently, there’s a problem. Slow the car to about 5 MPH and depress the brake with minimal pressure. If there is an occasional bump or drubbing sensation, it means the brake drums or rotors are damaged and may be warped.