16 Things to Look for When Buying a Used Car

If the unappealing, high price of a new car has turned you off to buying a sparkly-new vehicle, we don’t blame you. Cars depreciate quickly which can make purchasing at retail value feel nonsensical. The price tags of used cars account for all of the depreciation and the many miles a previous owner already clocked on the engine. However, buying a pre-loved car can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you’re dealing with dirt-cheap vehicles that have rebuilt engines or worrisome maintenance histories.

Before sealing the deal and driving away with the certified pre-owned Mercedes Benz of your dreams, be sure to look out for these key things to ensure you’re securing the best deal.

1. Does the car vibrate?

A car that vibrates is a car that needs a repair job. Generally speaking, a shaky car means one of three things: the tires are out of balance, the brake rotors are out of round, or the brake calipers need to be serviced. 

2. What is the condition of the interior?

Though the cosmetic appeal of a car doesn’t have anything to do with the functionality of the car, you will likely want to drive in a comfortable, well-kempt vehicle. Torn seats, a damaged steering wheel, or malfunctioning speakers might be deal-breakers.

3. Are there any exterior dents or visible damage?

Exterior damage could be indicative of a larger problem that a third-party seller may not be openly disclosing. It’s up to your discretion to decide what conditions of damage are too severe, and which are acceptable enough for a fair price.

4. How well was the car maintained?

Cars need plenty of care and maintenance to last years on the road. Be sure to ask for a complete service history to ensure the previous owner took appropriate care of the car and to avoid any unnecessary accidents in the future where you might need to consult a personal injury law firm.

5. Are the tires worn down?

Replacing tires is a pricey process— don’t make the mistake of purchasing a car that is suited up with worn out wheels. Ask your seller how old the tires are, then ask to see a receipt for proof.

6. Can you hear any foreboding sounds?

Cars shouldn’t make any noises that make you nervous. Be wary of any screeching, scratching, or scraping sounds that are tell-tale signs of serious damage that might make you get a trip to the hospital.

7. Does the AC blow cold air? Does the heat blow warm air?

While taking the vehicle on a test drive, be sure to test out the air conditioning and heat. You won’t want to drive through the summer or winter months without air!

8. What’s in the trunk?

Check the boot of the car for a spare tire, jack, and related tools. Be on the lookout for musty odors that could be signals of a nasty leak.

9. What’s the condition of the battery?

If there are any signs of corrosion on the battery, take your business elsewhere.

10. Has the vehicle been in any accidents?

If the car has been in an accident, be sure to have your seller run through what parts were damaged and what parts were replaced.

11. Does the vehicle have any leaks?

Check underneath the car after taking it for a test drive; are there any leaks? Are there any signs of water leakage on the interior of the vehicle?

12. Is there any visible rust?

Though surface rust isn’t a huge cause for concern, you should be wary that rust corrosion only gets worse as time goes on.

13. Does the price reflect the car’s condition?

Is your buyer asking for too much money for the car considering the condition? If the answer is yes, be sure to negotiate the price and justify your qualms with the condition.

14. Are there any lights on the dashboard?

If there are any lights illuminated on the dashboard be sure to ask why they’re on. These are the top lights that should raise red flags:

  • Check Engine
  • Oil Pressure Warning
  • Transmission Temperature
  • Service Vehicle Soon
  • Coolant Temp Warnings
  • ABS Light

15. Do all of the lights work?

Check the headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and interior lights (door, gear shifter, dashboard) to confirm all are in proper working order.

16. How is the steering-wheel alignment?

On your test drive, check to see if the car veers to the right or left when you take your hands off the wheel. If this does happen, the tires may need to be realigned.

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a scary experience. With these 16 tips and a comprehensive understanding of what red flags to look out for.