Buying a used car is a great way to save a lot of money. Unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong. You never really know what hidden dangers are lurking beneath the hood, but you can reduce the risk by checking the basics before you buy.
Know Before You Go
Once you have decided on a particular make and model, do some online research to become familiar with the vehicle.
- Check price guides
- Look for common mechanical issues
- Read forums and reviews
- Browse ads for other similar listings
Have an idea what you should pay, and know the potential pitfalls before you travel out to take a look at a specific vehicle.
Kicking the Tires
When you first approach the car, your immediate impressions are often the most reliable. Open all of the doors, hood and trunk. Walk slowly around the vehicle and absorb as many of the minor details as possible. Look for:
- Scratches, dents, poor fitting body panels
- Off-colored paint
- Worn tires
- Chips or cracks in the glass
Next, get inside and look around. Inspect the interior for:
- Rips, stains or blemishes in the carpet and upholstery
- Debris between the seats
- Strange odors
- Check the miles and all warning lights on the dash
- Test the radio, lights and all powered accessories
Under the Hood
You may not be a mechanic, but you should always check the three most important fluids:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
You should also take a look at the power steering fluid and brake fluid. Inspect the belt and air filter while you are at it.
Next, crawl underneath to look for leaks. Minor seepage at the engine seams is normal, but a significant amount of fluid on the undercarriage indicates a problem.
The Test Drive
Take your time with the test drive. Get the vehicle up to freeway speed. Then let the engine idle for an extended period of time. You are looking for flaws in the handling and operation:
- Steering vibrations
- Pulling or drifting
- Irregular shifting
A car that is prone to running hot may not exhibit symptoms right away. Keep your eye on the temperature gauge.
Before Making the Deal
Run a vehicle history report, but never rely on this report by itself. Instead, compare the information with what you have already observed for yourself. Get an answer on any discrepancies, and always have a used vehicle inspected by a mechanic to catch potential defects you may have missed.
Buying a used car can be a great way to save money, but you need to have as much information as possible before signing any contracts. The better prepared you are, the fewer problems you will encounter down the road.