What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Published: April 28, 2023
Last updated: February 29, 2024

Buying a car can be overwhelming, especially when deciding to buy a used car and trusting that it is a good investment. The buyer must practice due diligence to ensure that the myriad of parts that cars need to operate safely and reliably are all in good working order. 

When purchasing a used vehicle, you are subject to the habits of the previous owner. How they drove, performed maintenance and repairs, and generally kept, the car is also part of your purchase. Knowing this, you must be mindful of what to look for when purchasing a used car. Buying a poorly maintained or defective vehicle can put you at higher risk of experiencing a car crash.

Tips for Making the Best Used Car Purchase Possible

Some tips can help you come closer to ensuring that you purchase a reliable, safe car rather than a lemon. Some of these tips are listed below: 

Car Enthusiasts Make Good Sellers

Buy your car from an automotive enthusiast. Car lovers take pride in their cars and will invest in regular maintenance. They typically take good care of their cars, and when repairs are required, they will invest in the best quality parts for the repairs. 

Buying from an auto enthusiast often means they will remember the history of their vehicle and be able to give you a much more detailed account of maintenance and repairs than those who do not care as much about their vehicles. 

Garaged Vehicles Avoid Extreme Weather 

Long-term exposure to sun, ice, and snow can cause problems for anything left out in the elements. Automobiles are no different. Knowing that a car was garaged is a positive feature when purchasing a used vehicle. 

Cars that are kept inside have likely avoided the worst effects of the elements and will typically be left in better condition than vehicles that are kept outdoors. Though the seller may claim the car was garage kept, you can often see if they were truthful by looking at the paint job and the trim. Inspect the steering wheel and dash for fading, peeling, and sagging.

Where The Car is From Makes a Difference

Knowing where the vehicle came from may not seem like a big deal, but it easily could be. Cars that have been operated in sunny areas may not experience rust issues, so they will last longer and will suffer fewer issues with the car’s suspension. This particularly applies to northern states where they salt the roads because of ice. 

Cars from coastal areas may experience flood damage due to high tides and storms. If the car you are considering hails from near the ocean, you will want to be extra careful to check for rust damage. 

Regularly Driven Cars Are a Good Idea

Cars that remain undriven, especially electric vehicles, can go downhill. A car that is driven consistently tends to be more well-maintained than one that is hardly used. Check out the mileage on the vehicle to give you a clue about how much it is driven. 

You want a vehicle that is driven at least 3,000 miles annually. Stay away from cars with evidence of rodents, crumbling plastic, and thick films of grime. A car that has been sitting will likely require prompt attention to the battery and the alternator, as well as a host of other issues that are harder to detect and could require more money to fix.

Vehicle’s Accident History May Not Tell the Entire Tale

Police reports sometimes mix up the details of automobile accidents, and cars that are reported to have been in serious crashes may have only experienced a fender bender or hard braking that caused them to run off the road or jump a curb. 

While accident histories may contain some important information, having a mechanic inspect the car will be the best way to know the extent of any damage and how well repairs were performed. 

Pre-Purchase Inspections (PPI) for the Win 

When considering a used vehicle, it is challenging for the layperson to look at a car and know if there will be problems. It is in the buyer’s best interest to see if the seller will allow a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. An inspection is crucial to avoid expensive repairs and provide peace of mind. 

When choosing an inspector, check their reviews on Google, Yelp, and from trusted friends and family. Independent repair shops often perform very thorough PPIs. If there is a problem with the car, you will have a clear picture of what it is and have a realistic estimate of how much time and money will be needed to repair it. 

Buying a Used Car

Cars can last up to 300,000 miles with proper maintenance. Have any car you are interested in purchasing inspected by a qualified mechanic before agreeing to purchase the vehicle. You want to invest in a quality car, not in someone else’s trouble. By applying the tips above, you can find a dependable vehicle that will last for a more affordable price than a new one.

Founder, Editor-in-Chief Carmelo Pickel is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Keep Driving, with almost 20 years of experience working in the industry. Before founding Keep Driving, Carmelo held leadership roles for over a decade on top automotive dealership corporations across North America, handling various leadership roles in Sales, Marketing, and Incentives.
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