If you're looking to purchase your first vehicle or thinking of an upgrade, purchasing a pre-owned vehicle has some distinct advantages over a new one. But knowing how to buy a used car is essential for enjoying all its perks in the long term. You need to set a budget, select a model, check the vehicle history and service records, get it inspected by a licensed mechanic, and determine the market price before you negotiate and close the deal.
For a first-time buyer, all these may seem overwhelming. This is where sound research could help you. Our used car buying guide can take you through some of the essentials to help you get the best deal possible.
Things to check when buying a used car
Needless to say, purchasing a pre-owned vehicle could be more of an effort than buying a new one. Whether you opt to buy from a dealership or a private car seller, knowing what to look for is essential for securing a great deal. It can save you from a costly mistake and ensure a hassle-free purchase.
So, here’s what to check when buying a used car.
Vehicle history report
Examining the vehicle history is critical when purchasing a pre-owned vehicle. And it’s not simply about finding the car’s manufactured year. You need to know about the title status, previous owners, major accidents, repairs and recalls, among other details. You may be able to get all this information by speaking to the owner or dealership staff. Specialized paid online services also issue vehicle history reports for a fee.
Frame and bodywork
An exterior inspection must take into account any visible signs of dents, scratch marks, paint damage, rust, and anything else that would raise a red flag. This inspection should include the underbody, mirrors, lights, and windshields as well.
Unusually high mileage on a car could indicate more wear and tear. This can have an impact on the car’s value. And checking the mileage against the vehicle history report is also important. It could help you identify whether the odometer has been tampered with.
Under the hood
Checking under the hood for any warning signs is a must during an inspection. Pay close attention to the engine and any signs of leaks, cracks, rust, smoke, or burning smells.
Look out for uneven tread wear, which could signal a hidden issue related to alignment. These could lead to costly consequences later on. And if the tires need an immediate replacement, you should factor in that cost when making an offer.
The interior condition can also provide some important insights into how well the owner has maintained the car. Check the upholstery and trunk for any damages. Examine the dashboard to ensure everything is in working order.
Once you understand what to look for when buying a used car, you can make a more realistic assessment of its value. But don't forget to take a test drive. This can help you understand how the car performs on the road. If it’s not a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle, arranging an inspection by a licensed mechanic is also a good idea to avoid costly future repairs.
What questions should you ask when buying a used car?
The right questions can help elicit the right answers. All seasoned buyers understand this. Here is what to ask when buying a used car.
Is the title available?
The title is the document that shows legal ownership of a vehicle. It can also help you verify the vehicle identification number (VIN) and whether it’s been declared a salvage vehicle. So, checking the title in person is essential before making an offer.
Are the service and maintenance records available?
Any car owner who has taken the trouble to carefully maintain service records would likely have extended the same care towards maintaining the vehicle with regular checks. And if you sense they are disinclined to share maintenance details, take it as a red flag and move on.
Have there been any accidents?
If there have been any major accidents, then you need to take note, although it may not always be a deal-breaker. An honest seller should not hesitate to share these details. But you can always get this information from a vehicle history report as well.
Are there any mechanical issues?
An independent inspection of the car can highlight any serious mechanical failures. However, asking this question is still important to check what the seller has to reveal. If they are upfront about any major flaws, then you can still consider making an offer after factoring in possible repairing expenses.
Is the car under warranty?
CPO vehicles come with a manufacturer’s warranty. This could significantly reduce your cost of owning the vehicle. But keep in mind that these cars are often priced higher because of this. On the other hand, a used car without any warranties can come with a lower price tag together with potential future expenses.
Why are you selling the car?
Don't always expect an honest answer to this question. But how a seller reacts and responds could reveal the nature of their intent.
Can I get the car inspected by a mechanic?
Some private sellers may allow you to take the vehicle for an independent inspection but be prepared to pay for the inspection.
The information you gather with all these questions can help determine the fair value of the vehicle and how it compares against your budget. Don't forget to carefully assess ownership costs such as insurance, fuel, and loan interest. A used car may need more attention than a new one, so ensure you budget for maintenance expenses as well. Factoring in all these costs can help you make a prudent purchasing decision.