Used car checklist: what to check when buying a used vehicle
Only Trust a Dealer With a Proven Reputation
Now that you’re ready to begin searching for a used vehicle, the very first step you should take should be locating a dealer with a reputable history such as Basil Resale South. Spend some time researching the dealership and browse available customer reviews which provide feedback related to the buying experience. It’s also smart to compare several dealerships to determine the most trustworthy dealers.
Vehicle History Reports
When doing your research on a used car, one of the most helpful tools that you can rely on is a vehicle history report. CARFAX is the largest provider of these reports which include information related to frame/structural damage, accidents, service and repair history, odometer readings, vehicle registration, and vehicle titles. These vehicle history reports are a great way to spot potential issues or “red flags” with a used vehicle that you would otherwise never know about. Below, you will find a few of these vehicle issue report red flags.
Depending on your location, emissions testing could be required in order to register and drive a vehicle. Vehicle history reports will often list when a vehicle most recently passed or failed an emissions test. Repeatedly failing an emissions test could be a sign of a potential mechanical issue with the vehicle.
Although multiple changes of ownership isn’t necessarily a problem, a vehicle history report will show you exactly how frequently a vehicle has changed hands. Several different owners within a short period of time could be a sign of a complicated repair issue or missed maintenance services.
Location of Vehicle
It’s easy to get an idea of where a vehicle has spent most of its life by looking at its vehicle history report. If it’s spent time in cold, snowy Northern climates then it’s more likely to find rust or corrosion issues on its frame. On the other hand, vehicles from the desert or coastal climates could show signs of worn or faded paint. Better still, a CARFAX report will indicate if the vehicle has sustained damage from weather events such as a hurricane, hail storm, or flood.
Used Vehicle Inspection
If you’re shopping at a reputable dealership, a rigorous inspection will be performed on the used vehicle you’re interested in prior to it being made available for sale. A multi-point vehicle inspection typically consists of a trained technician carefully inspecting a vehicle’s condition and road-worthiness. Although it’s best to count on a professional technician, there are a few parts of the process that you can perform yourself.
You can visibly inspect the condition of the interior, exterior, lights, and tires on the vehicle for any potential damage or excess wear. A mechanic will perform a rigorous diagnosis and evaluation of the mechanical operation of the vehicle. The final step in the process is a road test where you’ll be able to see exactly how well the vehicle starts, drives, stops, and how well it performs on the road.
Components to Inspect on a Used Car
- Paint Finish – Go over the exterior of the vehicle to look for dents, scratches, or areas of rust.
- Body Panels – Take the time to inspect the alignment of exterior body panels such as the trunk lid or fenders. Sizable or uneven gaps between panels can be a sign of a prior accident or an inferior repair.
- Chassis and Frame – It’s important to make sure that the frame is not bent, cracked, or damaged in any way. Always check for excessive corrosion, holes, or prior repairs.
- Tires – Inspect the tires to spot any uneven tire wear and tread depth. Next, look at the tire sidewalls for damage, cracks, or punctures. A matching set of four tires with even treadwear is a good sign that the vehicle in question was well cared for.
- Odometer – Verify that the odometer is working and that the mileage displayed is accurate with what’s listed on the vehicle history report.
- Seats – Take a look at the condition of the upholstery on the seating surfaces to spot any damage, rips, tears, holes, or stains.
- Air Conditioning – Even if it’s chilly outside, take a second to turn on the air conditioning to ensure that it’s working properly. Adjust the fan speed and temperature to verify that everything is in good operating condition.
- Lights and Electronics – Check the lights and other electronic functions of the car when it’s not moving. Areas to check include power seats, parking sensors, radio, backup cameras, and others.
Under the Hood
- Engine – Look for any visible leaks or corrosion on the engine block or surrounding components. Streaks or staining from oil can be a sign of costly future repairs.
- Oil – Inspect the oil level reading and color by checking the engine oil dipstick.
- Belts and Hoses – Make sure that these rubber components are soft, not brittle, and free of and splits or cracks.
- Transmission – If possible, pull the transmission dipstick to check the color of the transmission fluid. Fresh transmission fluid is often red or pink in color. Also look for discoloration or a burnt smell, both of which could be a sign of a transmission problem.