5 Top Things to Look for When Buying a Pre-Owned Car

Finding the right used car can be a daunting task. How do you know which one is right for you? And how do you ensure that the one you pick will last? Am I buying someone else’s headache?

Though it can feel a bit overwhelming, there’s no need to stress. If you spend time researching, and you look for these important things when you check out a car, you’ll much more likely to end up with a vehicle you love.

Plus, buying a pre-owned car can save you a ton of money than buying it new.  In some cases, you may be able to buy the car of your dreams that you may not have been able to afford if buying brand new.

Does the Car Match Your Lifestyle?

Before you head out to look at any used cars, take the time to do a little research. Think about your lifestyle and what kind of vehicle you truly need.

Are you usually the one driving when you and your friends go out? Do you have children or are you thinking of starting a family soon? Are you in a band that uses your car to pack up for gigs?

After you’ve decided whether it will be a coupe for cruising or an SUV for versatility, head online. Look for popular models, reviews, and pricing to narrow down your favorites.

Then, create a list of the cars you’re going to focus your search around, and make sure you know how much each should cost.

 Check the Cars History and Make Sure It’s Clean

Used car dealerships should provide you with a vehicle history for any car that you’re looking at. If you’re considering buying a car from a private seller, it’s worth paying for a history report yourself.

It’s important to check the report carefully to make sure that the vehicle did not sustain any serious damage in the past.

If the car was in a collision and required significant repairs, you probably want to move on to a different one.  Cars that have structural damage can be very unsafe to drive.

Is the Car in Good Condition?

Though it’s easy to feel like you’re under pressure when you’re at the dealership, keep in mind that the car you’re buying is for you. It’s YOUR money – not the dealerships. Take your time to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape.  If you feel the salesperson is rushing you then tell them.  If they are still too pushy – ask the sales manager for a different salesperson.

Start with the outside and inspect the finish. Are there any signs of a recent paint job? Do you notice any scratches? Those imperfections might seem tiny, but they can lead to problems, like rust, later.

Next, check out the condition of tires. Do they still have a significant amount of tread or do they look nearly bald? Is there a lot of evidence of wear?

If the tires look like they’ve seen better days, talk to the salesperson and negotiate a new set in as part of the price.

It’s also smart to make sure all the lights are working while you’re there. Turn the key so you can see if the head and tail lamps are all functioning properly. Don’t forget to switch on the high beams as well.

When you’re finished with the outside of the car, work your way to the interior. Start with the trunk, inspecting it for holes, tears, etc.

If it looks okay, you can move on to the cabin. See if the upholstery is holding up. Are there tears or unsightly stains?

Look for mats on the floor in the front and the back. If they’re missing, talk to the salesperson about including new ones with your purchase.

Once you’re sure the interior looks all right, it’s time to make sure everything works. Try out the sound system, climate control, power windows, power seats, sunroof, wipers, etc. Test all of the controls in the car to make sure they’re functioning.

If everything seems to be good, it’s time to pop the hood and take a closer look.

How Mechanically Sound is the Car?

Though it’s a good idea to have your mechanic check any used vehicle before you purchase, you can conduct an initial once over yourself.

While you might not be a trained mechanic, some things are just obvious when you look under the hood of a car.

First, examine all of the hoses and belts. Pay close attention to any cracks or flaws you see. Some of these parts can be very costly to replace later, so you want to catch any issues ahead of time.

One thing that is especially expensive to replace is the timing belt. It’s one of the most critical parts in a car.

If a worn timing belt is left too long, it can snap and cause damage to the engine.

Take Time to Test Drive the Car

Some people feel awkward or under pressure when they’re taking a used car for a spin, so they rush things to get back to the dealership.

However, the test drive is essential because it helps ensure that you enjoy the way the car feels.

Pay attention and make note of any lagging when you accelerate. Try going up a hill, braking, and parking to get an impression of how regular driving would be.

Also listen for any strange noises or vibrations while you’re on the road. Those could be signals that the car has a problem that hasn’t been addressed.

Relax, take your time, and drive the car long enough to come to a solid conclusion about whether it will work for you. 


Though it takes some time to find the right vehicle, it’s worth it in the end. When you’re cruising in your new ride, you’ll be glad you invested all that energy.