What To Look For When Buying Used Cars
So you need another car, right? You’re checking online advertisements. Maybe you’ve seen a few in person. Maybe you’re even getting ready to look at one. Your friends at Ottobot Motors, your local buy here pay here dealer, will tell you what to look for when buying used cars, whether they’re at a dealership or private party. We’ll also show you how knowing what to look for when buying used cars can save you time, money, hassles, and surprises down the road. So sit back, relax, and get ready to shop for your next used vehicle like a car-buying ninja.
Ready, Set, Go! And Don’t Forget This Handy Used Car Checklist.
Whether it’s your first car, second car, family car, or extra car, there are lots of things that you should focus on when thinking about what to look for when buying used cars. But this can get overwhelming so we’ve boiled it down for you so you can run through a checklist and quickly arrive at the model that best suits your needs.
- Dealer vs. Private Sale: In most cases, you’ll find that both will put their best foot forward. Both may appear to be transparent with service records and history. Both may allow for negotiating prices. Privately, you’ll benefit from tax savings, but there may be hidden issues with the vehicle that the seller may or may not know about, which will leave you holding the bag. At a dealer, you can bank on reputation being important, and most will bend over backward to show you their used car inspection reports, vehicle history, and more. You’ll have flexibility with payment options and the possibility of purchasing a warranty. Even if you buy a tried and true used Chevy, it doesn’t mean you’re free from repairs down the road. Only a dealer can sell you a warranty!
- Have a used car buying guide: These handy little guides are packed with consumer reports, industry rankings, insurance projections, and more. Let’s say your heart is set on a used Jeep. There are even sections that will show you side by side comparisons with competitive vehicles so that you can make the best decision possible.
- Lead with love: This may sound corny. But put your best foot forward when purchasing a used vehicle. If you show up pretending like the seller is a demon from the 7th layer, you’re not going to get too far. If you show up and are courteous throughout the process, you’ll find that the seller will go the extra mile to be helpful. While never really spoken about, leading with kindness is one of the best tips for used car buying that we can think of.
- Check, check, and check again: Any mechanic will tell you that there are intervals of time that are key milestones in a vehicle’s running cycle. First thing’s first – fire it up. Turn on the AC full blast. You are intentionally loading the system and looking for shortcomings in performance. Engine revs should be smooth and even with no unusual noises. If the car can run like this for 10 minutes without issue, it can likely make it for 20 minutes. If it can make it 20 minutes, push it to 40 minutes. When you’re inspecting a used car, plan on spending the amount of time you would otherwise spend driving it. Typically an hour. Once the car has reached running-temperature, check to make sure that it isn’t overheating. Check to make sure that the oil pressure light doesn’t flicker. Overheating and oil pressure issues will worsen over time, and you most certainly want to identify an issue before you buy. Oil pressure and overheating issues will typically show up after 20 minutes. And definitely by 40 minutes. If you make it past that point and can confidently road test, you are likely ok.
- Things to check when buying a used car: An exterior visual inspection will tell you a lot about how a car was cared for. Look for signs of an accident. Variations in paint color could indicate previous bodywork. Check the tires. Are they cracked? Does the tread cover the tips of your fingers? Inside, with the car running, push all the buttons. Buttons are supposed to do something. If you push a button and nothing happens, you may have found a hidden problem. Bring a flashlight and pop the hood. Even if you’re not a mechanic, you can still spot some common issues. Look for yellowing of plastic components. Look for leaks, residue, and build up. Look for bulging hoses. Look for things that are non-OEM, like store-bought zip-ties and patches. Hunt for homemade “quick-fixes.” Also, look for a steam-cleaned engine. This may also indicate that someone has something to hide. An engine should sound relatively quiet. Puffs, ticks, squeals, and clunks are all things you shouldn’t hear. Look underneath if you can. The only thing you should see dripping is the clear run-off from the AC. You did turn it on, right?
- How to check a used car while driving: Safety first. You don’t know this car from a hole in the wall. Adjust your seat, mirrors, and buckle up. Tap the horn. Try the signal switches. Put it in drive and give the brakes a quick tap. If all that works, then head on out! If a car has gear ranges, try them. For instance, if you’re thinking about a used Ford pickup, and you have plans to tow, you’ll want to make sure that the vehicle holds all lower gears without popping out of place. Acceleration should be smooth, no matter what you’re driving. Kicks and hiccups could indicate small or large problems. You don’t want to see any of that. Steering should be responsive and fluid. Listen for clunks and bumps from suspension. Additionally, try to get to 35mph. Then 55mph. These are critical speed-cycles that will always reveal driveline issues such as shaft problems, coupler issues, and ball joint/hub problems. You will notice the vibrations under your seat and definitely at the steering wheel. If the used car you’re inspecting passes all these checks, you’re probably in luck. When you get back, DON’T SHUT OFF THE CAR. It’s been about an hour. Keep it running. Pop the hood, hop out. Look underneath the vehicle. Do you see anything new? Do you smell anything new? Do you hear anything new? If not, pay the man and get out of there!
- Street smarts are always a good idea: You’ve typically got nothing to worry about when you shop safely at a used car dealership. But if you’re worried about a private sale being safe, ask to meet at a public location. Have a phone call or two before you visit to get a sense of the seller. Bring a friend. But choose wisely. Sometimes your “friend who knows everything about cars” but who actually doesn’t know anything about cars is best left at home. You don’t need to create friction. Choose your co-pilot wisely.
- Don’t forget the DMV: Buying from a dealership will be useful in this regard. You’ll leave with a temp tag or new plate (or transfer if you have one). If you buy privately, all states have different requirements, but DO NOT slap on that extra plate you saved as a souvenir and drive home. Driving with plates unassigned to a vehicle is a felony, and a very happy day can go south faster than you might think if you encounter an officer trying to prove a point.
Following all of these steps will ensure that you’ve done your due diligence. If you’re looking for even more peace of mind, ask your local mechanic to come along with you and see if the seller is open to a 3rd party inspection. If you want to try this with a private seller, remember, it’s still their car, and they may not be able to do this easily. Offer a token sum to them and invite them along as a show of good faith.
Ottobot Motors Makes Buying Used Cars Easy
We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this article on what to look for when buying used cars. These rules of the road apply to all used vehicles, so that’s everything from a used Dodge to the babies in a bunker time warp Ferrari Superamerica. Take your time. Trust your instincts. And don’t forget to have fun. Sure, sometimes you’ll be disappointed when you uncover some problems before buying. But you’re better off finding those issues then as opposed to down the road. If you’re ever in Dallas, TX, your team of used car specialists at Ottobot Motors can help you get a used car with confidence. Happy motoring!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most important thing to look for when buying a used car?
The most important thing to look for when buying a used car is any number of signs that indicate a prior accident. A CARFAX® Vehicle History Report™ can reveal whether it has been involved in one, but if said report isn’t available, look for cracked bodywork and irregular paint variations. Homemade repairs are also an important thing to look for. At Ottobot Motors in Irving, TX, you’ll find used cars that pass all the tests.
What should I be careful of when buying a used car?
Engine damage is the main thing to be careful of when buying a used car near Fort Worth. Idle the car with the AC at full blast and check that the RPMs remain smooth, and check for performance irregularities as you test-drive it near Dallas, being sure to reach 35 and 55 mph. Be sure to check for fluid leaks and ask to see a CARFAX® Vehicle History Report™; this report will reveal past accidents and the prior service history of the used car.
How many miles is too many for a used car?
150,000 miles is often the limit for a used car that you can count on for years of dependability. Most cars can last for around 200,000 miles, so use that and the car’s service history as a guideline to check if it has too many miles for your ownership plans.