A Used Car Buyer’s Guide 

Buying a new-to-you vehicle can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Unlike buying a new car, where you can shop more confidently and know exactly what you’re getting, a used car requires a little extra work for you.

When you visit the used car dealership to test drive a vehicle on the lot, you must do your due diligence to ensure the quality of the vehicle. You’ll want to check over these five areas before committing to the purchase.

Look Over the Vehicle History Report

Most used car dealerships, especially reputable ones like a Ford dealer in Kansas City, are happy to have you review a vehicle history report, sometimes called a CarFax. The report lists any major repairs or wrecks associated with the car’s VIN, and it’s important to look over!

Be aware that not every issue will be present on a vehicle history report, so take it with a grain of salt. However, being offered one of these documents can give you a little more insight into the vehicle you’re considering purchasing. 

Check the Vehicle’s Exterior

Before you even climb inside and start the engine, walk around the exterior of the vehicle to look for signs of body damage. The paint should be the same color from panel to panel; variation between them could indicate the vehicle was involved in a collision.

Underneath the vehicle counts as the exterior. Look for dripping fluids, excessive rust for the car’s age, or loose parts. This is also a great time to check the tires; if the treads are worn, you should budget purchasing new ones and take that cost into consideration before making an offer on the vehicle.

Start the Car

Some salesmen will start the car for you so that it is already running when you start looking it over. You’ll want to turn off the engine and restart the car yourself. If the car seems to struggle to start, you can count on mechanical issues becoming a serious problem in the very near future.

Check that the headlights, indicators, and emergency flashers are all in good working condition, listen for odd noises, and note any strong exhaust smells. If you can see the exhaust, and it’s an unusually dark color, the vehicle could have major engine issues.

Sit in the Driver’s Seat
Not every vehicle seat is comfortable to every person. You’ll be spending significant time behind the wheel, so you want to make sure that sitting in the driver’s seat is comfortable enough for you.

Adjust the seat, steering wheel, and mirrors. Once your seat is in a comfortable position, check the comfort of the back seat, especially if you’ll have rear passengers with any sort of frequency.

From inside the cabin, turn on the interior lights, check over the dashboard lights, and turn the radio to your favorite local stations to check that the car stereo is working properly. Check over each aspect of the car stereo, including the CD player, auxiliary jack, USB input, and more. Roll each window down, and then back up.

Now is the perfect time to turn on the air conditioner and the heating system. No matter what the weather is, you’ll want to test both of them. Do they come on quickly? Do they emit any strange smells or noises? Take note!

Put the Car in Gear

Finally, it’s time to actually drive this car! You’ll want to pay close attention, using multiple senses to make note of any unexplained noises, vibrations, or smells as you accelerate, slow down, turn, or shift into new gears. You’ll also want to listen for any whistling noises, which can indicate leaky windows.

During your test drive, it’s worthwhile to ask to take the used car to a trusted mechanic for a quick look-over. Just be sure to give your mechanic a heads-up first. Getting a set of expert eyes on the vehicle is smart before you fork over lots of money to buy the car!

Buy the Car
Only if you’re satisfied with the vehicle in its entirety should you make an offer. If you’ve identified possible issues with the vehicle, but believe they are easy to fix, you might also want to go ahead and purchase the car, especially if you have access to a mechanic or can fix these things yourself for a low cost. Use these repairs as a bargaining tool to lower the price of the car – within reason! Reasonable offers are often considered, but rude, low-balling offers likely will be met with a “No thank you,” and walking away.

Last Considerations
Remember that a used car will not be completely perfect! While it should be free from any major mechanical defects, there will always be some wear and tear to the vehicle. After all, someone has driven it before you. If you expect complete perfection, you may want to consider buying a new car straight from the dealer.

Used cars, however, are usually a smart financial move, because of their lower sticker price and slower depreciation.