Shopping for a car can be stressful, and not everyone knows what to look for. This gets even more complicated when shopping for a used car, especially when buying “as seen, as is” or from a private seller.
If you’re heading out to kick some tires and check out used vehicles, take a few minutes to go over this list of things you should keep an eye out for. Remember these rules of thumb on the lot, and you can feel confident that you’ll be making a wiser, better-thought-out investment.
1. Look Out For Body Imperfections
Chances are, unless the vehicle you’re considering is lightly used or has been taken perfect care of, there may be a few scratches, dings, or small dents. This is okay. What you really want to look out for is anything that might indicate an accident such as significant body damage or sections of the body not matching up perfectly, which is likely the result of subpar repairs. Look at body panels from an angle instead of head on, as this will make imperfections more pronounced.
2. Make Sure All Power Accessories Work
If the vehicle you’re looking at has power locks, windows, and/or mirrors, check to make sure they all work. Power mirrors and locks can be moved manually if they don’t work (although this will be inconvenient) but power windows that don’t work can be a huge problem. In many states, windows that can’t be rolled down, particularly the driver’s window, can be grounds for a vehicle to fail inspection.
3. Check The Tires For Wear And Tear
Be sure to check out the tires for wear. For starters, it’s good to see whether or not the tires will still pass inspection. If they look like they’re too worn down, and new ones will be needed for the car to be road-worthy, you can use it as a bargaining chip to negotiate a lower price.
Another important thing to consider is how even the wear is. If tires have worn down unevenly and seem to be barer in some spots than others, this could indicate that the vehicle is in need of an alignment.
4. Inspect Windshield For Cracks
Carefully inspect the windshield and windows for cracks and chips. These can be very small, and may not seem like a big deal, but our sources with Northwest Dodge Houston tell us that they can become bigger over time. Particularly in extreme temperatures, glass may expand or contract, and this can cause a tiny crack to spread across your entire windshield.
Considering that windshields are usually designed to withstands up to 60 percent of a vehicles’s weight during a rollover accident, it leaves all occupants at risk of harm if weak or compromised in any way, shape or form.
5. Check Oil Quality And Level
Bring along a clean white rag or roll of paper towels, and check the oil. Pay attention not only to the oil level (if it’s low, that could be a sign of a leak) but also the color and smell of the fluid. Dark or dirty looking oil, or oil that has a burnt smell, shows that the vehicle may not have been maintained as well as it should have been, or that it’s been burning the oil.
6. Assess Condition Of Interior Materials
Check out the interior for stains, rips or other blemishes. Discolored and even slightly ripped upholstery can always be covered up (if that’s something you want to commit to) but keep a lookout for burn marks on the seats, near the windows, and on the cloth ceiling. If someone has smoked in the car, the smell can be very difficult to remove, and even if it’s been covered up by an air freshener, you may never be able to get a truly clean smell back into the vehicle.
7. When In Doubt, Get The CarFax
If you follow these guidelines, you should have a good shot at getting a vehicle that you can count on. If you’re still unsure, though, if a price seems to be too good to be true, or if you’re investing in a used vehicle that’s still fairly expensive (like a used luxury model), you can always get a CarFax report. In a private sale, you’ll have to pay for it yourself, but some dealers will cover the cost.