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What to Look for When Buying a Used Car (Complete Guide) | Betters Insurance

what to look for when buying a used car

Buying a used car is the most affordable option for many of us. We all need means of transportation at a reasonable price and with substantial reliability. A new base model Toyota Corolla is almost $21,000/-, making it way out of reach for many of us. Some older great cars like Ford Mustangs, Buicks, and Pontiacs are not available brand new. You have to buy them used. 

But sometimes, a used car purchase can end up in a disaster, and the cost of repairs may be more than the actual worth of the car, rendering the thing depreciated completely and parted out at junkyards. 

A wise decision when making such a purchase decision is a must. Here is our complete guide to what to look for when buying a used car to enable you to decide wisely.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car:

Find a perfect used car is a treasure hunt. And finding a used car that fits your budget and needs is a needle in a haystack situation these days. The used car market is the largest segment of the US economy. Following is a complete guide to what to look for when buying a used car. 

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Step 1; set a budget and a buying preference:

As mentioned earlier, buying used cars is more affordable than purchasing new vehicles. It is much cheaper, quicker, and costs much less in insurance and title transfer. 

You buy your used vehicle either in cash or lease the thing from a financial institution. Consider your budget in both scenarios. You must set aside some of the money for general maintenance and personalization of your car. Similarly, it is wise to have a pre-sanctioned loan that assures you quick payments to sellers. Contact your insurance agency and ask about your auto insurance options.

A point here in consideration is what vehicle you are buying. Is it a sedan, a two-door coupe, a station wagon? Is the car a Japanese brand or an American, or you have something german in mind. Answers to these questions affect the price as well as the maintenance and other costs.

For Example, German vehicles are great to drive. They have better build quality and are considered a status symbol. But they are more expensive to purchase, insure, maintain, and specialized dealers repair these cars. 

Step 2; choose wisely:

There are many online services today like Autotrader that show you various vehicle falling within your budget. Choose the cars you consider perfect for your need and pay a visit and inspect yourself.

Some considerations on what to look for when inspecting any used car are as under:

Inspecting the mechanical and electrics:

The first inspection on our list of “what to look for when buying a used car” is of mechanical and electrics. If you do not know how to do this, do some homework first. Mechanical (engine, suspension, and drivetrain) and electrical component repairs cost a bulk of money for repairs and maintenance. You must consider the points below for inspecting the car’s mechanical and electrics: 

  1. Take a portable OBD-II scanner with you when inspecting the car.
  2. Check for any warning indications on the instrument binnacle. Warning indication may include a check engine, ABS warning, power steering warning.
  3. Check for any oil leakage under the hood or from the transmission and suspension. Power steering fluids also tend to leak if not maintained. If you find any, make a note and discuss it with your mechanic.
  4. Check for any abnormal sound or vibration from the engine when the car is idling. A rough idling engine can have serious issues with the ignition and fuel injection systems.
  5. Check for engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant. Ask the owner what brand he has poured in and when were these fluids changed the last time. The brand and duration will tell you about the care given to the car. Also, notice if there is any decrease in these fluids that suggests a leakage in the system. 
  6. Check the radiator and engine oil filler cap for foamy residue. The Foamy residue is a symptom of a failing head gasket that can cause complete engine failure.
  7. Check the air conditioning and the heater of the car. If there is no cold or hot air, there is a noise from the blower motor or a foul smell when the unit switches on; there might be issues that will cost you.
  8. Check the headlamps (high and low beam), the rear lights, brake lights, indicators for proper functioning. Also, check the cabin lights, radio, and other accessories.
  9. Check the wiring in the engine bay and the trunk for damages. Cheap repairs and DIY can lead to fire hazards.
  10. Check the suspension for irregular play in the steering, the track ends, and ball joints. Check if the car is swinging on sides when being driven. 
  11. Check if there is any noise from the shock absorbers or dampers. Note if they are aftermarket or genuine parts. Check For any leakage in the power steering rack. If the steering is electronic, it will show up an error on the instrument cluster. 
  12. Check the exhaust system for rust, holes, and abnormal sounds.
  13. Check the brakes. Checking the brakes includes inspecting the brake pads and disks, inspecting the brake master cylinder and the ABS unit. Usually, if there is a problem with the ABS systems, check light indicates it on the cluster.
  14. Scan the car with the portable scanner you have brought. It confirms if the car’s computer has recorded issues and codes. If there is no code at all, check when the owner has cleared the codes.

Inspecting the exterior and interior:

Examining the car’s aesthetics comes second on our list of what to look for when buying a used car.

Minor scratches and small dents on the body of the vehicle are not costly issues. But:

  1. Check the car’s chassis from inside the hood, the trunk, and the undercarriage for rust and accident damage. If the chassis suffered an accident or there are significant rust issues. Forget the car and move on.
  2. Check the body for Bondo and body filler. Minor spots of dent and body repair are negligible. But, if the body filler patches are abnormal, then there might be rust damage.
  3. Check the paint for cracks and fade. You can buff out the faded paint, but paint cracks need more extensive detailing.
  4. Check the bumpers for damage and alignment.
  5. Check the gaps between the body panels. 
  6. Check the locks and the hinges of all the doors, hood, and trunk lid.
  7. Check if the sunroof has leaks. Rust around the sunroof is a clear sign that the sunroof is or will soon be leaking.
  8. Check the interior for cleanliness, hygiene, and foul smells.
  9. Check if the upholstery of the seats, the door trims, and the dashboard are intact. If there damages, upholstery can cost you a significant sum of money to restore.
  10. Check if all the switches, knobs, and buttons are in working order.
  11. Check the tires.

Ask for the vehicle maintenance record. Make a note of where the vehicle is maintained. The data will also represent how reliable the car has been and what is the regular maintenance schedule? 

Step 3; take a test drive:

The next step in our list of what to look for when buying a used car is taking a test drive.

After a physical inspection of all the above aspects, take a test drive of the vehicle. A test drive will make you more aware of the car. 

The test drive will show you how the car behaves under driving conditions. You will get to know the smoothness of the transmission and engine. You will observe if there is any sluggishness in acceleration. You will check the brakes, the suspension, and the maneuverability of the vehicle.

Take a buying decision after the test drive. 

We highly recommend inspecting and test driving the car in broad daylight with the sun shining. Checking the vehicle in the daytime will ascertain a clear and more observant vision.

Step 4; verify the title documents and the VIN:

National highway traffic safety administration provides online support for vehicle’s title and vehicle identification number. Verify the ownership from NHTSA.

Step 5; negotiate on the best price:

Do your complete research regarding the market value of the vehicle for the condition of the car. Explain to the owner what you have researched and the issue you have observed with the automobile. Tell the guy how much you will have to spend to bring it into pristine condition.

Make it clear to the seller about the method of the payment and the time. If you are purchasing in cash, make sure to keep a signed copy of the receipt. If you are routing the transaction through your Bank, tell that to the owner as well.

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Some more tips on what to look for when buying a used car:

  1. Consider low mileage newer model cars. Yes, they will cost a little more. But they will prove to be beneficial when it comes to annual maintenance and trips to your mechanic.
  2. Always compare the prices of the vehicle of your choosing.
  3. Authorized or company maintained cars are the most sought after and should be the preference.
  4. Consider cars that have slower depreciation. Some classic vehicles appreciate overtime Like, Mercedes Benz 300SL and earlier BMWs 3 and 5 series cars.

Best of luck!

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