What To Look For When Buying A Used Car: 13 Experts Comment

Buying a used car can be a bit of a minefield, and there are all kinds of things you should be looking out for and questions to ask. To help you with this difficult process, this piece is a compilation of some fantastic responses we got to the following query:

What are things buyers of used cars should pay attention to (whether buying from a dealer or an individual) that many people neglect?

In response to that we’ve had some great comments from car dealers, car concierges, car news sites, car guide websites, auto accessory sites and more, and we’ve published the best ones below. Most of the comments here are from people with a wealth of experience with cars and car buying and selling, and who have a great deal of wisdom to share.

Especially if this is your first time buying a used car, do not buy anything until you’ve read through and considered these comments!

Mileage - Good mileage is one of the most important considerations when buying used cars. It’s an accurate indicator to use when considering wear on a vehicle to determine its longevity for you. The average use for a vehicle is about 12,000 miles a year.

Tire Inspection - Wear on tires is a commonly overlooked feature when inspecting pre-owned vehicles. Beware of a car with under 20,000 miles but brand new tires. It’s a sign that the odometer might’ve been rolled back. Check also that all four tires are the same with an even amount of tread wear on each. Examine rims for cracks and dents as well.

Pedal Inspection - Pedals are the most overlooked part of a used car, but one of the best conveyors of use. The rubber on the pedals can tell buyers how often the vehicle was used. Look to see if this appears new (meaning it was replaced) or worn.

--Keyoka Kinzy, Superior Honda

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When you're buying a used vehicle you are usually taking a risk, unless you happen to know the person intimately and know how they care for vehicles and assets. Even then, things can happen to seemingly good vehicles simply due to bad timing or luck. These risks can be heightened when you buy a vehicle privately from party to party or from a dealership that doesn't do their diligence for their customers. This stems from the fact that you don't know how the previous owner drove the car (ie: hard and abusive) or if they maintained it properly. Likewise, you don't know if it has had substantial repairs done either, due to an accident, flood, fire, and so on. An easy solution that can provide answers to many of these uncertainties is by simply running a Carfax or AutoCheck.

I would recommend always getting a Carfax or AutoCheck report on the vehicle you are interested in purchasing. These reports will tell you fairly accurately how the vehicle in question was maintained and more importantly if it has been repaired. These reports are not fool-proof, however, they will paint a pretty clear picture that can establish some confidence when dealing with strangers. All reputable used-car dealerships will provide you with one, so if you're visiting a dealer that doesn't provide those, I'd shop elsewhere and not even bother. And, if you're considering buying from an individual directly, make sure to purchase a Carfax report yourself.

--Joe Akers, Cowles Nissan

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1. Do an indepth market research

2. Jot down your exact needs and preferences

3. Find every car which meets your expectations.

4. Review their complete CarFax reports

5. Analyze their Autocheck reports

6. Check for their service history records.

7. Compare these data points.

8. Schedule test drives.

9. Inspect the wear and tear on the car -- dents, scratches, tires, etc.

10. Track as to how the dealership bought the car -- an auction, trade-ins, etc.

11. Get your mechanic friend or auto repair shop guy to inspect the car from an unbiased approach. It might cost a couple of hundred dollars.

12. If everything checks out, ask them to make you an initial offer.

13. Compare various pricing from other dealerships or private sellers.

14. Negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate.

15. Once the best price is agreed upon, make a deal.

--Neel Mehta, CarConciergePro

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Buying used cars can be extremely tricky, especially when the car dealer involved is untrustworthy. Buyers who make their choices with extra caution and avoid seller tricks buy the best cars for less.

Naturally, car dealers are too salesy and influential. A car dealer cannot be rejected by many buyers for no reason. He must be renowned for using dirty tricks which buyers can avoid.

An extra cautious used car buyer will look out for the following:

- Mismatched paint and overspray which indicate a repair or repaint

- Check under the car for leakages

- Use the Vehicle Identification Number(VIN) to check for any recalls

- Mileage of the car( Low mileage indicates the car hasn't been too much worn out)

- Check the cars' interior, under the carpets and exterior

Bottom line: Most used car buyers who end up buying the car they wanted tend to avoid being rushed when inspecting it. In fact, they ask for private time to avoid any influence from the car dealer, especially if the dealer is renowned for bad influence.

--Musau Kimenzu, Autofun

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1. In general, arm yourself with information! Go to the various sites that provide estimated values for used cars, such as kbb.com and others; you will see a range of values given across these sites. Also, look on CarMax.com to see what price cars are being offered at. CarMax does not negotiate prices, and they're usually a bit higher than what you may be able to get through a dealer or individual, so that should help you find a ceiling.

2. If you're buying from an individual, make sure that the individual actually has the right to sell the car! I once answered a newspaper ad for a used car and put a deposit on it. The man allegedly was selling it on behalf of his brother, who was out of the country at the time. But it turned out that this was a scam, and I was very fortunate to get my money back. In the future, if I buy from an individual, I will not buy from anyone whose name is not on the auto registration--and yes, I will ask to see the registration.

3. When buying from a dealer: Be willing to walk away! After I made a deal to buy a used car, the salesperson told me that he just had to check with his sales manager. Later, once I had returned to work, I got a phone call from the salesperson, who told me that the manager had rejected the deal. I told him immediately that I wasn't going to buy the car. By the end of the day, they called me back and let me buy the car at the original agreed price. In general, it's still unfortunate that most car salespeople are men, and they not only assume that women don't have enough knowledge, but they also exploit it.

4. Once you have a car picked out, be sure to get the CarFax report. Many dealers will give you one automatically, but if you want to spend some money ahead of time to search for whether the car was involved in an accident, or was salvaged after a flood, or something like that, CarFax is a good investment. It also will allow you to check VINs on a variety of cars for a given period of time.

--Ronel Wright, Hoop Dames

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When looking at the log book or previous owners book, pay attention if it has had any female owners before. It may be a stereotype but it's a true one - women look after cards better i.e they don't abuse the engine, throttle by speeding.

Even slightly revving the car over the recommended limit can take it's toll over a number of years.

It's not a sure fire method, but if you're shopping around for similar cars and can't decide between 2-3. Personally I would always go with the one that has had the highest number of female past owners.

--Michael Lowe, Car Passionate

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The number one tip I tell buyers to look out for is leaks! When a car begins falling apart, it's hard to prevent leakage of all sorts. That's why before you test drive your car, you'll want to take not about what where any drips underneath the vehicle are. Park it somewhere else when you're done, and check to see if anything is dripping in those areas. A car that's already dripping fluids is one you want to avoid at all costs. But be aware, condensation from the air conditioner may be perfectly normal.

--Jake McKenzie, Auto Accessories Garage

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Mileage - Whilst searching for a suitable used car, we have requirements of what we want. You could be looking for a certain colour or number or seats, or maybe you want a navigation system or powerful air-con. These all play an important factor when purchasing a car, but this makes it easy to overlook some important factors such as mileage.

As a rule of thumb, a vehicle does 10,000-12,000 miles per year. So be sure to check the mileage against the age of the vehicle and ensure that it makes sense, as the car you're looking at could be a victim of clocking where the miles are turned back to make a car worth more money as lower mileage is more appealing to a customer. To get an idea if the mileage sounds about right, ask questions on the previous owner/s and how often they used the car.

History & key documents - According to the RAC, 1 in 4 cars have a hidden history, so it's always a good idea to get some background information on the vehicle, so you know exactly what you're dealing with. Don't be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper into the vehicle's history, as you could uncover some helpful insights which could determine whether you purchase the car or not. The most important document to check is the vehicle's V5C, also known as a log book or registration document. Ensure the car you're looking at matches the details on the V5C, including the number plate.

If a used vehicle comes with a service history, this is a bonus, as not all used cars will have this, it depends on age and condition of the vehicle. If you're buying a specialist vehicle, you'll want to know the service history to ensure it's been looked after. In terms of the MOT, you should check the vehicle's MOT history and status through the vehicle's MOT certificate, you can also do this online to check if there were any problems beforehand and what work has been carried out. This could indicate the work that it may need done in the future, or uncover any issues the car may have.

Bumps, scratched and dents - Accidental knocks can happen from time to time, some leave marks that you'll barely notice while others leave little to the imagination. Inspect the car for any bumps and scratches and make sure these reflect the damage listed in the vehicle's description. Some can be hard to see, so ensure that you are happy with the condition of the vehicle and if you're feeling unsure, ask questions to give you more background. Remember, once you drive away in your new car you may not be covered for marks you find later!

Test, test, test! Once you've checked the exterior and interior for any marks and you're satisfied with the documents provided, it's a good idea to test some of the controls and electrics to ensure they are working as they should. Test opening and closing the doors, locking and unlocking, test the control stalks for the lights and windscreen wipers and ensure the seat belts click into place securely. If the vehicle has one, turn on the stereo system and adjust the volume to test the sound. It's also a good idea to turn on the air flow and check the vents to make sure the air pressure is working. Lastly, don't forget to test the horn! Testing is a good way to get a feel for the vehicle and how it operates and this is also a chance to make sure it's in a good working order before purchasing.

Before purchasing any used vehicle, one of the most important things you will need to do is take the car for a test drive. This is a good opportunity to get a feel for the vehicle and how it handles. Driving at different speeds will give you a feel for how the steering, brakes and gears are working. Be sure to listen out for any unusual sounds or movement. Look for roads with corners and junctions so you can feel the movements of the steering wheel, and opt for roads with various speed limits so you can cycle up and down through the gears, looking out for any stiffness or suspicious sounds. Test driving the vehicle is a great way to ask yourself Can I see myself driving this?

Ask questions - It's a good idea to be inquisitive about the vehicle you're considering to purchase, as once you drive away with the car, hidden issues could emerge. Whilst viewing a vehicle, ensure you get the previous owner and performance history, information on past MOTs, accidents or damages, and most of all, make sure it's the right vehicle for you. Scrap Car Comparison recommends thoroughly checking the vehicle's documents, history and inspecting the mileage. Ensure you're happy with the vehicle's condition both inside and out and you're satisfied with how the vehicle drives.

--Amy Josling, Scrap Car Comparison

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There are a few key things we often see car shoppers neglect when buying a used car, often to save money, which can end up costing them even more in the long run. Here's what we suggest to all of our friends and family before even considering buying a used car:

1. Research the car's value on independent websites such as Edmunds, KBB, NADA, and TrueCar. All will give you slightly different values, but you can use it to get a good average value to negotiate with.

2. Always bring the car to an independent mechanic to get it inspected before buying. Ask the dealer or individual to let you do this before signing the papers. If they refuse, then walk away; something is suspicious. Some mechanics will do this for free, especially if you know them, but even if you have to pay an inspection fee, it's worth the peace of mind knowing you're getting a sound car and can save you money in the long run. It's best to do this after you've agreed on a price, pending inspection. If something is wrong, it's not necessarily a deal-breaker; just consider the cost of repair into your final bargaining.

3. Finally, always run a Vehicle History Report on the car to ensure there are no unexpected damages previously reported, such as an accident, salvage report, theft, outstanding recalls, and to make sure it's been properly serviced and maintained. Services such as CarFax and AutoCheck can do this for you.

A vehicle is a major expense. Having as much information as possible will always put you in a better buying position to get a good deal and avoid any headaches.

--Chris Burdick, Automoblog.net

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- Whether you're buying from a dealer or a private party, every used car should get a pre purchase inspection (PPI). In most states, used cars are sold as-is, which means that once you've signed over the title and the paperwork, you assume all responsibility for the vehicle. Unlike with new cars where lemon laws protect car buyers, used cars have very few protections. Getting a PPI is a must. Services such as Lemon Squad can help if you're thinking about buying a car out of state, or you don't have a trusty mechanic you can turn to. It's our recommendation that you even get a PPI done on a certified pre-owned vehicle too.

- Another consideration to have when buying a used car is the type of used vehicle it is. For example, are you buying a used car that was primarily driven on the highway by a commuter, or a rental car that was beaten up by hundreds of different drivers? Check the CarFax and the AutoCheck to learn more about a vehicle's history, and be sure to ask for service records. If the dealer can't supply those to you, at least ask for the repair order related to the reconditioning of the vehicle they completed. This will show you what work the dealer completed to get the car showroom ready.

--Zach Shefska, Your Auto Advocate

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When buying a used car from a dealership or an individual, one has to look out for a few things in order to make the right decision. Top on that list include:

1. The efficacy of the car. Just because a car is cheap and easily available does not mean it is the right fit for you. Before making any final decisions, try to gauge whether the car meets your needs. For example, if you have a family, does it have ample space? If you are alone, is it too big? Is the fuel consumption up to par with your budget? Once you answer these questions, finding the right used car for you will be much easier.

2. You have to check the mileage of the car as well. It is true that the lesser the mileage the more enticing the car. However, you must also ask yourself why the owner chose to sell the car that fast. Sometimes, a second hand car with very low mileage can be a signal for other underlying factors.

3. You must have the car tested and examined by a professional mechanic. Aside from you giving the car a test drive to get a feel of it, always employ the services of a trusted mechanic to ensure that the car is in good shape. Most people skip this part only to end up with a broken down vehicle soon after purchase.

4. Consider the history of the car as well. Although most sellers may choose to lie to you so that you can take the car from their hands, try to get as much historical data as possible. Ask about whether it has been in an accident, its repair frequency, and even the level of its previous usage. This will let you know whether the car is handy and durable, or if it is too damaged for purchase.

--Jay Scott, Pugsquest

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1.) Contrary to popular belief the Carfax does not tell you everything.

I see many individuals making a purchase based off of a clean Carfax. While it is a great starting point it leaves many things out. The biggest issue is accidents that go unreported. Carfax sources it’s data based on accidents that were reported. These are the ones that are typically paid out by your insurance company. However, if I were to have an accident fixed by a small shop it would not show up on the report. So, I’ve seen cars with frame damage or serious issues that people have bought thinking it had never been in an accident. The solution? Always make sure to have the car checked out by a mechanic. It typically costs around $100.00 to $200.00 to do a pre-purchase inspection but it’s worth every penny.

2.) When buying from a private party make sure the car is paid off.

I can recall many instances of individuals purchasing a car from a private party only to realize that the previous owner still owed a balance on it. When you are purchasing a car make sure you get the title to it, and that no lien holders are on the title. If there is a lien holder they are the ones that legally own the vehicle and you still owe them their money (which could even be more than the car is worth if someone stopped making payments on it.)

--Sean Pour, SellMax

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Some items to look out for when buying is to make certain the vehicle is what the person or dealer says it is. You don't want to walk away with a stolen car or one that was totaled as a flood car in one state and sent to another to be sold. Some dealers offer a car history report, but if not, or if buying from an individual, it's worth the cost to buy one from a reputable site like CarFax or AutoCheck. A comprehensive vehicle history report should tell you a vehicle's accident history, previous owners, correct odometer mileage, major repairs and warranties on the vehicle. The cost for the report is typically between $25 and $100 depending on how detailed of a report you want.

If you don't want to spend that type of money, then you can still do some research on a car by using the VinCheck database that is maintained by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). With it you input a VIN to check to see if a vehicle is listed as a stolen or salvage vehicle. This database, however, is not comprehensive as it only gets reports from vehicles that were insured by participating companies. The VinCheck is free to consumers and you search a maximum of five times within a 24-hour period.

Other tips are: Don't buy a car sight unseen as you may get something other than what you expected. Also, if buying from an individual you want to not only go on a test drive but should get the car checked out by a mechanic. It is better to spend $100 or so for a quick check by a mechanic than to buy a car for $8,000 just to find out a month later it needs $2,000 worth of work on it. While new cars have lemon laws, only a few states have lemon laws for used cars.

Lastly, when budgeting for a used car include the cost of auto insurance. Even if the car is cheaper, it doesn't mean the insurance will be. Some older vehicles are the most popular vehicle for thefts, thus raising the cost of a full coverage car insurance policy.

--Penny Gusner, Insure.com

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Tip of the day, look along the paint, not at it. When buying a used car the very first thing to look at is the paintwork. If it has poor paintwork on any panel then it usually tells you something about the owner's tendency to have done a cheap job and therefore has likely to have scrimped on more fundamental issues like servicing.

An old piece of advice that stacks up just as ever before is: never buy a car in the rain, you simply cannot see the paintwork. Only take a look at a car on a dry day and not necessarily in bright sunshine either. An overcast but bright, dry day gives you the best light to inspect a car, out of the glare of the sun but in full light. Firstly, don’t look at the paint, look along it. Take a look along each panel, taking time to look for dirt inclusions in the clear coat. If there is an inclusion in the lacquer then it has been repainted, it’s as simple as that.

The question is why has it been repainted? It is at that point you start asking the owner questions. If they say they just could not live with a stone chip then that’s a good sign of the driver taking good care if the vehicle. However, if they say that they'd not noticed it had been painted, then they may well be hiding something more.

A second trick to taking a look along a panel is to see if there are any slight surface ripples. This can often be a sign of body filler and once again don’t be afraid to ask why the vehicle has been repaired and more to the point, why can you see evidence of the repair? This is once again the signs of a cheap job. If you look at a panel and see no signs of a repair, you can relax in the knowledge that it has been done properly.

--Dave King, Chipex

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1) You should first check to see if the size of the tires is appropriate for the vehicle. Buyers will sometimes swap out the original tires for oversized options that aren't optimal for performance and fuel economy.

2) Be sure to inspect the sidewalls and treads of the tires on the used vehicle you're considering purchasing. If there's any cracking in the sidewalls, those tires will need to be replaced.

You can use the penny test to check the treads of the tires. Just insert a penny into your tire's tread groove with President Lincoln's head upside down and facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, those tires need to be replaced and so you should absolutely consider that cost.

3) It's important to check to see if there's any uneven tire wear as that could be a sign of a bigger problem with the vehicle.

People who buy used vehicles don't always check to see if all the infotainment features are functioning properly, but that can be a costly issue to fix. Just because an infotainment screen looks fine when the vehicle is turned off doesn't mean it will function properly when the vehicle is turned on.

You want to make sure to fully test the infotainment system on any used vehicle you're interested in purchasing. You should check to see if the used vehicle's infotainment system is responsive to your touch and easy to swipe through. If the infotainment system is slow to respond or areas of the screen don't work, you'll want to avoid purchasing that used vehicle as there may have been water damage.

--Sturgeon Christie, Second Skin Audio

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