Few people truly enjoy the experience of buying a used car. Many times, buyers worry about the mechanical condition of the car, while others fret over how long it will be before a car begins to look dated. Look like a pro when you're shopping for a used car, and make your next purchase with confidence. You don't have to simply walk around and kick the tires. Here are a few things to look for when making your next used car purchase:
- Appraisal. Before you ever start talking about the price of a used car, you should have a pretty good idea as to what it's worth. Check the big three websites offering appraisals: kbb.com, edmunds.com, and nadaguides.com. If a car is offered significantly below its value, you should be more than a little suspicious as to why the seller is offering such a steep discount. While it may be that he's in a rush to sell the car, it's equally possible that the seller is hiding a flaw.
- Interior. The interior should show signs of wear that are appropriate for the age of the car. Most cars will have the most wear on the driver's seat. It's really up to you as to what kind of standards you set for interiors. If you're looking for a good condition leather interior, plan on paying more for it.
- Cigarette smoke. Most non-smokers strongly prefer a car that has not previously been smoked in. Those with allergies or asthma also care a great deal about this. Be aware that the car may not smell like smoke right away, even if it has been smoked in. Look for things like small cigarette burns in the seats or armrests. Check the ashtray. Can you see any grey leftover ashes? Sometimes sellers try to use strong deodorizers or scented air fresheners to mask the smell of cigarettes.
- Exterior. Dents, dings, and scratches. The importance of these is really up to you. Aesthetics are entirely up to the individual buyer. You'll find that some buyers are very interested in the appearance of the car, possibly to the point that they are willing to sacrifice other factors like mechanical condition.
On the other hand, you want to look closely at the paint job. Is it a repaint? Are some parts of the car dull or a different color than other parts? If so, you can bet that the car has probably been wrecked.
Another way to tell if a car has been damaged is to look closely at where metal panels line up. Undamaged cars do not have big gaps or overly tight fits between panels. Replacements are almost never as good as the original, and they rarely line up as well as the original factory job.
- Engine. It's hard to determine the condition of the engine without taking it apart, but there are a few things that you can look for. Look around the head gasket for signs of any leaks. Check underneath the car for leaks. You can tell what kind of leak you're looking at by the color of the fluid. In the summertime, don't worry just because you see some fluid underneath a car. It could just be condensation from the air conditioner condensing unit.
If you have some time, check the spark plugs. You can learn a lot about how the engine is running by looking at the spark plugs. Pull them out and examine them closely for signs of overheating, burning oil, or misfiring.
- Run a Carfax report. Carfax reports detail the history of the car. It's important to run a report on a car to make sure that the odometer reading is reasonable, and that the car hasn't been badly wrecked or totaled.
- Certified Used Cars. In the past 10 years, some dealers have begun to certify some of their used cars. Some of these certifications really mean a lot, while others are just another marketing ploy. If a dealer is willing to back up his certification with a warranty, it's probably legit. Otherwise, don't put too much into a dealer's "certification."
- When you test drive a used car, watch for any smoke coming from the tail pipe when you start the car. Listen for any annoying rattles or sounds. Drive with the radio off! Listen to the engine, and make sure that the transmission shifts smoothly and on time. Check that all windows and locks work properly.
- Good used cars sell themselves. A dealer or individual with a quality used car at a reasonable price will not try to "push" or oversell the car. Rather, quality used cars should have several buyers eager to get such a good car first.