Shopping for used cars from your local dealer can be a great way to buy a reliable vehicle at an affordable price. But, if you’re unsure what to look for when shopping for used cars, you might feel overwhelmed and confused. Today, we’ll take a look at some key things every driver should know when inspecting used cars.
1. Read the Window Sticker
Dealers are required by law to include a Buyer’s Guide or window sticker on every used vehicle they sell. This sticker is typically attached to the car window and will detail critical information, including the vehicle year, suggested sticker price, standard and optional equipment, safety ratings, fuel efficiency, and whether it is sold “as is” or with additional warranty coverage.
The window sticker will also display the vehicle identification number (VIN). Using this VIN number, you can get more information on whether the vehicle was involved in a car accident and an overall history report.
Understanding the vehicle’s history and the suggested price allows you to determine if you’re getting a fair deal. Plus, you can use this information to compare the deal with other car dealers in the area.
2. Look at the Exterior Body
The overall condition of the body style can give you a clue into whether there are any immediate or previous issues you should be aware of. Look for any dents, inspect the rubber seal around doors and the trunk for tearing or rot, and keep an eye out for mismatched paint colors, as this could clue you in on whether a repair has taken place.
It’s important to look underneath the car for any signs of rust as well. Some owners might paint over rust to conceal it. Keep an eye out for paint areas that flake off or have a bubbled appearance, as this could indicate that there’s rust underneath.
3. Inspect the Interior
Do a thorough inspection of the vehicle’s interior. Major things to look for include water damage and faulty equipment. Look to the floor of the cabin, lift up floor mats, and keep your eye out for dark rings or rust, as that could indicate a water leak. Make sure to turn on all the lights and electronics to ensure that they’re working properly. Also, test out the air conditioning and heating unit to make sure it functions as it should.
Finally, pay attention to any odors or smells. A musky smell could be an indication of mold or mildew, whereas an acrid smell could indicate the previous owner was a smoker. Some dealers might use a strong car fragrance to mask these smells as well.
4. Look Under the Hood
Inspect the engine area and look for any signs of rust, leaks, or worn-out or broken pipes or wiring. It’s important to inspect fluid levels as well. When checking the engine oil, the color should be dark brown but should not have a gritty texture to it. Transmission fluid should be pinkish in color, not brown, and should have a regular oil scent to it. Other fluids, including power steering, wiper fluid, and brake fluid, should all be within the required zone and not well below this level.
5. When in Doubt, Bring Along Your Mechanic
Not everyone is an expert at inspecting used cars, and that’s okay. This is where bringing along a trusted mechanic can be handy. Your mechanic will know what components to look for, will know if specific makes or models have unique issues that are worth double-checking, and can give you an overall sense of the condition and reliability of the vehicle.
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