What to Consider Before Buying a Used Car 

By Len C. Jorge

Want that shiny new car? Why not? With all those attractive ads and financing options, you will surely be tempted to get one. But is a new car right for you? What are your other options? Used cars! A used car can be a great option if you are on a budget, and don’t want the hassle of paying fixed monthly payments for brand-new cars. 

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Used cars are relatively more affordable. On average, its prices are 50% lower than that of a brand new. Due to depreciation, there are no hidden exaggerated fees. Unfortunately, some insurance companies might reject applications for cars that are older than 10 years. 

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So, have you decided to buy a secondhand car? Finding a good quality secondhand car doesn’t require luck, but rather good research and observation skills.  

What to do when buying a secondhand car

Research, research, research! Check online car forums, reviews, and other sites that can help you narrow down your list of cars to choose from. After you have fixed your eye on a particular car that you want to buy, it’s time to go and check the car. Be sure to have someone with you, a mechanic, a car expert, or a friend who knows and understands the technical details of a car. 

Inspect the car on a sunny day. It is better to go for a physical inspection during the daytime. This way, you can easily spot dents, scratches, and paint. Have the car parked in a wide space where you can see it in 360 view. In this way, you can see the car from all angles.  

Check the exterior, and walk around to see any dents and scratches. Look at its glass to see if there are cracks, as cracks in the windshield will worsen and are relatively unsafe, leading to costly repair. Walk around the car to see whether it is sitting level. Push down on each corner. If the shock absorbers are in good shape, the car should rebound just once, not bounce up and down. 

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Check the lights and lenses, and have someone confirm that all the lights are working and that lenses have no cracks, missing, or have moisture inside. 

Ask whether the tires have been regularly rotated. If not, the wear is usually more severe on the drive wheels.  If there are different branded tires on the car, ask why they have been replaced. Examine the sidewalls for scuffing, cracks, or bulges, and look for dents or cracks on each wheel. Check that the spare is in good shape and that the proper jack and lug wrench are present. 

Inspect the seats. Upholstery should not be ripped or worn out, especially with a low mileage car. Try all the seat adjustments to make sure they are all properly working. 

Examine the pedals, instruments, and controls. The rubber on the brake, clutch, and gas pedals give an indication of use. Worn-out rubbers indicate that the car has been driven a lot. Turn on the ignition switch without starting the engine. Test whether all the warning lights—including the check engine light—illuminate for a few seconds and go off when you start the engine. Try out all switches, buttons, and levers. Turn on the air conditioning and see if it blows air and cold quickly. 

Check the roof and trunk. The headliner and roof trim for stains or sags to see whether water is leaking through ill-fitting doors or windows. Sniff and look for signs of water entry. See if the carpeting feels wet or smells moldy and check the spare-tire well for water or rust. 

Look into under the hood. First, inspect the general condition of the engine bay. Be concerned if you see oil splattered about or on the pavement below, if the battery is covered with rust, or if wires and hoses hanging loose.  

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Pinch the various rubber hoses running to the radiator and other parts. The rubber should be firm and flexible, not rock-hard, cracked, or soft. Feel the drive belts to determine whether they are frayed.  

Check the fluids, radiator, and battery. The user manual will point out where to look to check all fluid levels. Engine oil should be dark brown or black and transmission fluid should be pinkish, not brown, smell like oil, and without any burnt odor. Check the automatic-transmission fluid with the engine warmed up and running. Look for the plastic reservoir that is connected by a rubber hose to the radiator. The coolant should be greenish or orange, not whitish-milky, or rusty. Greenish stains on the outside of the radiator are a sure sign of leaks. Inspect the condition and health of the battery if it is in good shape or dying. It is better to have a mechanic with you to make sure that these technical parts are well-examined. 

Inspect the tailpipe and underneath of the car. If the residue is black and greasy, it means burnt oil. Tailpipe stains should be dry and dark gray. Heavy rust could mean the vehicle needs a new exhaust system.  Look under the engine with a flashlight. If you see oil drips, oily leaks, or green or red fluid on the engine or the pavement beneath the car, it’s not a good sign.  

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Now that you have inspected your desired car, is it ready to close the deal? Not quite, talk to your mechanic first to have an expert’s opinion, or have the car examined by a repair shop that routinely does diagnostic work before closing the deal.  

Len C. Jorge, Compliance and Business Excellence. Len loves to travel, and she loves nature! She’s a taker of a good coffee and good conversation. Every travel she ventures, she makes sure it’s the best experience – every place is special. She loves going to places she has never been and meeting lovely people along the way. She always does what her heart beats for.