5 Critical Things To Check When Buying A Used Car

Buying a used car will have a range of pros and cons. In the pros section, you’re getting a car for a much cheaper price than if it was new. Furthermore, the car itself can still be relatively new, only being on the roads for a couple of years. It’s a smarter investment to buy a used car, but the obvious concern is that it’s been in the hands of at least one previous owner. 

Therefore, you’re at the mercy of their ownership skills. If they looked after the car, that’s great. If not, you could be in trouble. The key is understanding what to check when buying a used car, helping you figure out if it’s been in good hands or not. If it hasn’t, it’s probably best for you to walk away and find a different deal before you inherit a damaged car that costs loads of money in ongoing repairs and maintenance. 

So, what should you check for? Here are the most important things:

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One of the first things to look at is the car’s mileage. This should be available on the dashboard behind the steering wheel. It tells you how many miles the car has driven in its lifetime, and it’s a key factor in showing you how used a car is. Some used cars may have only done a couple of hundred miles – that could be why someone is selling it; they just don’t use it as much as they should, so it’s a waste of money for them. 

Other cars can have thousands and thousands of miles on the clock. Why is this so important? Well, miles show you that a car has been driven. It also adds some context to the car’s age. You may have two cars that are five and seven years old, but the five-year-old car has done twice the mileage. In reality, the older car is technically newer as it has been used far less. This means that all the parts will have been put under less stress, so there’s less chance of ongoing repairs needing to be done. Generally, the more miles a car has done, the more worried you should be. The best used cars have reasonable miles on the clock for how old they are. 

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Service history

Every car owner should have a complete service history for their vehicle. This should include the history of the car under their ownership, along with any previous owners. Basically, it gives you a rundown of what the car has been through. If you’re looking to buy a car, you’d like to know how healthy it is. You want to see if it’s had any repairs done, and when they were done. You also want to be sure that the car has been sent in for its yearly service – if there are some years missing from the service history, it’s something to be concerned about. 

With relatively new and not-very-used cars, the service history should only really show you the annual servicing. If it’s littered with repairs, you know the car has some underlying problems. With older cars, you can expect a repair here and there. The worrying sign is when a car has undergone the same repair over and over again. If the transmission is constantly being fixed, it shows there is a fault with it that hasn’t been solved. Another worry is, of course, constant repairs year after year. It shows the car is in really bad shape, and you’ll be forking out many dollars trying to keep up with the repairs every year. A clean service history tells you that a car is worth buying and reliable. 

One more point on this topic: if the owner doesn’t have the service history, that’s a red flag. There’s no need for someone to lose or get rid of a service book for their car. You should be concerned if they have as it looks like they are trying to hide something. If you know the car has been maintained by a franchise dealer, you can actually contact them to request a service history. Of course, it’s harder to do this if the owner serviced the car at multiple independent garages. 

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A service repair manual

While it technically doesn’t have anything to do with the health of the car, it helps if you have a service repair manual to look at. This gives you an idea of how well someone has looked after their vehicle. If there’s no manual, you have to question why that’s the case. It also makes you question how someone has managed to maintain the vehicle properly if they don’t have the manual spare to consult. 

Granted, if everything else seems fine with the car, but there’s no manual, it’s not the end of the world. Top manufacturers will have manuals available to find and download. It’s easy to get Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, or Mercedes Benz service repair manuals online. This way, you still have a manual to consult, letting you know the best way to look after the car. You can also use the manual before buying to check different parts of the car – like tire pressure – to be sure it’s how it should be. 

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Tire tread

It’s a very smart idea to look at the tire treads when shopping for used cars. What’s interesting about this is that it shouldn’t necessarily put you off a car or not. You see, you’re looking to see how much wear is on the tires – if it is worn down to 2/32”, you need to replace them. Effectively, this will mean you have to pay extra money to replace the tires once the car is yours. This can cost a few hundred dollars extra, making the car more expensive than you realized. Lots of people fall victim to this, buying a car and then realizing they need to change the tires after a couple of weeks. 

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You can use the penny test to check the tire tread wear, and if it’s too worn down you have a couple of options. Firstly, you could just look at a different car with better wheels. Secondly, you could haggle with the seller and suggest a lower price that compensates for the new tires. If the seller agrees, there’s no reason you shouldn’t buy the car – as long as everything else checks out. 

How it drives

Every seller should offer you a chance to test drive the car before you buy it. If they don’t, you should stop pursuing the car right away as it is extremely concerning. They might argue that they’re worried you could steal the car, but if you invite them in the car for the drive, and they still say no, it shows something is being hidden. 

You need a test drive to let you know how the car feels and runs. Here, you get a better look at how healthy it is. Does the gearbox sound really rusty and cranky? Is there something wrong with the suspension? Are the brakes really squeaky? You see, the problem with getting a service history is that it doesn’t account for any problems the car currently has but has not been booked in for servicing just yet. So, it can give you the illusion of a car in good shape, but only a test drive will be able to confirm this. 

On that note, you’ve come to the end of this guide. These are the five critical things to check when buying a used car. Naturally, you also need to think about the price in relation to your budget – as well as looking for cars from trusted manufacturers. But, never buy a car until you have gone through all the checks mentioned above.