What to look for when buying a used car

What to look for when buying a used car

Buying a car is one of the biggest expense items. Not many people have the opportunity to buy a car with zero mileage, and it is almost impossible to find a vehicle without defects on the secondary market. As a rule, such offers have a rich history of operation and various hidden defects. Moreover, there is a risk of buying a car with a dubious past. For example, it can be stolen or pledged by the bank lender.

Today, you can buy used vehicles both directly from the former owner and in car dealerships. In favor of choosing such vehicles usually plays the financial factor. However, the lack of basic knowledge and illiterate actions when choosing a car on the secondary market can turn into serious trouble and unplanned expenses. We tell you about the rules that you need to follow in order to conduct the deal with the maximum benefit.

What to look for when buying a used car: Conduct monitoring

First of all, it is important to gather as much information as possible about the model the buyer plans to buy. Specialized forums, automobile magazines, and websites will help to learn about its typical flaws and weaknesses. It is worth asking about the cost of repair works and spare parts. Armed with this information the buyer can be prepared for self-diagnostics of the equipment and will bargain more confidently.

In order not to miss anything, it is recommended to make a list of all the shortcomings. In addition, you should visit popular online ad sites and collect data on the sale of similar models. Such monitoring will help to determine the average market price for the selected car. In addition, you can find free services on the Internet to calculate the cost. It is equally important to determine in advance the minimum and maximum amount you are willing to pay for the vehicle.

Tips when buying used cars #1 

Before you buy, you should carefully review the vehicle's documents. You can ask the seller to send the necessary data in advance and find out some of the information from the comfort of your own home. You can check the car online using the registration plate, STS, PTS, VIN, body, or chassis number. There are special services for this, including the official website of the State Traffic Police.

Problems with the documents may become a reason not to buy - the risk of losing the vehicle and losing your money is too great. The acquired car can turn out to be stolen, seized, or pledged. A buyer should be alerted to the presence of a duplicate certificate of ownership for a relatively new car. It is quite probable that the car was purchased on credit and the original is kept with the bank. If there is no room left in the original vehicle registration, and the seller did not re-register it beforehand, the buyer will have a hard time with the car registration.

Tips when buying used cars # 2

Some defects can be found with the naked eye: small dents, chips, scratches, rust, discrepancies in shades. If you look at it at an acute angle, it's easier to spot putty or primer. And a mirror and a flashlight can help to look into hard-to-reach places. Thus, correctly performed cosmetic repair doesn't influence the car's functionality. However, it is possible that the body was repainted after it was damaged in an accident or just rusted.

The thickness gauge is called to reveal the hidden defects of the paintwork. You should also pay attention to the joints between body parts and condition of connection bolts. Gaps of different thicknesses and distortions could be caused by impact or low-quality repair. If the connecting bolts have not been removed, they will be free of scratches and chips. Also, all doors, hood, gas tank hatch, and trunk should open and close without significant effort.

Tips when buying used cars # 3

Under the car’s hood should be dry, but an engine compartment cleaned to a shine is not a good indicator. This is most likely how the owner was trying to hide an oil leak. When inspecting, you should also check the hoses for cracks and tears. Unstable operation of the engine, strange sounds, blue or black smoke from the exhaust pipe are at least reasons for a serious price concession.

Regardless of the type of transmission, gear shifting should not be accompanied by jerks, knocks and crunches. When checking the engine and automatic transmission, you should not rely only on your own strength. It is better to involve professionals in diagnostics. They will carefully examine the car and tell you what mechanisms it is time to replace, as well as advise on prices.

Where to look for corrosion?

Usually, corrosion occurs where there is an impact or poor repair. First of all, we check the immediately visible elements,, i.e. sills, bottom edges of doors and fenders. You should know that even small points of corrosion and rust deposits grow over time. Early response and repairs will save the body part, but larger rust flare-ups and neglect by the previous owner will lead to costly repairs. In the case of older cars and low value, repairs may simply not be feasible.

Particular attention should be paid to vehicles with numerous patches and corrosion marks on wheel arches, doors. Very often, these elements are subjected to corrosion. In most models, these places are covered with plastic covers, so it is not an option to dismantle them before purchasing. However, repairs can be very expensive if you can see traces of rust or blown paint from under these linings.

Does the body look good and not suspicious? Don't jump to conclusions, just look under the car. Dirt and dust should not be a cause for concern, but the rusty floor, the spar with "holes" or large centers of corrosion in the places of suspension elements' fastening, certainly, speak about inadequate care.

If the chassis is questionable, you should take the car out on an elevator or drive it "to the pit". A thin layer of rust means the chassis is in poor condition. If you find rust on the suspension and auxiliary parts, don't worry - they are easy to replace, but that is a good reason to make a bargain.

What's the Optimal Mileage to Look For?

Regardless of the scheme of purchase chosen by you: from a friend's hand, from a good acquaintance, at an online auction, from a social or in a car showroom of an official dealer, you should pay attention to the following technical nuances and show increased interest in the visual inspection of a salon.

First of all, it is necessary to check the mileage against the declared one. To determine the real mileage is not the easiest task, but it is also possible. The most favorable variant is when the car has a transparent history: it has one owner, there are all marks about the passage of service maintenance in the service book, there are purchase orders with checks about fulfilled works and the car is under warranty.

Another variant is when there is no service book, purchase orders are absent and the owner is not the first. In this case, mileage should be compared to the average mileage and age of the car. Usually, a normal average mileage is up to 30,000 km per year. That is, if you see a ten-year-old car with a mileage of 60,000 km, it should cause a shadow of a doubt. Rarely, but there are cases when the car was little exploited (up to 5,000 km per year), for example, not the only car in the family or the way of the vehicle was from home to school and back.

An indirect sign of high mileage is the condition of the interior, especially the driver's seat. Usually, at high mileage, it is strongly rubbed and quite often crumpled. As a rule, an average driver goes from 10 to 30 km a year. Therefore a three-year-old car with a mileage of 30,000 km is a dream come true.

Things to look for when buying a used car 

There are also many nuances. The engine must run smoothly, not to smoke, and easy to start. No "Check Engine" lights should be on the dashboard.

Pay attention to the color and smell of the oil. Dark colored oil is considered normal (as detergent additives work) without a pronounced burning smell. If the oil is crystal clear, it must seem strange. This is possible when the oil is changed just before you arrive.

Check the engine number according to the information on the certificate of registration. Nowadays the replacement of the engine is not necessarily connected with the registration in the State Automobile Inspection, but you must agree that the replaced engine is a serious reason for bargaining.

It is desirable to connect the car to a special diagnostic stand, which will show you the presence of errors and their history. Check the correspondence of the VIN on the body. It must exactly match the data in the certificate of registration. You may check the suspension with a short test drive or better on an elevator.

Any knocks, creaks are better to diagnose, as suspension repair is not the cheapest pleasure. Inquire from the former owner about oil consumption. Some especially turbocharged cars are very much inclined to heightened oil appetite. Of course, it's not a given that the owner will tell you the truth, but in this case, the worst question is the unasked one.

Should I Consider Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles?

Automakers need new cars to sell, and all of these used car certification programs are designed to attract buyers in the first place. Certification promises the customer the purchase of a tested and serviceable vehicle, often with a warranty. Unfortunately, in our reality, it is possible to buy a certified car that has been in an accident and has technical faults. The warranty obligations are very vague and as a rule, the customer is denied.

It is worth noting that most manufacturers only sell certified used cars of their brands. But brand-name programs from Citroen, Honda, Peugeot, Skoda, and Volkswagen also offer customers vehicles of other brands. Criteria for technical inspection of the car and age/mileage limits for them do not differ, as well as the conditions of post-warranty support.

True, there are some exceptions: for example, the Citroen Select program accepts any foreign cars under the age of eight years. For a dealer and a manufacturer, sales under certification programs for non-core brands is, first of all, a chance to attract owners of other brands and sell them new cars, accepting their used cars in trade-in on good terms. At the same time, manufacturers sell other brands' cars under their program to increase the selling price because there is a certain category of buyers who are looking for used cars that have been tested more thoroughly than usual.

As a rule, under the brand programs of manufacturers sold cars no older than five years or with mileage of not more than 100-120 thousand kilometers. However, some brands offer even older cars. For example, in Mitsubishi, Skoda, and Volkswagen this restriction is 7 years or 150 thousand kilometers, in Citroen, Peugeot, and Nissan - 8 years or 150 thousand kilometers, and in the Porsche Approved program cars under 9 years old with mileage to 200 thousand kilometers participate.

At the same time the share of cars older than 5 years in total sales of certified used cars of these manufacturers is relatively small: from 10% in Mitsubishi to 28% in Peugeot. In sales under the program "Approved by Nissan" for cars that celebrate their fifth birthday account for less than 15% of sales, which the company explains a fairly tough condition of the paintwork and the body: customers hand over cars not in the best condition in terms of these indicators, and dealers usually prefer not to restore them.

Checking the quality of the paintwork

A very difficult moment. As a rule, you cannot do without a special measuring device. And with the help of a device you can not always determine the true thickness of the coating. The fact is that sometimes after polishing or application of special coatings (liquid glass and others) the device will show the difference.

However, as a rule, the device can be trusted. It is also worth paying attention to the uniformity of shade of different parts. Sometimes the difference can be seen with the naked eye. It is also worth looking carefully at the difference in the joints between the parts. Be sure to look at the edges of parts - when painting, as a rule, there are often stains that are not cleaned up. Traces of masking tape on the inner surfaces should alert you, or even the presence of such.

Attention to fixing bolts: it is usually obvious if they have been unscrewed. Usually, they are unscrewed to replace a part, such as a fender or a door, but sometimes it is necessary to replace some other part. For example, access to the washer motor sometimes involves removing the bumper. 

What to check when buying used cars

What to know when buying a used car:

  • Examples with bodywork whose power elements are affected by corrosion. If replacing hinged parts (primarily fenders) is not enough to remove the rust, the body needs welding work and even painting. This requires time and financial costs that can exceed the value of the car.
  • A used car with a unit or system that has a reputation for not being durable. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and if you really want a used car exactly in such a configuration, prepare money and time to find the freshest copy and its diagnostics.

When buying a car, you should avoid cars with major problems: extensive corrosion, flood traces, malfunctioning engine or transmission.

  1. A car-sinker. Very often such cars are just a time bomb. Even if it works perfectly today, tomorrow it can suddenly oxidize a single wire or a contact - and it will take several days to find the reason. Actually, if the seller will give a discount on the price of prevention or replacement of waterlogged units, you can take the risk.
  2. A model that is not widespread in the country and is discontinued at home. You will have problems with spare parts, you will have to either wait for weeks for them to arrive, or use something from other cars.

You should be reasonable in buying a car of a not popular model and of an unusual configuration.

  • A copy after work in a cab or as an office travel car. Almost certainly such a car will be very worn out and complex. No discount in price will compensate for the expenses of repairs and troubles to maintain it in working condition.
  • A car with dubious documents and dubious VINs on the body. Even the most interesting car in perfect condition will remain just a heap of metal if it is registered to a deceased person, is in escrow, or is wanted. Don't believe the seller that all the paperwork on his car is easily resolved and he just doesn't have the time to do it. If you like such a copy, ask the seller to solve all the problems, promising him a raise in price for it.

Frequently Asked Questions about what to look for when buying a used car

What should I check before buying a used car?

  1. You need to find out everything about the vehicle from the person who is selling it. 
  2. Look at all of the parts in the car and see if they are damaged. 
  3. Make sure that there is no rust or paint damage. 
  4. Check the frame and under the hood too. 
  5. Also, check tire condition, mileage, and interior electronics.

What used car not to buy?

Top 3 used cars not to buy:

  1. 2012 Jeep Wrangler.
  2. 2011 BMW 3 Series.
  3. 2008 Mazda 5.

What is the most important thing when buying a used car?

The test drive is the most important part of buying a used car. You want to see how fast it goes, how well the car brakes, and how easy it is to park. Make sure you go on the highway too and do some parallel parking to see if you can find any blind spots.

What to do after buying a used car?

You need to buy car insurance before you can register and drive your car.


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