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How to Check Out a Used Car Before Buying It

How to Check Out a Used Car Before Buying It

Purchasing a used car can be very confusing. Before agreeing on the price and other sales terms, buyers should conduct an elaborate physical check. This step is very important for determining the vehicle’s value and negotiating a fair price. In this article, we’ve explained some of the most basic checks you should do. 

Exterior check

Car tyres are the first thing you should check because big or uneven tyre damages can help you to negotiate a smaller car price. Check the tyres and measure their treads. If they aren’t solid or they are shallower than 1/16th of an inch, you’ll probably need to replace them, which is a good enough reason to ask for a smaller price. And you can always take a page from Australians who tend to get quality cheap tyres in Sydney, thus saving money on the car and on the tyres. In addition, tyres also need to be worn evenly and tread damages should be symmetrical. 

Bad alignment can be caused by worn steering and suspension components or frame damage. In this case, you’ll need to check several auto parts shops and determine the price of the worn parts, in order to continue the price negotiation. 

Check the car’s paint job and take note of every scratch, dent or a rust spot. Then ask the seller if you can drive the car to the nearest auto mechanic shop and place it above a vehicle inspection trench. There, you should check the car’s frame, which needs to be solid, not welded or bolted in, because this is a sign that the car had a serious crash. You should also check the exhaust system for black spots, which indicate leaks. If the car has underbody rust, you should mention it as well during the price negotiations.

Hood check

After you’ve opened the hood, check the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and compare it to the one from the registration documents. If the numbers don’t match, or the VIN under the hood is scratched or deleted don’t buy the car, because it might be stolen.

You should also check the hoses and belts. They shouldn’t have cracks and the radiator hose must be firm. On the engine block look for any kind of leak or corrosion. These damages may require an expensive future repair. Before you close the hood, pull a transmission dipstick and check the color of the fluid. It should be pink or red. If it’s dark and it has burnt smell, the car may have a major mechanical problem. 

Interior check

First, you should check upholstery for tears, rips or any other type of damage. Then check the car’s air-conditioning system, the computer, and the odometer to determine the mileage. You should bear in mind that sellers often reprogram the odometer before they put the car on sale. 

Driving test

Don’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive. During the test drive, you should check the brakes. Press the brakes hard, while going at least 30 mph in an area without traffic. If the car swerves it means it has bad brake calipers or worn steering components. If you feel any vibration or hear squealing or grinding noises, you’ll need to replace the brake pads or resurface the rotor. 

You should also check the car for any sounds or trepidation during low-speed rides, or while doing a 90-degree turn. In most cases, this indicates that joints, arms or some other mechanical parts need to be changed, which can be very costly.

Car salesman’s insider tips:

  • When checking the exterior, run your finger down the joint edges between panels. If they are rough that indicates that the car had a recent paint job;
  • When checking the interior, check the light button. Its worn look may indicate that the car was used as a cab because cab drivers need to turn on the light at the end of every night ride (to count the money). These vehicles often come with hidden engine problems, because they have much bigger mileage. 
  • Lots of greasy grime deposits inside the exhaust pipe indicate the major problem with the exhaust system. 
  • Foam residue on the inside of the oil filler cap indicates that the head gasket is leaking. This is a major problem, which requires a costly repair. 


If you’re not into cars, bring a skillful car mechanic who will check the car’s engine and perform a test ride in order to determine car’s damages. This will give you enough arguments for lowering the car’s price or for canceling the purchase of the car is in bad shape.

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