What to Check Before Purchasing a Used Car

used car
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Buying a used car can be scary. Even though there are many good sturdy used cars on the market, the risk of bumping into a wreck is something to take into account.

That is why, before buying a previously-owned car, it is best to do your homework. Here is a step-by-step guide for making a great purchase.

Private Seller Or Dealership?

When starting the process of buying a used car, this is the first question buyers ask themselves. Both options have their pros and cons; mainly, the dealership guarantees certain legal protection, while the private seller may not comply with all the legal requirements.

However, if you ask the right questions and look into the right things, all should go on smoothly. Plus, you have a better chance of negotiating for a lower price. All in all, the best decision depends on your needs and expectations.

Take The Time To Check The Documentation

This is crucial, especially when purchasing from a private owner. Some of the key documents all buyers should pay close attention to are the car title and the service history.

The first one is necessary for obvious reasons; it is not advisable to buy a vehicle without knowing who the owner is—this is the reason why you need the car title.

As far as the service history is concerned, having access to it will give the purchaser a thorough view of the basics: last oil change, tire rotation and the battery conditions.

Check Out The Vehicle History Report

This is one of the first things all used car buyers should look out for. First, ask the owner for the vehicle identification number and run it through Autocheck or Carfax. Once that is done, you will be able to see if the car has been in an accident or had any weather-related damage.

Pay close attention to what is called a ‘salvage title’. Cars that have this were damaged and the insurer determined that the repair required an outlay of more than 70% of its market value.

Keep in mind: While most dealerships provide customers with a free history report, private sellers generally do not. The cost is around $100.

Make Sure The Car Has Not Been Recalled

“Recall” is not a happy word when it comes to used cars. It means the car has been deemed unsafe by its manufacturer for some reason, and it generally requires repairing.

Run the vehicle identification number through the National Highway Traffic Administration database and, if the car is on the list, talk to the seller to see if all the necessary repairs have been performed.

Examine The Car

Once all the background of the used car has been checked, it is time to inspect the vehicle first-hand. But do not jump the gun; this is a fundamental step before purchasing a used car, and there are quite a few things buyers should pay close attention to.

Vehicle Frame

This is the first thing on any used car buyer’s list because the vehicle frame or chassis is the structure that holds everything together. If the saddle shows any signs of damage or the fenders were replaced, that could indicate the chassis is not in perfect condition.


This may seem like an unimportant component of a used car; after all, you can always replace them.

However, there are some key things to bear in mind: uneven tire wear could be a sign of more serious problems, like wrong alignment of the wheel or defective suspension.

Although uneven wear of tires is a red flag, it could also be the result of over or underinflated tires, which are easy to fix.


One of the easiest ways to check the engine condition, at least before an in-depth inspection, is running your finger around the interior of the exhaust pipe.

Are there any dark/brown stains or greasy residues? That could give you a hint about the engines condition: it could be burning oil, and this is a big warning sign.

Outside of the Car

They say you should not judge a book by its cover, but with cars, it is a different thing. The outside of the car, particularly the paint, can help you spot any signs of repainting due to accidents or scratches.

Inside Of The Car

Here, upholstery is one of the things to check. Even though wear and tear of the seats is not serious, it may help to convince the owner to sell it at a lower price. What is more, try the air-conditioning to make sure it is working properly.

Check The Mileage

No used car purchaser fails to take a look at the odometer; given that, it indicates the use and age of the car. Take into account that the odometer reading could be a must to include when it comes to the car title.

It is not enough to check the year of manufacture, since the miles driven state the estimated life of the used car. As a reference, the average number of miles the odometer should mark is around 10,000 and 15,000 per year.

Keep in mind: Do the screws in the odometer look worn? If they do, then there is a possibility that the mileage has been tampered with.

Do Not Forget: Safety’s First

Do all of the safety features work properly? Pay close attention to the seatbelts. Is there any fraying? Are there any cuts?

It is also important to check that all the front and back lights are in good condition as well as the windscreen washers.

In case of an emergency on the road, you may need a jack or a spare tire. Does the car have them? If not, you may be able to get the owner to drop the price.

Try It On The Road

If you have not come across any deal breakers after examining the car, it is time for a test drive. Most owners will not have a problem with a test drive, and it could be decisive for your purchase.


Vehicles give drivers clues of any malfunctions with different distinctive sounds. When you take a used car for a test drive, listen attentively.

A clunking sound, for instance, may indicate that the brake discs are damaged and need replacing, while a loud bang coming from the exhaust pipe could be a sign of a leak. A knocking sound, however, may be the indicator of a serious problem with the engine.

Check The Brakes

When it comes to the brakes, they should require normal effort. If it takes excessive pressure to stop or decelerate the car, the brakes are probably not working properly.

In addition to this, try to detect if there are any vibrations when pressing the brake pedal. It is equally important to check the handbrake.

Consider Your Comfort

Comfort is an important part of the driving experience, especially if you drive for long periods of time without any breaks.

Make sure that the driver’s seat is comfortable and that your back feels supported. Try adjusting the distance with the steering wheel to get a better picture.

Hire A Mechanic

Unless you are a mechanic, you may require the knowledgeable eye of a pro. Before hiring a mechanic, check the reviews, to make sure you are dealing with a trustworthy professional. Of course, it would be polite to run it by the seller before bringing a mechanic to inspect the car.

Keep in mind: A mechanic inspection could cost you from $75 to $100.

Ask The Right Questions

Because there are some things that could pass unseen in a test drive, used car buyers should take the opportunity to ask the seller some useful questions that may help to get a clear picture of the cars pros and cons.

Why Are You Selling The Car?

The answer may help you understand any possible malfunctions or disadvantages the used car could be hiding. Some sellers do not expect possible buyers to ask this question and end up giving information that they would have preferred to keep unrevealed.

What Does Not Work Properly?

You may have missed certain breakdowns that are useful to ascertain the fairness of the price offered by the seller.

How Did You Maintain The Car?

Some owners service the car with a dealership while others hire independent mechanics. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but it may give you the opportunity to speak to the person who performed the maintenance of the car and find out more about the vehicle’s condition.

Know The Protocol

In order to start the buying process, there are some documents that the DMV will require the owner or the buyer to present:

Car Title

The owners will need to provide the car title when it comes to selling the used car.In some cases, owners have problems finding the document, but they can easily apply for a duplicate with their DMV. In this document, the following must appear:

  • The signatures of seller and buyer
  • The odometer reading
  • The date of sale
In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio it is mandatory to notarize the car title.

Bill Of Sale

This document keeps record of the transaction but it does not prove ownership of the car.

It states the particulars of both parties as well as the date of sale, the vehicle identification number and the purchase price.

Keep in mind: Some states require the car’s sale price to appear on the car title instead of the filling out of a bill of sale form.

Buying a used car is budget friendly as long as you know how and where to look. Keep these tips in mind, and your car will run smoothly.