Buying a used car is always a gamble. Unless you do a title search it will be up to you to check the car thoroughly to make sure you are not cheated out of your money. When you go to look at the car, wear work clothes and bring a flashlight. If the owner has a problem with this, it may be your first indication that something is wrong. You have every right to inspect that car from top to bottom before you buy it. It is best to practice on inspecting a car you already own. It can give you an idea of what you should and should not be seeing and hearing.
It’s best to look at a car after it has been sitting a while so try to get an appointment to see the car first thing in the morning. It may also be a good idea to get there a few minutes early to make sure the current owner is not preparing the car in some way such as letting the engine run before you get there. Take your time to inspect the car and do not let the owner hurry you. If they do, it’s best to decline on the car and move on.
There are checklists that you can find online, which list a number of items to look for. There is a printable PDF version available HERE. You will want to be sure you examine the entire car inside and out and look for anything suspicious. Remember that the current owner may have done some touch-ups to try to fool you so be thorough in your inspection. Start by doing a walk around the car. Is it even? Is the color consistent? Note any dents or dings in the car as well as checking to see if the doors hang correctly.
Check the tires of the car and also check the trunk to be sure there is a spare and a jack. While you are there, check any wires for the back lights and also check the carpet color in the trunk. Water damaged cars often have the entire or parts of the carpet replaced to hide the damage. Check the interior of the car for the carpet as well. Check under the seats for water damage. You will also want to check all of the interior lights. Start the car and note any noticeable odd sounds. You may not know exactly what they mean but every sound means something.
If possible, check under the car for any puddles. Obviously this would indicate a leak of some type. Never be too intimidated to check everything out. No one ever does too much to inspect a car they are thinking of buying. If you are still unsure, you can always get a title search done. These are easy, quick and leave you with no doubt about the past history of that particular vehicle.