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Used Car Buying Information

Research The Car You Want To Buy

Also you should check the major consumer auto buying web sites such as Edmunds for general information, Consumer Reports for car reliability and Kelley Blue Book for pricing. Also visit our information on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalls to determine the safety of your car.

Next, when you are ready to buy a used car the first thing you do is run a VIN check on the car to check the vehicle history report. There is no sense getting dirty, kicking the tires, checking the dip stick oil if there is a problem with the car you want to buy.

Depending on how closely you want to inspect the vehicle you may consider bringing the following items: magnifying glass, flashlight, oil rags or paper towels, digital camera, small magnet, notepad with pen and, of course, a copy of this used car buying checklist.

When & Where To Inspect

Knowing when and where to meet the seller of a used car can help you find out more information on the vehicle. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

Don’t arrange to meet a seller in an unsafe or unknown place. There are some people who will lure you to a remote location, and then steal your money. Be safe and smart.

Assuming you are meeting a private party at their home, arrive early. You may see the work that the seller is doing to the car, ie, pounding out a ding, or changing oil or using tire black on the wheels. Mornings are a great time to visit, especially cold mornings, as you want to see if the car has problems starting. Daylight is best time to view a car as you see body and engines problems better than you can at night.

Ask the seller to help or show you something for vehicle repair documents and his assessment of the reliability of the car. If a seller is hurrying you to make a decision or cut short your inspection, you could have a problem.

Take your time and when in doubt hire an auto mechanic to check the car.

Take a test drive. Drive on bumpy roads, drive on the freeway, do stop and go driving.

Paint & Body � Exterior Checklist

  • Look for visible rust.
  • Check inside the wheel well, door jam and car doors.
  • Check for signs of repair or salvage.
  • Make sure body panels are the same color, and that they have the same amount of fade.
  • Look for paint overspray inside doors or the engine compartment.
  • See if there is missing trim or new bumpers to indicate possible damage or accidents.
  • Take out that trusty magnet and run it along any part of the body that looks like it may have been repaired as a magnet won’t stick to a repair material. Look for dents.
  • Make sure doors and fenders are even and straight and the body lines are clean and straight.
  • Check the windows and sunroof rubber gaskets to make sure they are working and there are no signs of leaking.
  • Check to make sure the headlights, indicators and tail lights are all working, as well as the horn, wipers and other items.
  • Make sure the tail pipe doesn’t sag or look defective.

Kick The Tires (Well, At Least Check Them)

  • Make sure the tires all match and the tires the same size.
  • Check for a usable spare tire and that it is properly inflated should you need it.
  • Determine how much driving tread is left.
  • See if the tire pressure is correct.
  • If not it could indicate a leak or give you some worry as to what other normal maintenance features the seller has been ignoring.
  • Check the condition of wheels or wheel covers and make sure you have a tire jack.
  • If the vehicle has locking hubcaps, make sure you have the key to unlock the wheels.
  • Look to see if all tires have the same amount of tread.

Car Frame & Body Suspension

Look at the car from multiple angles and determine if the vehicle sits level.

Push down on each car corner to test the shocks and suspension.

Make sure that all corners respond the same? Notice if there are any unusual sounds occurring when you do this. Look inside the trunk, the wheel wells and under the hood for any signs of damage. Peek under side of the vehicle to look for any holes in the frame just inside the car’s outer edge. This could indicate that body work has been performed after a crash.

Car Engine Checklist

  • See if the key easily fit into the ignition and does the engine start effortlessly.
  • Give the idling engine a little extra gas to see if it cuts out or stalls.
  • Notice if the engine idles smoothly.
  • During your test drive note if the engine has full power.
  • Make sure that when you turn off the engine it stops immediately.
  • Look under where the car usually is parked for any sign of an engine leak.
  • Notice if the engine is too clean which could indicate a recent steam clean and be hiding a leak.
  • Investigate the condition of all belts, hoses and clamps.
  • Look at the antifreeze coolant color and the level.
  • If it appears old, or if it is not at a proper level, then this could indicate other issues of deferred maintenance with the car.
  • Use the oil dip stick to check the oil level and how clean the oil is. Again, if it is not at a proper level, then this could indicate other issues of deferred maintenance with the car.
  • Take off the oil filler cap to see if any signs of excessive wear.
  • Check the transmission fluid. The fluid should generally be transparent reddish color and have not have any burnt odors.
  • Make sure you have a recent smog test or required emissions test while the engine is idling, look for any off color exhaust fumes coming from the tail pipe.
  • Note if the automatic shifting is smooth. Test any 4WD controls.


Interior Controls

  • Make sure the air conditioner and heater both work.
  • Check the cruise control during your test drive.
  • Look to see if any “check engine” or other system warning lights are illuminated on the dashboard.
  • Check front and rear wipers.
  • Check all the air vents, defrosters and fans.
  • Check the radio, CD player, MP3 hookup and speaker sounds.
  • Move the power seats
  • Test all the power windows and sunroof.
  • Test the power locks.
  • Test the alarm system.
  • Test all the power seats.
  • Test the heated seats.
  • Test the tilt steering wheel.
  • See if all the interior lights and dash bulbs are working.
  • Test the GPS navigation system.
  • Test the hood and gas tank release.
  • Make sure the emergency flashers work.

Interior Condition

Look at the condition of the carpet and check for mildew leaks. Sit in all the car seats and determine if the lumbar support still exists. Make sure the head restraints are still there and can be adjusted to your needs. Look at the dash and see if there are any cracks or wearing in the trim. Notice the condition of the cloth or leather seats. Make sure the seat belts all work properly.

Car Brakes

When driving, test the brakes at different speeds and also try hard and soft braking while driving. Notice if the vehicle pulls to one side or the other when braking. Listen to see if the brakes squeak. Be sure to test the parking brake.

Other Considerations

Will the car fit you? Your family?
Is the trunk or cargo space adequate for your needs?
Does the car get adequate MPG for your budget?
What might be the expected cost of repairs in the near future?
What are the safety ratings for the vehicle?

Driving Away
Call your insurance company to insure your vehicle so you are covered. Original “pink slip” or title Test all keys to make sure they are working (including valet, gas cap and wheel keys). Be sure to have any owner�s manuals. Determine if there are any applicable car warranty periods available. See if you have to transfer them to your name. Take copies of maintenance and repair receipts. Drive safely.