Tips & Tricks

Inspection Checklist: A Guide for Used Car Shoppers


It’s official: your beloved vehicle is on its last wheels. The latest estimate from your fix-it guy to repair it was more than you paid for it in the first place, and it is emitting noises that you didn’t know were possible.

While you may dream of buying that fast and fancy sports car that you saw on TV last week, your wallet and budget have other ideas. In order to make the entire used car shopping experience as positive as possible—and to prevent purchasing a lemon—consider the following tips:

Before You Leave Home

There’s a lot of pre-owned car shopping research to do before you ever set foot on a lot. To start, look up types of vehicles you are interested in to find out any common repair issues and typical prices. This will help you narrow down your choices so you can look more closely at viable options once you get to the car lot.

At the Dealership

In the Nation features a list of questions that you should ask the salesperson when looking at potential cars. This includes why the car is being sold, how many previous owners the vehicle has had and if the car was ever in an accident. Then, take your time walking around the vehicle and look for any signs of dents, rust and places where the exterior has been patched up or repainted. The DMV also features an in-depth used car checklist that you can print out and bring with you.

You also want to visit reputable dealerships that complete thorough background checks on their cars. For example, DriveTime offers an AutoCheck history report with every vehicle they sell. This can help to set your mind at ease that you are spending your money on a reliable car instead of a lemon.

During the Test Drive

When you are ready to test drive the car, prepare your nose for a serious sniff test. As you get into the vehicle, if you smell mold or mildew, it’s a pretty good sign that the car was in a flood or has some type of water leak. Also, be prepared for a smoky odor and check the ashtrays for signs of cigarette butts or ashes. These can be pretty difficult odors to eradicate, so if your nose knows something is amiss, move on to the next car.

Once you find a car that passes the sniff test and you head out for a test drive, don’t go around the block once or twice. Take that baby out on the freeway, if possible, or at least someplace where you can go over 55 or 60 miles per hour. Listen for odd pings, thumps and whines, and work the various controls like windshield wipers, air conditioning and heat. If the car has power windows, make sure they work and turn the headlights on and off.

After the Test Drive

Once you find a used car that passes your vigorous checklist, it’s time to take it to your trusted mechanic for an official inspection. The mechanic can check the engine, hoses, belts and fans for any issues. This way you know you are buying a reliable car and not one that you will have to put a lot of money into.

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