Guest Post: 9 Things to Watch Out for When Buying A Used Car

Today’s special guest post on 9 things to watch out for when buying a used car is brought to you by Alice Stevens, a senior content strategist for Best Company.

Buying a used car can be a financially smart move because cars values quickly depreciate. If you look carefully, you can find a reliable car at a good markdown from new cars. In addition to learning common car terms and figuring out the best way to finance your car, it’s also important to make sure that the used car you buy is a worthwhile investment.

Before going for a test drive, be sure to understand the car’s resale value and history. Looking at the depreciation charts, the mileage, title, past accidents, and former ownership can give you a strong sense of whether a specific used car is a smart purchase.

Once you’ve found a potential candidate, set up a test drive. While you’re looking at the car, check for exterior damage, the interior, and have a mechanic take a look at the car just to be on the safe side.

Things to check before the test drive

Buying a car is a big purchase decision. Spending time visiting car dealerships and test driving cars can be fun, but also a long process. Luckily, if you do some research before your visit, it will be easier to weed out the good cars from the bad ones.

Here are five things you should research before setting foot in the dealership:

  1. Resale value

  2. Title

  3. Mileage

  4. Accidents

  5. Ownership history

1. Resale value

While it can seem odd to consider a car’s resale value when you’re buying it, you’re not going to drive this car forever. When you need a new car, you’ll want to be able to trade it in or resell it for a good price to help pay for your new car.

Narrow down the model and year of the car you want. Once you know what kind of car you want, compare makes from multiple car brands. It’s also a good idea to look at the model years. Look at how each car is structured and check its safety ratings.

Once you know the make and model year you want, look at car depreciation charts. These charts will tell you how quickly a car depreciates and what model year will give you the best value. These factors can help you find a good deal on a used car, and find a used car that will be a good financial purchase for you.

2. Car Title  

A car’s title matters because it will affect your car insurance rates. It’s best to buy a car with a clean title. Clean titles mean that the car hasn’t been salvaged or refurbished after being deemed totaled. 

There are several kinds of branded titles. A branded title generally means that the car has had severe damage, has been rebuilt, or sold for parts.

While the deals on cars with branded titles can be quite tempting, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. In some cases, it’s best to avoid a branded title. 

It’s also a smart idea to get a car with a clear title because that means that no one else has legitimate ownership of the car except the seller. If you’re purchasing from a dealership, this usually isn’t an issue. However, pay attention to this title if you’re buying directly from the car owner.

3. Mileage

 It’s important to look at the car’s mileage. The lower the mileage, the longer the car will last you. While cars with higher mileage will have a lower sales price, they also have a shorter lifespan and will likely have more issues or need more repairs.

You can find great deals on older cars that haven’t been driven very much. Because of their age, the car’s price will be lower. And, if the miles are also exceptionally low, you will most likely be able to drive it for awhile.

4. Accidents

 You should look at a car’s accident history before purchasing it. Past accidents can affect the structural integrity of the car and its safety in future collisions.

 Luckily, it’s easy to get this information. Carfax has accident reports and lists the damage caused to the car. Many dealerships have a free Carfax report for the cars on its lot online, though in some cases you have to go to the dealership to view it.

 If you can’t get a free Carfax report, it’s worth paying for one because it’s better to avoid a car with an accident history, especially a serious one.

5. Ownership History  

A Carfax report can also show you the ownership history of a car. Looking at how many owners the car has had, how many miles each owner has driven the car, and whether the car was a rental gives you important information about how the car has been treated.

Rental cars aren’t always well-taken care of because the car is on loan. While this varies from car owner to car owner, it can be a good idea to avoid rental cars, even if it has low mileage.

The Carfax report will also tell you where the car was owned. Knowing the location can help you understand the risks a car brings with it. For example, cars from snowy climates are more susceptible to rust because of the salt treatment on the roads. The same goes for coastal areas.

Test Drive Checklist

Once you find a car you’d like to purchase, it’s time to go for a test drive. Of course it’s important to check the comfort of the car and its drivability. However, when it comes to evaluating the value of the car, here are four important things to check:

  1. Exterior damage

  2. Tire condition

  3. Interior condition

  4. Mechanic inspection

1. Exterior Damage  

Not all exterior damage is recorded in the Carfax report. When you go look at a car, carefully examine the exterior for any dents, scratches, or paint bubbles. 

Some of dents and scratches are purely cosmetic. However, you should know what dents are there so that you can evaluate the potential risks. Some dents can increase the risk of rust or indicate the presence of rust.

Bubbles underneath the paint is a sign of rust. Because rust weakens the structure of a car, which makes it less safe in accidents, you should rule out cars with rust.

2. Tires

You will have to replace your car’s tires eventually. However, new tires are expensive, and you probably don’t want to have to replace them shortly after you’ve purchased the car. Check the tire tread depth with a quarter or penny to be sure that they’ll last a while longer before replacing them.

If you live in a snowy climate, you’ll want to know what kind of tires are already on the car. If the car has all terrain tires on it, you can put off buying winter tires until they go on sale towards the end of the season.

3. Interior Condition

 While perhaps not the most important feature of a car, the interior still matters. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this a car you are comfortable sitting in and driving?

  • Does the heating and air conditioning work?

  • Is the defrost system functional?

  • What about the stereo system? Does the volume work? Does the radio and CD player work? Can you connect other media? Is Bluetooth available?

 While some of these features don’t affect the car’s safety, they do make a big difference in how much you enjoy driving your car.

4. Mechanic’s Inspection

If you don’t know how to examine a car’s structure or mechanical workings yourself, pay an independent mechanic to inspect it, even if the dealership has its own mechanics who perform inspections on their cars.

The mechanic can give you expert insight into what kind of shape the car is in and what repairs are likely in the near future. Having a mechanic inspection can give you more confidence in your purchase so you can avoid a bad car purchase.

Buying a Used Car

It’s easy to find great deals on used cars because their value has already started depreciating. When you’re buying used, it’s important to understand the safety ratings and depreciation of the models you’re considering.

It’s also important to thoroughly research each car’s history before going for a test drive. Knowing about the car’s past ownership and accidents will help you identify potential problems that may arise with certain vehicles and quickly identify other options.

Knowing a car’s title and mileage will also help you find a used car that will last long and have a good resale value.

Once you’ve narrowed down the cars you want to see, examine the exterior for damage, the tires, and interior for comfort and functionality. Having a trusted mechanic inspect your car will also help you know whether or not a car is worth buying. It will also give you a sense of what future repairs might be needed down the road.

About the author: Alice Stevens is a senior content strategist for Best Company, an unbiased review site. She specializes in finance, insurance, and car warranty.