What to Look For When Shopping For a Used Car

Stepping onto a dealership lot to purchase a car can be an intimidating and also a rewarding experience. Whether you’ve purchased a car before or it’s your first time buying a vehicle and our buy here pay here program is a perfect fit, it’s important to do your homework and come prepared with questions and more importantly, with answers. Having knowledge of what to look for is your best friend when it comes to confidently purchasing a vehicle. If you’re in the market for a used car, here are some tips we’d love to share to help you feel confident about your purchase.

Before You Go And While You’re There

buy here pay here car lot
  • Don’t buy it at night- It may seem obvious, but plan your visit for a day when the light is even and there’s enough good light. You’ll be looking at several cars, so having the best light to examine the exterior is important for comparing color, searching for rust, and identifying any blemishes on the vehicle.
  • Check the vehicle history report- By checking the vehicle history report, you’re able to view ownership history, any issues the car has had, along with any previous accidents and service visits.
  • Compare prices from several sources- Head to the dealership lot with a price in mind based off of other models you’re interested in and their appraisal value. Knowing what cars in the area are selling for in comparison to one you see on the lot is an important negotiating tool.
  • Check online reviews- Online reviews can be all over the place. One person could love a car and not write anything while another person could hate a car and write a scathing review. Researching reviews is helpful while taking them into consideration within the larger picture and within the context of your additional research.
  • Call a parts store- Call a local parts store and ask about the model car you’re looking to buy. Have they seen a lot of these models coming in or a lot of parts going out?

Under The Hood

  • Check your transmission fluid- While checking the transmission fluid on a used vehicle, you want to make sure the fluid is full and red in color. If the reservoir is low or if the fluid smells burnt, there may be an issue with the transmission.
  • Check the oil- It’s important to check the oil, but it’s not a telltale sign of an issue. By checking the oil, however, it can provide a look into whether the car was cared for or neglected.
  • Check brake fluid reservoir- Locate the brake fluid reservoir and look inside. If your brakes are worn, the pistons are coming out further and the reservoir level will be lower. This could be a sign of impending damage or a lack of care.
  • Check over belts and hoses- Belts and hoses are important pieces of a vehicle and a telltale sign of the quality of a used vehicle. Belts and hoses should not be dried out or cracked. The radiator hose should not be soft. Checking the timing belt is one of the most important steps you can do while looking at a car. While the belt is the most important belt in the engine, it’s also one of the most costly repairs on the car.
  • Check your antifreeze- Check the antifreeze for oil. There should not be any oil.
  • Diagnostics- Bringing the vehicle to a mechanic for an inspection can help check the vehicle for diagnostic codes. These diagnostics can tell you if the car is in good shape, if the battery was just replaced or if the codes were recently erased.
  • Remove the oil filler cap- Any sign of a foam residue could indicate a leaking head gasket and that car should be avoided.
  • Ask for a repair receipt if the car has been in an accident and make sure it was professionally repaired.
  • Get an inspection from a mechanic.

Test Drive

Getting in the car and going for a test drive allows you to get a feel for how the car runs. Is it braking ok? How is the steering? Can you picture yourself in the car in a week? A month? Next year? Try to separate your excitement and emotions from the process. A test drive is an important time to visualize yourself in the car.

  • Listen- Listen for unusual noises by keeping the air and fans off as well as the music. It’s ok to ask the seller not to talk during this time, after all, this is your chance to feel comfortable and ‘at home’ in the car while paying attention to nuances from the car.
  • Check for leaks- Let the car idle for 30 seconds then pull forward. Hop out of the car and check for any liquid left on the ground.
  • Aesthetics- Take a walk around the car. In fact, take two or three or four walks around the car. Pay close attention to the exterior, particularly the paint and any dents or scratches that could pose a problem with rusting down the road. The general condition of the car is important and can be a window into how the car was or was not taken care of by a previous owner.
  • Check the tires- Run your hands over the tires and make sure the tread is even. If it’s feathered, it could be an alignment issue which could cost more on parts to fix the suspension. It could also be the sign of an accident. Are the tires all matching and the same brand? How often were they rotated?
  • Check for exterior damage- Sometimes the damage is a large dent, other times the damage is so small and hidden it often goes unnoticed. Make sure there’s no damage in the frame by checking if the doors, lines and fenders are all even.
  • Check for rust- Getting a report on the vehicle’s history is a great place to start. Not only will it give you information regarding services or accidents, it will also provide location where previously owned. A car coming from the Northeast or along the coast may have greater risks of rusting due to the presence of salted roads and the proximity to salt water. Ask to look under the car, particularly behind the rear wheels and exhaust for any signs of extensive rusting.

Inside The Car

  • Look for signs of wear and tear- There are obvious signs, like ripped upholstery and stains, but be sure you’re looking at everything in the car and you’re testing everything. Turn on every light, open every visor and adjust every knob and button to be sure they’re in proper working condition.
  • Odometer- Check the odometer and reference the model year of the vehicle. The odometer is one way to figure out the life of the car and how hard it was driven. The average person drives between 12,000-15,000 miles per year.
  • VIN number- Check VIN information to make sure it matches the title information. Checking a VIN decoder chart will provide information that should match up with what’s in the vehicle records and title.

Buying a used car can be a wonderful experience. But being prepared and educating yourself about various used vehicles will help avoid any surprises down the road.

Ready to check out our buy here pay here program? Check out our research section for more information while preparing for your visit to one of our locations in Youngsville, NC or Henderson, NC. If you’re in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Butner, Creedmoor, Louisburg, Wake Forest, Rolesville, Zebulon, Nashville, Warrenton area and you’re ready to check into the buy here pay here program, we have a financing application set up through our quick application in our online portal making it easy to get started today.