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What Needs to Be Checked Before Buying a Used Car?

Buying a reliable used car can be a smart buying decision when you choose a make and model that’s built to last. Whether you’re buying a used car from a dealer or an independent owner, thoroughly checking the car inside and out can protect you from a serious red flag (or several). This is the complete car inspection checklist for buyers conducting searches for high-quality used cars on a budget.

Interior and Exterior Visual Inspection


For the first part of your used car inspection, take a walk around the car’s exterior and look for signs that could signify frame damage, such as rust, dents, and scratches. According to CARFAX, stand behind the vehicle and look for uneven body panels, usually a sign of poor repair work after an accident. Mismatched paint also indicates substandard bodywork. Open and close each of the doors of the used vehicle and the trunk to make sure they glide smoothly.

The vehicle’s tires can also provide clues about its overall condition. Inspect each one carefully for scuff marks, bulges, cracks, and sufficient tread with even wear. If you notice a different brand on one of the tires, ask the seller why it was swapped out.

Next, inspect the inside of the vehicle for damaged upholstery or other undue wear and tear. A moldy smell is a sign of water damage, often caused by a leak. The upholstery and floor mats should be clean and free of stains.

Test Drive


Take the car for a test drive before buying a used car. When you take a spin, use this checklist to guide your evaluation:

  • Do you have enough room in the car, especially if you are tall or large?
  • Do you feel comfortable while driving? Are the seats easy to adjust?
  • Can you see well while driving? Do you have noticeable blind spots when you check the mirrors?
  • Do you smell gas, oil, or other odors that could indicate fluid leaks or other issues under the hood?
  • Do the turn signals, brake lights, headlights, and heating and air conditioning systems work correctly?
  • Do you notice any unusual engine noises such as clanking or banging? Does the engine accelerate as expected?

Vehicle Report


A vehicle history report from CARFAX or a similar agency provides detailed information that can reveal potential problems with a car you plan to buy. You just need the vehicle identification number (VIN) to request this type of report. If you purchase a used car from a dealer, you can often request the sales representative’s vehicle report.

The report will include data from public motor vehicle record and other sources, such as the vehicles:

  • Accidents
  • Fire, flood, or other weather damage
  • Status of the car title
  • Maintenance records
  • Ownership, registration, and inspection history
  • Mileage readings

Having the facts can protect you from buying a lemon. You may also want to check the Kelley Blue Book value of the car, which can provide information about whether the price tag matches a fair price for that car’s make and model.

Mechanic Analysis


You can only tell so much about preowned cars without a professional opinion. If the car checks out after you review the items above, take it to a mechanic you trust for advice.

Car buyers should get permission to drive the car off the lot and have an independent inspection. Sellers who refuse likely have something to hide, such as poorly done repairs or odometer issues.

If you’re making this type of purchase and you don’t know where to get an expert opinion, contact Highline Car Care in the Gilbert area. We help our customers in Mesa and surrounding areas make sure that used cars are working properly before they buy these vehicles. If the price is right and low mileage looks good, bring the vehicle to our team for a thorough inspection when buying used.

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