There’s no overlooking the fact that brand-new vehicles are a major expense for most people. In the eyes of financial experts, used vehicles are a better choice for drivers looking to save money.

Before you spend your hard-earned cash on a used car, take a few extra precautions. While some pre-owned vehicles have a lot of life left, others are simply not worth the money. The last thing you want is to get stuck with a lemon. Here’s what to look for when buying a used car.

Vehicle History Report

A vehicle history report is a very informative document. Most importantly, it’ll tell you if the vehicle has been involved in a serious accident. You should certainly steer clear of cars that have been damaged in a flood or fire as they tend to give owners a lot more trouble in the long run. The report should also reveal the number of previous owners — a car that has frequently changed hands within a short time period is a definite risk. When viewing the vehicle history report, pay close attention to the mileage. In an effort to deceive people, some sellers will swap out the vehicle’s entire instrument cluster. Although the car may have more than 200,000 original miles, the odometer may read only 90,000 miles. It’s a big scam that impacts thousands of used car buyers. A comprehensive car history report can provide details on past maintenance as well.

Inspect the Exterior for Damage

Before taking the vehicle out on the road, carefully inspect the exterior for damage. Keep an eye out for over-spray — this indicates the car has been repainted at some point. It’s often easy to spot unprofessional results. As you may know, cheap paint jobs typically don’t last as long. You should also check the vehicle’s body for dents and dings. While minor blemishes shouldn’t cause much concern, be cautious about buying a vehicle with obvious body damage. Structural rust is by far one of most expensive problems. Take the time to inspect the vehicle’s undercarriage for any oxidation. Over time, major rust can render the vehicle completely useless. It’ll no longer be safe to drive on public streets.

Make Sure to Take a Test Drive

Never ever consider buying a used vehicle without first taking it for a test drive. Although the seller may rave about how well the vehicle performs, don’t simply take their word for it. On the day of your test drive, be sure to set aside some extra time. Rushing may cause you to overlook certain issues. If you are buying a vehicle for your family, pay especially close attention to the amount of passenger room. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to bring your family with you.

Popping the vehicle’s hood should be one of the first things you do. After pulling the dipstick, take a look at the appearance of the motor oil. Burnt-looking oil indicates that the vehicle hasn’t been serviced on a regular basis. A low oil level is just as concerning. Next, crank up the vehicle and see how it runs. Worn engines can cause smoke to emit from the tailpipe. After allowing the engine to idle for a few minutes, take a look at the temperature gauge. If the needle has started to approach the red zone, there’s likely a problem with the coolant system.

While on your test drive, avoid turning on the stereo system. You’ll want to be able to hear for any unusual noises such as a slipping serpentine belt or squeaky brakes. Examine how the vehicle drives in the city and out on the highway. When accelerating from a stop, the vehicle’s transmission should smoothly change gears without any delays.

Leaks can cost a lot of money to fix. This is especially true for oil leaks. To fix the problem, the automotive technician may need to tear apart the engine. Look underneath the car for signs of wetness. Transmission fluid and antifreeze can also leak onto the ground. Ideally, the vehicle should be as dry as possible. To avoid the hassle of inspecting the vehicle yourself, get an experienced mechanic to check it out.

Get the Most Value for Your Money

Like most people who opt to purchase a used car, you’re probably looking to get a good deal. It’s in your best interest to research the vehicle’s true market value. Failing to obtain this important information could cause you to overpay. During the negotiation process, don’t give the seller too much leverage. Never be afraid to walk away from a deal that doesn’t meet your expectations. Reliability is another factor to consider. Consumer Reports and J.D. Power are just a couple of the companies that evaluate the long-term dependability of vehicles.

When shopping from a pre-owned ride, you can either visit a used car dealership or do business with a private seller. There are a few perks to buying from a used car dealer. Some dealers provide additional warranty coverage, which can give you an extra peace of mine. They can also provide you with a vehicle history report. On the other hand, private sellers often offer lower prices. Upon browsing through classifieds ads on sites like Craigslist, you may find a bargain that’s hard to beat. However, avoid taking any unnecessary risks.


These proven tips will help you to choose the perfect used car. However, it’s also a wise decision to do your own research. There’s now a lot of valuable information at your disposal.

Gunter Nezhoda /

This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.