The Most Important Things to Consider Before Buying a Used Car


While used—sorry, pre-owned—cars are more affordable than brand-new models, they also come with the potential for more problems in both the short- and long-term. It’s always a good idea to do your homework and fully understand what you’re buying; but if you don’t know what to look for, the process can quickly start to feel overwhelming.

Of course, not every used car shopping experience is going to be the same, so I asked three automotive experts what they think are the most important things to consider before purchasing a pre-owned vehicle.

Consider your finances

Before you start browsing used car inventory, it’s essential to figure out how much you can realistically afford, says Mark Scholl, the executive vice president of operations and retail sales at Montway Auto Transport. “If you’re thinking about financing, start by determining how much money you want to put down, along with current interest rates, and loan length,” he says. “Doing this homework upfront will give you a clear picture of the vehicles that will fit your budget.”

According to Scholl, the prices of used electric vehicles are falling, making 2024 a good time to consider if one makes sense for your lifestyle and budget. “While some EVs may have a higher initial purchase price, with lower maintenance costs, they can save you money in the long run,” he notes.

Also consider whether you can afford a car that still has a balance of the manufacturer’s warranty, or is Certified Pre-Owned, says Jon Albert, Partner and Vice President at JKR Advertising & Marketing. “[This way], you have a bit more peace of mind built into the purchase,” he tells me. “It gives you time, however much is left in the warranty, to detect any issues that may arise and have them repaired before it expires.”

It’s also a good idea to find out how much labor costs for the car you have in mind, says Albert. “You might be shocked at how much more luxury-brand vehicles are to repair than their non-luxury counterparts,” he notes. “This will help you eliminate an unpleasant surprise down the road.” 

Consider the mileage

When comparing vehicles, Scholl encourages used car shoppers to look at mileage in a new way. “While a low-mileage vehicle may seem like a better option, this isn’t always the case if it hasn’t been properly maintained,” he explains. “When you compare a used vehicle with low mileage to a new vehicle, the savings are significant. For example, the price of a slightly used vehicle with a few thousand miles averages about 11% less than the brand-new model.”

Consider the vehicle’s history

Whether a used car is being sold by a dealership or private seller, be sure to request the vehicle’s history report.

If the seller can’t provide the report, Hunter Brabham, a vehicle modifications and maintenance specialist and category manager at CarParts.com, suggests asking them for the vehicle identification number (VIN), and ordering your own report. You can get a vehicle history report from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, and companies like CarFax, AutoCheck, and VinAudit—though you may have to pay a fee of $25 to $40 for those.

“The information [in the report] can reveal previous accidents, ownership history, and maintenance records, helping you decide if the car is a sound purchase,” says Scholl. The report will also let you know if the vehicle has ever been totaled. “You can also go to the National Insurance Crime Bureau to find out if the vehicle was ever stolen,” says Brabham.

While vehicle history reports aren’t always 100% accurate, Albert stresses the importance of insisting on one. “Some states will even give you the name of the previous owner if you’re buying from a dealer—contacting them could be another potentially good source of information,” he adds.

If buying from a private seller, Scholl recommends asking them:

  • Why are you selling the vehicle?

  • How long have you owned it?

  • Have you made any after-market upgrades?

  • Do you have a clear title?

  • May I take the car to my mechanic for an inspection?

If you’re purchasing a car from the previous owner, Brabham also recommends asking for maintenance records, and if there were any recent problems that needed to be fixed. 

Beyond the car itself, take the time to research the make and model, as well as whether it’s ranked highly for things like durability or low maintenance costs, says Scholl. “Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book are trusted resources that can help shoppers find vehicle valuations, expert ratings, customer reviews, and more,” he explains.

You’ll also want to look into common problems specific to the make and model, and check to see if there have been any recalls of the vehicle. “Visiting online forums and owner groups are a great way to learn about what common problems other car owners are experiencing, and what is required to fix the issues.”

Finally, Scholl advises asking the seller whether the vehicle has been in a flood, and checking the title if possible. “When a dealer is trying to resell a vehicle, the title must indicate if it is a salvaged vehicle, which means it was involved in a major accident or natural disaster,” he explains. “If you suspect the vehicle has been in a flood, check underneath the seats and in the trunk for rust, mud or mildew odors.”

Consider the vehicle’s condition

Before making an offer, Scholl advises inspecting the car thoroughly, both inside and out. “Look for signs of rust, paint damage, and uneven tire wear—which may indicate alignment issues,” he says. “Look under the hood, and check for any leaks or unusual engine noises.” You may also want to consider bringing the vehicle to a local repair shop for a pre-purchase inspection. “This usually only requires about one hour of labor, and can expose issues that can only be seen by having the car on a lift,” Brabham says.

In addition to helping you determine if a car is a good fit for you and your lifestyle, Brabham recommends taking the vehicle for a test drive, as it will also give you the chance to see illuminated warning lights and hear disturbing noises that you might otherwise miss. “Try to choose a route with side streets, hills, and highways to get a feel for how the car will handle in your daily life,” says Scholl. “Test the acceleration, steering, and brakes, and make sure you have good visibility.”

Source

Leave a Comment

l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk l1nk