Five Overlooked Strategies You Should Use When Shopping for a Used Car

One hand placing car keys in another hand in front of a blue vehicle

The entire car-buying process can be a pesky ordeal, and the endeavor is made much more difficult when you’re shopping for a used vehicle. At least with a new car, a customer can be assured that every aspect of the ride is reliable and up-to-par. When it comes to a used vehicle, there’s no telling what issues could pop up.

There are a number of used car-buying strategies that often go overlooked by buyers. Fortunately for you, we’ve listed these methods below. By utilizing these strategies, a customer can lessen the chance that they purchase a dud used car.

Before you head into any used car dealers, follow our guide to avoid getting stuck with a bad deal.

Give the Car an Extensive Test Drive

Giving your targeted used car a quick swing around the block is one of the most important aspects of the used car-buying process. Drivers won’t just get clarity on whether that vehicle is the proper fit for their driving style, but a test drive should also help identify any issues that may be lingering under the surface. For example, faulty brakes or a declining engine may not be evident when you’re just looking at the vehicle. However, getting behind the wheel should highlight that car’s major faults.

Of course, drivers won’t get the full story by taking the car for a simple lap around the block. Rather, drivers can get the most out of their test drive by driving the used vehicle in certain conditions or scenarios. For example, a ride on the highway could clue you in to underwhelming acceleration, while driving in the city could alert you to inadequate start/stop power. Many car experts will suggest getting the car “hot,” as you’ll truly get an idea of how the vehicle operates during a commute.

Look for Interior Damage

When potential customers inspect a used car, they’ll usually gloss over the interior just to quickly confirm that it meets their requirements. You may check to see if all of the interior lights are working, and you’ll surely test the radio and speakers. However, when it comes down to it, these inspections aren’t particularly necessary.

Instead, customers should be looking for any signs of damage, as these could indicate that there are lingering issues with the vehicle’s mechanics. Inconsistent or moldy upholstery is a major warning sign, as that could be a clue that the vehicle has experienced previous water damage. While the seller may be able to partially hide the cosmetic issues, there’s a good chance that problems still persist with the mechanics. Water damage warning signs aren’t only evident in the upholstery or carpet; drivers can also get a better understanding of any watery history by checking inside the glove box or trunk.

Depending on who you’re buying the vehicle from, some sellers may even manipulate their dashboard to hide any necessary inspections or issues. By removing the warning light, drivers won’t be aware of any urgent problems, and if they do recognize these issues, there’s a good chance they’ll become evident after the purchase has been made. A simple flick of the ignition should light up the dashboard. If you notice that these lights are underwhelming (or completely absent), you should be concerned. 

Test the Tires

Car owners can easily find a mechanic who will install a new set of tires, and you’ll surely have to go through this ordeal several times throughout the life of your vehicle. However, there’s no reason why you should settle for inadequate tires when you’re shopping for a used car.

There are several signs that the tires may be on the final leg of their journey, including any bizarre bulges or obvious cuts. Many experts suggest pressing a coin into the tire’s tread, as a leftover imprint is an indication that the rubber has been compromised.

If these tires do need to be replaced, that’s an additional expense on the part of the buyer. If you recognize these issues during the negotiation phase of the process, you could haggle to have the price of new tires deducted from the used car’s asking price. After all, it really should be the seller’s obligation to make sure that their car is adequate and useable.

Double Check Documents

It’s unlikely that you’ll have any issues with paperwork if you’re buying from a professional used car dealership, but it’s still important to verify that all of this information is transparent and void of any issues.

For starters, the pink slip should indicate who is the main title holder of the vehicle. If you’re purchasing a used car, there shouldn’t be any names besides the seller’s on this document. In some situations, you may find that there’s a brief list of “lien holders,” which indicates that someone else still holds a monetary interest in the car. This could lead to a sticky situation if the car has switched from its primary ownership. If there are any names listed as “lien holders,” check that the debt or other financial obligation has been satisfied.

The salvage title is equally important, as this shows whether the vehicle was previously totaled. Sure, the seller may have done an admirable job repairing this car and making sure that it’s back to working condition. However, it’s more likely that the repairs only encompassed the essential issues, thus leaving a number of problems hiding under the surface. A salvage title won’t help guide you to any specific problems with the car, but it can at least serve as a warning sign.

Bear in mind, in this situation, we’re solely talking about the vehicle’s value. When shopping for a used car, it’s essential that you understand how much a targeted vehicle is generally selling for. Without this knowledge in hand, a seller could easily pull a fast one and sell the car for hundreds or thousands more than what it’s actually worth.

By understanding the anticipated asking price ahead of time, you won’t be taken advantage of. Furthermore, by understanding a fair value, you could negotiate the price to better fit your budget.

Of course, as a used car buyer, there’s no reason to be paranoid during the buying process. However, you can lessen the chance that you’re stuck with a lemon if you follow the strategies listed above.