With the high price tag of new cars, and the quick depreciation rate of new vehicles, many consumers look for used cars for sale instead. And while investing in a used car may seem like a judicious option, buyers still need to be smart in their choices. Used cars that are sold with hidden damage can become costly problems for the unsuspecting buyer. To avoid purchasing the proverbial lemon, here’s a checklist of 10 strategies and points from CARFAX to check to help ensure condition and value before buying a used car.
1. The Test Drive
It’s always best to take the car on a test drive on both local roads and highways. In different environments, you can get a good feel for how the car responds and performs. On local roads, you can feel how the car shifts and responds to sharp turns. You’ll also get a good idea on the condition of the brakes with stop-and-go. With a trip on the highway, you can note if the engine runs smoothly or not. While on a test drive, keep your eyes and ears open. Make sure to note any unusual engine noises and whether or not all of the electronics in the car are working properly.
2. The Aesthetics: Inside and Out
Both the inside and outside condition of the car play a large factor in value. Make sure to check the interior upholstery carefully, along with any repairs to the exterior of the car. That’s not to say you shouldn’t purchase a car that has been in a minor fender-bender, but you’ll want to make sure the exterior was repaired professionally and that the results are barely visible to the eye. Always open the hood and take a good look at the engine and parts. Dirty and rusted parts can be a strong indication that there may be trouble down the road.
3. The Leak Test
Any car that is leaking fluids is a red flag for a needed repair. While you’re on a test drive, take a moment to park in a clean area on the road, and let the car run for at least 30 seconds. Then, move the car and do a visible inspection for any leaking substances. Black fluid might be an indicator of leaking oil, green fluid may indicate a leak in anti-freeze, and pink fluid may indicate a leak in the transmission.
4. Research Reviews on the Make and Model
Do a bit of detective work on industry and consumer reviews on the make and model to uncover possible defects or even common problems. You can easily do a check by doing a search on Google.
5. Research Price
To ensure that you are being charged a fair price, make sure to compare prices for the same make, model and year with several sources. Checking the Blue Book values and dealer prices can easily be done online. Even though condition and mileage will play a role in price, you can still get a good ballpark figure of the going price.
6. Mechanic Inspection
Many consumers don’t take the time to have a mechanic inspect their used car before purchase, which can lead to more expensive car maintenance down the road. The cost to have a car inspected by a professional can be well worth the price. A mechanic is the professional who can help you discover hidden problems and also assist with determining the car’s value. If there are going to be major problems with the engine or transmission in the future, this is the pro who is going to let you know.
7. Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles
Purchasing a certified pre-owned car can be a wise choice because it offers the buyer an extra level of quality assurance. Many local car dealers offer these vehicles with warranties that extend beyond the initial new coverage.
8. Buyer’s Remorse
To avoid buyer’s remorse, never be too quick to pull the trigger when buying a used car. Taking the time to do thorough research and negotiating for the best price is the best way you can ensure you’re getting a good deal on the right vehicle.
9. Decode the VIN
Checking a VIN decoder chart is a quick, easy, and free way to check a used car’s VIN info matches up with what’s in the vehicle title and records. VIN cloning is a scam where sellers replace the VIN of a stolen car with one that is legally registered. This type of fraud can easily be avoided by decoding the VIN of the vehicle in question.
10. Vehicle History Report
A vehicle history report can you help you reveal title problems, ownership history, service points and previous accidents, large or small. These reports can be available from dealers or ordered online. CARFAX offers one of the most comprehensive car reports available to purchase, which is pulled from a database of more than six billion car records.
Following these 10 points and strategies can be a surefire way to help ensure that you don’t get stuck with a lemon. You’ll have all the information needed to help you make an informed decision, whether you decide to buy or not.
Mike Orsini is the head of blog marketing at CARFAX. Headquartered in Centreville, VA, CARFAX is the most trusted provider of vehicle history information that is used by millions of consumers each year. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports™ are available on all used cars and light trucks model year 1981 or later.