What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Giulia Nigrini
Giulia Nigrini
Vehicle Service Contract Specialist, Traveler, Car Enthusiast
December 6, 2021
min. read
side view of the front a old cars lined up in a show room

To put it in a nutshell, when buying a used car you want to ensure that the engine is running, the car is roadworthy, has some kind of service history, and has no rust unless you are looking for a project car. And if a project car is what you are in the market for then you will likely have other criteria for your purchase.

In all seriousness, buying anything pre-owned requires a bit of diligent research. Knowing what to look for and what to check can strongly improve your chances of taking home a good deal. So let’s get stuck into the nitty-gritty on what to keep your eye on when buying a used vehicle.

Your Used Car Checklist

Before you jump into the fun part of shopping around, do a little research. Investigate makes and models that have a strong history of reliability, are best suited to your area, and have good resale value. This information will get you to narrow down the list quite a bit.

Body Condition

Go over the outside of the vehicle and look for dents, scratches, and rust. Also, check that the doors and panels line up correctly. You’ll want to know if the vehicle has been put together poorly.


Ensure that there aren’t any cracks in the back and front windshield. Over time these will become an issue and the glass will need to be replaced.


Check that all the lights are working and that they do not have any cracks causing leaks.


Generally, it would be wise to be cautious of cars that have low odometer readings with new tires. This may indicate that the odometer has been rolled back. Tires tell a lot about the vehicle so be sure that they are good tires as well.


Get in the car and get a sense of what the odor is like in the car. You will want to make sure you don’t smell gas too easily or any other funky smells.


The seats should be comfortable and not have major wear and tear. This may indicate either a car that wasn’t necessarily kept well or used very frequently.

Pedals & Seat belts

Make sure the rubber on the pedals does not seem overly damaged and in good working order. The seat belts will require being checked as well to ensure they are not broken.

Sound system

Everyone enjoys a little music or a podcast while driving. Check the sound and that the radio works.

Under the Hood

Ask about the radiator, battery, hoses & belts, and fluids in the engine. Be sure to get information and perhaps even see the engine to see its condition. Ask about having a third-party mechanic look at the vehicle on your behalf.

If at all possible, take a friend with you to help you check the vehicle and gauge the attitude of the dealership. Lastly, a buyer’s guide must be posted with every used car sold which can usually be found in the rearview window. This guide will tell how the car is being sold including the warranty options.

Have a look at the warranties available for your make and model.

Don’t Forget to Get an Extended Car Warranty

Car ownership comes with certain costs like maintenance and windshield repairs. One of the more costly aspects of car ownership is the mechanical repairs needed in the event of a mechanical breakdown.

Repair bills can range between $300 and $5,000 depending on the repairs needed and the vehicle you are driving. Living on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis makes it more difficult to keep money aside for overwhelming repair bills. And since a breakdown tends to happen sporadically, trying to cover repairs and labor costs can be a very stressful situation. An extended car warranty can help to alleviate that stress. If you do not have the possibility to keep upwards of $1,000 set aside for unforeseen auto repairs, an extended car warranty is worth it.

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