Used Car Buying Guide

Used Car Buying Guide | SchuCar

Shopping for almost anything used can be a big task, but when it comes to a used car, the stakes are high and it can be difficult to tell whether a good deal is really what it seems. Fortunately, there are some pretty simple guidelines to follow, and we’ve laid them out here to help make your shopping experience a bit easier.

Reputable Dealership

Reputable Dealership

This is probably the most important step, as it will make all of the rest so much easier. Some of this is easy, like reading online reviews, but it’s also worth looking into where the dealer’s inventory comes from. Generally, the best bet is to find a place that gets its inventory from trade-ins. These are usually newer, may have been maintained at the dealership during it’s life, and won’t include questionable vehicles from online auctions – the final source for vehicles nobody really wants.

Used Car Inspection

Used Car Inspection

Even if you aren’t buying a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle, any reputable dealership will still put used vehicles through an inspection process before making them available for sale. You are going to want to make sure that your vehicle has been inspected in the following ways:

  • Visual: This is a check for the most obvious faults, such as tires, exterior lights, and the condition of the bodywork.
  • Mechanical: A more thorough check of the mechanical components, including scanning the onboard diagnostics system for any detected faults.
  • Road Test: Taking the vehicle out on the road to make sure that everything works the way it’s supposed to under real-world conditions
Vehicle History Report

Vehicle History Report

It is absolutely essential to check a used vehicle’s CARFAX report before buying it. Fortunately, this is a pretty standard thing for any reputable dealership to have on hand. This lets you check important information, such as odometer readings, vehicle registration, title information, service/repair history, and accident history. There are also a handful of things that get overlooked a lot, but are definitely important to look out for:

Frequent Ownership Changes

The CARFAX report will list the owners the vehicle has had, if you see a recent history of a car changing hands repeatedly over a short period, it’s very possible that there is a major problem that might not be immediately obvious. It could also mean that the vehicle has not been able to pass emissions testing, which brings us to our next point.

Emissions Testing

It’s not uncommon, especially in metropolitan areas, for trade-ins to fail emissions testing. Quite often, the reason the previous owner is trading the vehicle in is because it can’t pass the test. Red flags to look out for on the report include multiple failed tests or no testing having been performed within the last year.

Vehicle’s Environment

Different areas of the country experience different conditions that are harmful to cars. Areas with a lot of snow where they salt the roads will have issues with rust, other areas will see frequent flooding, while beachside or desert areas will often see cars jammed full of sand. CARFAX will often flag these, especially in connection with flooding or hurricanes, but it’s not guaranteed, and you should keep an eye out for it.

Certified Pre-Owned

Although most used vehicles don’t qualify for it, certified pre-owned programs offer some serious advantages. Most notably, these usually include special warranty coverage and sometimes special financing as well. That means lower payments and peace of mind when it comes to the vehicle’s major components. The warranty is often transferrable as well, so that means you’ll get a better price when you sell or trade in a CPO vehicle.

What To Physically Look For On A Used Car

Even if you know that car has gone through an inspection by the dealership’s technicians, you are probably going to want to take a look for yourself. Here are the things to look for in your own inspection of the vehicle:

Exterior Inspection

Exterior Inspection

Exterior – This is pretty straightforward, look for dents or scratches, check the condition of the paint, look for rust.

Trunk – See if the trunk is clean and in good condition. Make sure the jack and the spare are where they’re supposed to be, if the vehicle is supposed to have them, and ensure there’s no evidence of moisture intrusion.

Tires – Look for excessive or uneven wear, which can both be a symptom of suspension issues.

Frame Look at the saddle, the part that connects the front fenders and also holds the radiator. Scratches or bolt heads that show signs of having been recently replaced could indicate that a fender was replaced or realigned following an accident.

Exhaust System – You’ll hear any bigger holes when the engine is started, but also keep an eye out for black spots, as they could indicate leaks.

Under the Hood Inspection

Under the Hood Inspection

Hood – A quick look at the underside of the hood for any dents, rust, or other damage.

Hoses and Belts – These should be soft and free of cracking.

Engine – Look for leaks, corrosion, or dark brown stains. Engine repairs are especially expensive.

Oil – Don’t just check the level with the dipstick, open the cap and look for foam residue, this is an indication of a bigger problem.

Transmission Dipstick – Check the color, which should be red or pink, and also check for a burnt smell.

Interior Inspection

Interior Inspection

Seating – A quick visual inspection for stains, rips, or other obvious defects.

Air Conditioning – Make sure it actually blows cold air, simply switching it on isn’t enough.

Odometer – Make sure the mileage isn’t excessive, and also that it’s roughly where it should be compared to the CARFAX report.

Oil – Don’t just check the level with the dipstick, open the cap and look for foam residue, this is an indication of a bigger problem.

Lights and Electronics – Check the headlights, taillights, turn signals, and so on. Then go through the radio, navigation, or whatever else the car is equipped with.

The SchuCar Advantage

SchuCar is not only able to offer you the things we listed above, including the highly sought-after Certified Pre-Owned vehicles, but there are a number of additional advantages. Schucar makes browsing our selection easy, thanks to the easy-to-use online shopping tools. But unlike the online-only used dealers, SchuCar also has brick-and-mortar dealerships, so you can browse with ease online, but then also enjoy the peace of mind that comes with seeing your car in person before you buy. Vehicles are locally sourced too, so you have a better selection of things like all-wheel drive vehicles than you would if you were looking at a selection from somewhere milder winters, like the south.