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Checklist: How To Buy A Used Car With Confidence (Free PDF!)


Checklist: How To Buy A Used Car With Confidence (Free PDF!)

Thinking of buying a used car? Pre-owned vehicle sales are usually about double the sales of new cars in any given year. For example, in 2019, consumers spent $17 million on new cars, and over $40 million on used cars (hopefully it was affordable used car financing!)

And in the first half of 2021, with used car prices soaring 45% higher than last year, even more money is being funneled into the used auto market. 

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It's clear that many Americans are ready and eager to shop pre-owned, but how do we know we’re getting the best deal on a used car? Enter – this checklist. Follow it and have peace of mind that you haven’t missed anything as you review your used car options at the dealership or during a private party sale.

Scroll through the checklist below, or simply download the PDF if you want to take it with you. We hope it will help you answer the difficult question "What Car Should I Buy?!" 😊

For more info on car buying, both new and used, check out our free eBook:

Happy Car Buying: Your Ultimate Guide for Getting the Best Deal


1. Verify all Service Records on the Used Car

car interior

  • Oil changes
  • Part replacements
  • Tire Purchases
  • Tune-ups



2. Review Interior


  • Turn key to first position – do all warning lights on dash turn on?
  • Start Vehicle – do all warning lights on dash turn off?
  • Leave car idling while inspecting vehicle and go back at the end to check the temperature gauge on the dashboard – it should be in the middle (not in the red)
  • Turn signals - check right and left
  • Turn windshield wipers on to different speeds, then off
  • Turn on heater
  • Turn on A/C
  • Adjust both side view mirrors
  • Roll down and back up all windows
  • Check stereo
  • Check function of all seat belts
  • Lock and unlock while looking at each door for function
  • Open and close every door to ensure function
  • Adjust seats – if automatic, check any electrical function with seat movement.
  • Pop the hood and the trunk, leave open
  • Check for spare tire and jack

3. Take A Look Under the Hood With The Engine ON


  • Open hood while it is running and leave it idling for a while
  • Check for any drips
  • Listen for any loud clacking or grinding


4. Take A Look Under the Hood With The Engine OFF


  • Check the date on the battery – average battery lifespan in AZ is 4 years. Is now a good time to buy a car if it means a new battery? Maybe! But good info to know.

  • Fluid levels – all of the following have indicators that let you know if it’s full or needs more. Use a rag or paper towel to clean the dipstick, then insert and remove to get a proper reading.
    • Oil
    • Transmission fluid
    • Steering fluid
    • Brake fluid


5. Review Exterior



  • Check for sun fading
  • Paint Condition/Repainted
  • Check alignment of exterior panels for a uniform gap to see if they have been replaced
  • Tires
    • Tread depth – got a penny? Insert the penny (head down) into a few of the tire’s tread grooves - if you can see all of Lincoln’s head then the tires need replacing.
    • Overall condition
    • Mismatched – not recommended unless you plan on immediately replacing them, different tires have different speed ratings, tread life, and traction.
  • Check bottom of vehicle for rust

6. Take it for a Test Drive  

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  • Turn off radio to be able to listen for noises
  • Go over speed bumps to listen for noises and if suspension feels worn (warning signs = it’ll bounce up and down several times when going over bumps and will feel like you have less control over the vehicle)
  • Drive at both residential and freeway speeds
  • Brake firmly from a higher speed and listen for noise
  • Brake pedal should feel firm and not lower towards floor while holding down
  • Check reverse and multiple gears if applicable
  • Accelerate through a corner and listen for clacking to indicate bad CV joints
  • After the drive, look at temperature gauge to make sure it’s within proper range (not in the red)


7. Double Check Your How To Buy A Used Car Checklist (& Ask Allll the Questions)


Whether you're a first-time car buyer or a pro, inspecting a used car and making a decision can feel overwhelming. We hope this How To Buy A Used Car with Confidence Checklist has helped you! And if you're ready to get pre-approved for a used auto loan, we do that too. Contact us today to get started, or start your application online.

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This article is intended to be a general resource only and is not intended to be nor does it constitute legal advice. Any recommendations are based on opinion only.

Rates, terms and conditions are subject to change and may vary based on creditworthiness, qualifications, and collateral conditions. All loans subject to approval.

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