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How To Confidently Buy A Used Car: Pre-Owned Auto Checklist

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How To Confidently Buy A Used Car: Pre-Owned Auto Checklist

Updated May 3, 2021

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.

But after COVID-19? That lead has gotten even steeper. Although overall vehicle sales are down, COVID-19 has led to an increase in used car sales as people avoid mass transit and are more aware of auto costs. Plus, for many Americans with stimulus money burning a hole in their pockets, a vehicle seems like a responsible place to bury that cash.

Now that we’re all ready to shop pre-owned, how do we know we’re getting the best deal on a used car? Enter – this checklist. Follow it and be assured that you haven’t missed anything as you review your used car options at the dealership or during a private party sale. Or, for more info, check out our free eBook: How To Get The Best Deal On A Car: A Novice Negotiator's Ultimate Guide.

We wish you happy [+ confident] car shopping!

1. Verify all Service Records on the Used Car

  • 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
  • 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 fluidHow to get the best deal on a car

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  

  • 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 Used Car Checklist & Ask Questions!

Want a pdf of this checklist to take with you? Click below!

Download This Checklist

Are you ready to get pre-approved for a used auto loan? We're here to help! Contact us today to get started.

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.

How To Confidently Buy A Used Car: Pre-Owned Auto Checklist