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
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.
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
- 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!
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.