Yellow use car

Don’t Buy a Used Car Without Checking These Simple Things First

So you’re looking to buy a used car? Ha! Get ready for a price battle with the salesman for a car that may be a big pile of… metal.

Just kidding, you’re not on your own; we’re here to help you! Used car lots are often the best places to find great deals on cars or, depending on what part of town you live in, buy a fake passport. Usually, the salesmen have a high volume of cars coming in and out constantly. This makes used car lots the perfect place for you to find an underpriced diamond in the rough.

We’re not trying to insult you here. We know you’re going to look for the basics, check the tire treads, body for dents and windows for cracks. But, don’t you EVER buy a used car without also doing these simple checks first!

Two used cars parked side by side

Check for Painted Over Rust

Some slimy car salesman grinds down the rust and paints over it; it’s the oldest trick in the book. Normally you could easily notice painted rust, but cars often start to rust in the most inconspicuous places. Check for rust:

  • On the bottom of the door when it’s open – Water often pools here on cars
  • Frame Rails – These run where you usually place the carjack. Rust on these may indicate that the entire frame itself has rust problems.
  • The exhaust pipe and muffler – Replacing these can be costly.
  • Wheel wells – Especially in snowy areas.
  • Around and inside the gas cap.
  • Also, look for bubbling paint – This usually indicates rust underneath the paint or a “paint over the rust” job.

Test Drive It

Okay, you were going to do this any way we know, but pay attention to the test drive! Turn off the radio and listen for ANY sounds coming from the front or rear tires. Bring a passenger and have them listen on their side as well. Some sounds can only be heard at certain speeds, so make sure you slowly get up to highway speed.

While you’re driving, let go of the wheel. Does the car go straight?

When you’re going fast or brake suddenly does the steering wheel shake?

If you notice any of these problems, you should be having second thoughts unless you’re willing to pay a lot for repairs. Either way, use them to talk down the salesman.

Check for Grooves in the Rotors

Kneel down and reach behind the tire to feel the rotors. They should be smooth and have no grooves in them. Also, there should not be any rust. Rust on a rotor usually means that the car has been sitting in the same place on the salesman’s lot for a long time. Replacing rotors is not that hard but knowing that the brake components need to be replaced might help you negotiate the price of the vehicle.

Hoses and Belts

This one won’t take long. Open the hood and check for any cracks on hoses and belts. Belts will work fine even when they’re in a shocking state of disrepair, but you can still use this to bargain for a lower price.

Foam Under Oil Cap cause by condensation

Remove the Oil Cap

And check for any foam or coolant, which indicates a gasket leak. The brightly colored coolant will always float to the top of the oil and be visible on the cap. If you see either of these, walk away.

Pull the Transmission Dipstick

Inspect the fluid in the transmission. It should be full and colored; usually a light red or dark pink. This fluid rarely needs to be replaced, so people often forget about it and let it turn a dark brown color. You don’t want that.

Check the Temperature Gauge

Most cars should run from 90-105 degrees Celsius, but you should find the exact running temperature of the car you’re looking at. Check this by turning on the Air Conditioning and driving the car around in stop and go traffic for at least 15 minutes. If it’s a hot day, you can even let it sit with the AC on.

Use car with a renewed upholstery

Check for Body Repair

This is easiest on darker cars, but you can always tell when cars have had body repair, which usually means they’ve been in an accident. The shininess, color, or look of the paint might just be off or slightly different. Go over and inspect each panel individually, it doesn’t matter how dumb you look stroking the car doors!

Also, check that the gaps between panels are consistent in size. It’s extremely difficult to do this when repairing body panels, so it’s usually a dead giveaway.

There is so much more to look for when buying a used car and if you don’t feel comfortable, bring the car to a mechanic. But, these things here are so easy to do, there’s no excuse not to check them yourself!


  1. Avatar

    Hi Chad ina
    I bough a car 3 years ago from a very well none car dealership beginning with T. I gave the car a good once over good test drive all the tires same make bought the car told I could pick it up within the next 7 days when I went to pick it up I paid in full cash at the time it was raining so no time to look round the car so of we go home.2 days after looking round the car as weather had been bad I noticed one of the rear back tires not the same pattern and not as much tread as the rest on closer inspection different make so I had 3 tires with 6mm tread and 1 with 3 mm.Could I prove it no so I had to buy another tire.wont happen again as I will take photos.

    • Avatar

      There are so many things to check on a car before you buy it, it’s easy to forget one or two! Thankfully, a new tire isn’t too big of an expense! Just goes to show you that you can’t expect the dealership to point out any possible problems with the car.

      Thanks for the comment!

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