If you’ve ever seen the movie Matilda, you probably have a skewed image of used car dealers in your head. You may picture them gluing on bumpers, spinning back odometers, and spray-painting over scratches and scrapes.


While the majority of dealerships don’t really work that way, especially in today’s market, there are a few things to look at when buying a used car. After all, you’re buying a vehicle that you’ll need to rely on day after day to get you from point A to point B safely.

It wouldn’t hurt to poke around a bit before signing on the dotted line.

Things to Look at When Buying a Used Car

Since most of us aren’t licensed or trained mechanics, knowing what to look for when buying a used car can be somewhat tricky. For most drivers, if a car were to break down, we wouldn’t have a clue what to do.

Fortunately, this simple list of things to look at when buying a used car breaks everything down in terms even the newest drivers can understand. Keep reading for a better look at how to find the best car for you.

1. Cost

First and foremost, what does the vehicle cost? Once you have a number, take a moment to do some research as to whether or not it’s a fair price. Get as much information about the car as you can and look it up on websites like Kelly Blue Book.

These sites will use information about the car such as the make, model, year, mileage, condition, and so on to give you a rough but reasonable estimate on how much you should be paying.

Keep in mind, you’ll always pay a little more from dealers than you would private sellers. However, that price also comes with a few perks such as credibility, professionalism, and warranties (for CPO vehicles).

2. Rust Issues

Next, one of the major things to look at when buying a used car is any rust damage that may be forming. New vehicles have rust-proof titanium frames and are no longer susceptible to frame damage. However, older vehicles and other parts of the car may not be so resilient.

Check the undercarriage of any vehicle you may be interested in. This is especially important in certain parts of the country where rust in vehicles is more prevalent due to the climate. This includes high-humidity states and areas that use a lot of road salt during the winter.

3. Tires

Next, you’ll want to take a look at the tires on the vehicle. Good tires aren’t cheap, and if the car you’re looking to buy needs tires soon, you might be inclined to a discount. Remember, the bigger the tires, the more they cost.

Additionally, when inspecting the tires, check for even wear on each tire. If they haven’t worn evenly, it could indicate a bad alignment, which could be potentially expensive—if not dangerous.

4. Vehicle History Report

One of the most important things to look at when buying a used car is the vehicle’s history report. These are super valuable documents that contain vital information about the vehicle.

The vehicle history report should include how many owners the vehicle has had, including if it was ever a lease or rental vehicle. It should also note any recalls placed on the car by the manufacturer.

Finally, the history report should include any major damage/accidents and repairs. This will also tell you if the car has a salvaged title.

5. Mileage

Mileage is a huge factor when it comes to buying a new car. That’s because a car, like any other mechanical or organic machine, wears down with usage. The more miles are on a car, the more likely it’s going to need repairs.

While most of the common wear and tear effects on a car are relatively inexpensive to fix, there are hefty repair jobs, such as the engine, transmission, and starter failures. A vehicle hits significant milestones every 30,000 to 40,000 miles.

6. Interior Condition (Including Controls)

Next, you’ll want to take a thorough look around the inside of the car. While stained upholstery in the backseat won’t affect the car’s performance, it may be a big issue for you.

Sit in the car and turn it on. Give the engine some time to warm up and see how it idles. Also, take a moment to play with all of the controls to make sure everything works properly.

Make sure you have heat and air conditioning, that the radio and all the other entertainment features work, and play around with the seat adjustments. Don’t forget to check the wiper fluid and windshield wipers.

7. Exterior Condition (Including Glass)

Once you’re done scoping out the inside of the car, it’s time to inspect the exterior. Again, a dented door won’t affect the performance of the car, but it could knock the price down a bit.

One of the most important things to look at when buying a used car is any major damages. Mainly, we’re talking about damage to the frame. This could include rust or damage resulting from a collision.

You can also check all the windows for cracks or chips and the body for dents, scratched, scrapes, and faded or peeling paint.

8. Mechanic Inspection Report

If possible, we always recommend taking the vehicle of choice to a trusted mechanic. Most car dealerships run used cars through their on-site shops, but it never hurts to double-check.

However, make sure you’re truly interested in the car as you probably won’t find many mechanics who will donate their time for free. Bringing in one car after another to your mechanic may get expensive.

9. The Test Drive

Finally, never forget the all-important test drive. This is where you get a chance to know the car on a more intimate level. It’s also one of the most important things to look at when buying a used car.

During the ride, pay special attention to how smooth the drive is. Listen for any odd sounds and play around with the driver controls (safely, of course). Test out the cruise control and any driver features, such as parking assist, lane control, etc.

Good Luck

Now that you know a thing or two about all the things to look at when buying a used car, it’s time to get out there and start shopping around! Remember what you learned in this article and take it slow. Patience is key!

And be sure to check out the rest of our articles if you’re looking for more sage advice on life, business, health, or finances!