The Basics of Checking a Used Car

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In this video tutorial, CARFAX explains some of the basics of checking a used car. While it may seem an easy task, there are several things which shoppers should keep in mind to help ensure they make a smart purchase decision.

Getting the timing right is an important first step when checking a used car. If it's possible, you should always view the vehicle in daylight. It is much easier to see potential flaws when there is a sufficient amount of light available. Viewing the vehicle at night, in the rain, or even inside of a parking garage with artificial light can obscure the details and impair an accurate judgement of the vehicle’s condition.

When viewing the vehicle, a good first step is to look at the car from several different angles to check for changes or differences in color. Of course, the color will sometimes appear different based on the design of the vehicle’s body lines. But if you see something that does not match, it may be a sign that there is something hiding in its history.

To help ensure you see everything, and don’t forget anything, when checking a used car, it is advisable to bring someone with you. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or – better yet – a mechanic, having an extra set of eyes can make all the difference.

When checking a used car, you will want to look over the vehicle’s documentation as well. Paperwork, such as the title, can reveal a lot of information about the vehicle. It is also a good idea to review any and all service records the owner has available. This will provide a clearer picture regarding the various events which have occurred over the lifetime of the vehicle.  An owner who provides detailed records both demonstrates a certain level of trustworthiness, as well as lets you know the car was well taken care of.

You normally don’t buy clothing before trying it on. It may look good in the shop, but once you try it on, it could be that it simply isn’t a good fit. The same rule applies to a used car. It is not recommended to ever buy a used car without test driving it first. You can learn a lot about a vehicle simply by driving it -- how it handles, does it make any strange sounds, is it comfortable, does the steering pull to one side or the other, etc.

When checking a used car, you should always inform yourself as much as possible before you buy. This means doing research on the vehicle online. Checking the CARFAX Vehicle History Report can provide you with a wealth of information about the vehicle, such as ownership history, import and export records, mileage inconsistencies, and much more. It is also a good idea to ask the seller as many questions as you may have. If the seller seems to be avoiding giving an answer, it could mean they are trying to hide something from you. Don’t let a buyer distract you from the truth.

Finally, if there is anything that feels wrong when checking a used car, don’t be afraid to walk away. Chances are there is another option out there in the used car marketplace and you don’t want to end up buying a vehicle which only causes headaches down the road. Following your gut can help save you both time and money.