Buying a car, even a used one is a joyous but still troublesome event. It is necessary to keep “your eyes open” as the seller can easily realize that you are a beginner and hide some disadvantages. It is always better to come with someone who has a good understanding of cars. Anyways, understanding some basic things is always a big plus. The goal of this essay is not to make you a Pro, but give the necessary understanding of the most important points.
To begin with.
“Testing” should begin over the phone. Here is a sample list of general questions that the person can ask the seller:

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Is he the first owner of the car? In this case, he should have all the necessary documents.
What year was the car manufactured? Also, find out how it was exploited. Did the owner simply used it to go to the countryside or was he a “taxi driver” year-round? There is a number of ways to determine the real age of the car. For example, you can see the marking of glasses and find the year of their release. They should not greatly differ from the year of manufacture of the car. But, again, nature and operating conditions are much more important.

Where was the car parked and where was it hosted in winter? Was it in the parking lot under the open sky or in a warm garage. It is very important not only from the point of view of safety of the body. For example, the degree of wear from a single engine start in the cold equates to a few hundred kilometers’ ride in summer.

What is the mileage of the car? During the inspection, it is necessary to check the odometer. If the number is confusing, it may be fake. If we already know how intensively the car was used, we can estimate the real mileage by multiplying the average annual mileage (typically from 15 to 30 thousand kilometers) on age. Ask why is he selling this car. The reason may be some serious trouble.

What is the condition of the car? People never underestimate the price of a car (Petrány, 2013). Ask about all the repairs through the car and replaced parts. This may hint at a discreet (or deliberately suppressed) problem.

Was the car in an accident? An accident can make substantial changes in the work of those parts which have not been directly impacted and have not been repaired. If for example, the spars suffered (the internal supporting element of the body), it can significantly reduce the overall strength of the structure, and, consequently, safety. In any case, the person who does not just want to get rid of old junk will tell you a lot. You can feel his attitude to the car so pay attention to it.

First impression
If the car is not “dead” and you like it in general, make an external inspection. Here is what you should pay attention to in the first place. Inspect the body for corrosion and rot. The most common places — the sills, wheel arches, trunk (under the mat). A little rust is normal, but if there is a lot of it – the purchase should be avoided. Check the paint layer. If the body was entirely repainted, it is possible that the painting was made for the purpose of concealing serious defects. If you notice any swelling or waviness, and the owner claims that the car has never been in an accident – it is a clear sign that he is hiding something (Art of Manliness, 2010).

Look under the car
See if there are small puddles and drips of anything on the pavement. It can be oil or antifreeze, brake fluid (green or red), gasoline, or water (water may just be condensate from the air conditioner). Generally speaking, for a used car, a slight drop of oil from the engine is not something extraordinary. But if there is a leak (or many of them), and you cannot assess the degree of seriousness, it is better to postpone the purchase (Dessy, 2014). Pay attention to the wheels. They should be straight, without bias, otherwise, the alignment is not adjusted. The wear on the tire tread should be identical.

Look under the hood
You can tell a lot about both the car and its owner by looking at the engine. The inspection should be carried out twice: before the test drive and after it. The engine should be clean, there should not be and leaked oil. If it “shines”, it is likely that it has been washed before selling. Look at the inner wall of the hood. If it is covered with black patina, the oil leak is very likely. Check out all of the transfer belts on the pulleys for wear. They are made of reinforced rubber and are trapezoidal (or oval) in cross section. A worn belt is usually white and there are visible strands of rebar (Howard, 2016).

Start the engine
Leave the hood open and turn the key to turn on the car (do not start). This should light up the bulbs of the battery and oil pressure. It is bad if this does not happen. Start the engine. If the bulb does not turn on, you have a reason to ask the owner a number of direct questions. Check how quickly he starts up the engine. Press the accelerator and listen if there are any knocks and drops.

Check the oil level and brake fluid
Those who forget to check the oil level (and top up, if necessary) significantly shorten the life of the motor as it overheats and wears out faster. After the engine is warmed up, shut it down. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it with a cloth and put it back. Then, remove again and see what part is covered with oil. Usually, the dipstick has is a corresponding label that indicates a required level (MacArthur, 2001). In addition to quantitative assessment, you should assess the oil quality. If the oil is dark – it is fine. Oil change is among the basic and necessary operations, and if the owner is too lazy to do it regularly, then the motor is most likely worn out.
Do not forget to check the brake fluid level. This can be done by unscrewing the cap of the container.

Check the shock absorbers and lights
In order to check the status of the shock absorber, you need to shake down each of the corners of the machine. If it makes more than one vibrational motion, the shock absorbers require replacement (Petrány, 2013). Try all the lights of the car — headlights, turn signals, brake lights and reversing signals. Also, check the lighting in the cabin.

To conclude, it is better to check the car in daylight. All the defects in the coating and tints are more visible. The wax coating, especially under artificial light (e.g. in the garage), will not only hide scratches but more serious defects. As for the price, start offering 30-40% lower. A good basis for bargaining can be discovered by revealing the disadvantages. Pre-talk with the mechanic and check how much would be the repair. This information will help you to negotiate with the seller.

  • Art of Manliness, L. (2010). How to Buy a Used a Car | The Art of Manliness. The Art of Manliness. Retrieved 23 March 2017, from
  • Dessy, ‎. (2014). How to buy a used car without getting ripped off (1st ed.). San Diego: Sourcebooks.
  • Howard, C. (2016). How to buy a used car. Retrieved 23 March 2017, from
  • MacArthur, L. (2001). How to buy an excellent used car (1st ed.). 1st Books Library.
  • Petrány, M. (2013). Ten Steps For Buying A Used Car Without Getting Screwed. Retrieved 23 March 2017, from