What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Purchasing a new vehicle is exciting, but the moment you drive that shiny new car off the lot, it loses value. In fact, during the first year of ownership, a new car can lose as much as 20% of its initial value. The biggest advantage of buying a new car is knowing its history, and not having to worry about how well it was treated by previous owners

Buying a used vehicle is a good option for those looking to get into a newer car without spending (and losing) money on something brand new. Used cars carry more risk, but with proper diligence, you can easily find a well-maintained vehicle that will run well for years to come. Keep reading to learn what you should look for when buying a used car!

What to Look For

Knowing where to look, what to look for, and what questions to ask will give you a big advantage when shopping for a used vehicle. Whether you are shopping at a used car dealership or looking at a private sale, be sure to check all these areas before negotiating a price.


Examining the exterior of the car is a good way to tell how well it’s been taken care of and more importantly if it’s been in an accident.


Take a look around the outside of the car. Check the body panels for scratches, dents, paint chips, or other blemishes. Depending on the age and mileage of the car, you can expect some imperfections in the paint, but anything major should be noted. Any mismatched coloring or poorly fitting body panels may be indicative that the car has been in an accident.

Keep an eye out for rust, especially on older vehicles. Make sure to check in the wheel wells, the door sills, and the underside of the car.

red hyundai in winter


Get down on your hands and knees and take a peek under the vehicle. If you notice any fluids dripping and forming puddles on the ground, it’s a good sign that repairs are needed. The one exception to this would be condensation from the A/C, which would only be noticeable in warm weather after the car has been driving with the air conditioning on.


Tires need to be replaced periodically, but if you are buying a used car, check how much life they have left. If the tires are worn out, you can use it as a bargaining chip to negotiate a lower price.

close up of tire tread


You’ll be spending a lot of time inside your new car, so take a moment to make sure the inside is in good condition and everything works as it should


Make sure all the windows move up and down easily. Anything from a wiring issue to a failed window regulator can cause problems. Most modern vehicles have power windows, but if the car you are looking at has cranks, make sure they work properly.


Turn on the radio and turn the volume up. Make sure all controls for the radio are functioning, including seek and volume buttons on the steering wheel



From power-adjustable and heated seats to Bluetooth connection, sunroofs, and infotainment systems, modern cars are packed with technology and accessories. Make sure to check these systems and make sure they are working.

Test Drive

While you can ascertain a good amount of information about a car by inspecting the exterior and interior, there are some things you can only check by driving it. Any reputable seller will let you take the car for a test drive.


Driving the car lets you get an idea of how well it works mechanically. When you first start the car, listen to the engine. It should operate smoothly and quietly, free of any rattling or obvious loud noises. When you get the car out on the road, accelerate hard up to the speed limit. The amount of power will vary significantly from car to car, but you should be able to tell if it feels exceptionally sluggish.


In addition to the engine, driving allows you to check how the transmission is functioning. Automatic transmissions should shift smoothly and be free of clunking, slipping, or delayed shifting. Manual transmission vehicles should shift easily between gears, and the clutch should engage consistently without slipping.

Check the condition of a clutch by finding a hill and putting the car in a high gear at a low speed. As you go up the hill, the engine RPMs should drop and eventually stall the engine. If the RPMs climb but the speed of the vehicle does not increase, the clutch is slipping and will need to be replaced.


The brakes should feel firm. A spongy pedal or squealing noise can indicate brake problems. If it seems like it takes a long time to slow down, the car probably needs brake service.

brake rotor and caliper


When driving on a straight road, let go of the steering wheel briefly to see if the car pulls left or right. This will indicate whether or not the vehicle is aligned properly. When going over bumps and turning, listen for clicks, pops, or any other sound that seems out of the ordinary. Suspension and steering problems are generally pretty easy to notice after driving a few miles.

Consider a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Unless you are an experienced do-it-yourself car enthusiast or a technician, it’s unlikely you will be able to check everything on a car you are looking to buy. Pre-purchase inspections let you get a second opinion from a trusted technician so you can know for certain that the vehicle you are looking at is a good choice.

Most dealerships are willing to let you get a PPI, but it may be a little more difficult to arrange a private sale. Particularly if the owner is still driving the car every day.


Buying a used car is a smart choice. Taking the time to make sure the car you are buying is in good condition is even smarter. If you need a pre-purchase inspection, stop in at Becker Service Center. Give us a call or schedule an appointment online today!