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What to Look for When Buying Used Vehicles

When it comes time to purchase a vehicle, you have several decisions to make. You not only have to select the vehicle’s make and model, but you also have to decide if you're going to buy a new or used car. This alone is a crucial decision and could make a significant difference over the next few years in your finances.

Let’s review the pros and cons of buying a used vehicle, and what to look for when you’re in the market for one.

Pros of Buying a Used Vehicle

Some advantages of purchasing a used vehicle include:

  • You’ll pay a lower price tag on a used car compared to its new same make and model counterpart.
  • You’ll find used cars often depreciate their value at a lower rate than new vehicles.
  • You’ll typically pay lower auto insurance premiums than new vehicles.
  • You’ll pay a loan off sooner for a used car than a new vehicle since it will cost less, and the loan term will typically be shorter.

Cons of Buying a Used Vehicle

Some drawbacks of buying a used vehicle include:

  • You might have to worry about the vehicle's condition since it's used, unlike with a new car that’s brand new. This can make the reliability of a used vehicle questionable.
  • You might not get all the extras with a used vehicle like you would with new cars, such as new safety features.
  • You may wind up with a lemon (the exterior of the vehicle looks fine, but there are hidden problems). This can accrue repair bills fast, particularly if the car isn’t manufacturer certified.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Vehicle

Even though buying a used vehicle seems to be the sensible option, you still have to make smart choices. There are several things to look for when purchasing a used car. You’ll want to:

1. Review the Vehicle History Report
Before buying a used vehicle, look at the vehicle's history report to see if it's been in any accidents. You can do this through the LMFCU Auto Buying Center which provides free CarFax reports. You only need the vehicle's VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), a 17-character letter and number identifier. Then, go to a vehicle history site and plug in the VIN to view a comprehensive list of the vehicle's history, including any accident reports.
If you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership, they will often provide the vehicle history report upfront at no cost to you.

2. Inspect the Vehicle's Interior and Exterior
To inspect the vehicle’s interior, sit in all the seats and check to see if the upholstery has any unusual wear and tear. If the vehicle's interior smells musty, check the floor mats and carpet for any signs of water damage or leaking.
Check the vehicle's exterior for things like:

  • Dents
  • Scratches
  • Rust

Small scratches or dings aren't typically anything to be too concerned with, but it's a cause for concern if you notice any larger damaged areas.
If you notice any mismatched parts or colors of paint on the vehicle, it's likely that part was repaired and painted over.

3. Test Drive the Vehicle
Be sure you test drive the car before you buy it. While you are test driving it, see how the car drives and how well it handles. Does it pull to one side? When the engine is idling, how does it sound? Do the gears shift smoothly? What about the brakes?

4. Check Under the Hood
You'll also want to check things like the:

  • Radiator
  • Hoses and belts
  • Fluids (transmission fluid, oil, power steering, and brake fluid, etc.)

5. Check the Tires
Tires can tell you a lot about a vehicle. If the odometer of a used car reads less than 20,000 miles, let's say, it should typically still have its original tires. If a used vehicle with low mileage has new tires, this might be a sign the odometer has been tampered with or rolled back.

6. Have it Inspected by an Independent, Trustworthy Vehicle Repair Shop
One last thing you'll want to do before buying a used vehicle is to have a trusted repair shop scrutinize it first. Have them go through the car inside and out and note any issues or potential issues and the estimated cost to repair them. This should be put in writing.
You might be able to negotiate a better deal with the seller or have them fix the issues before you buy the vehicle. If the seller seems hesitant to allow you to have the car inspected, it's probably a good idea to walk away.

We’re Here to Help!

Buying a vehicle is a big financial decision. Take your time, weigh the pros and cons, and do your due diligence when considering a used car.

When you’re ready to purchase your new “used” car, we’ll be happy to help you with financing.  Stop by the office or contact Bart Burton at 410-687-5240 x515 to get pre-approved.

Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.