Follow these steps to ensure you find an amazing deal and don’t end up with a lemon. The used car market is a great place to look at when you want value for money. But compared to a brand new car, you run a higher risk of ending up with something that’s going to leave you stranded.
It’s true that car dealerships are a trusted source for reliable pre-owned cars. Any dealership or retailer worth its salt understands the value of brand loyalty. They won’t sacrifice the customer relationship for the sake of short-term profit.
They also have their reputations to consider; those 5-star Google ratings don’t designate themselves you know! Internet reviews and ratings are increasingly important in today’s online shopping landscape, so you know that it’s in the dealership’s best interests to keep you happy.
Many dealerships offer certified pre-owned vehicles for that extra stamp of assurance. But even if the gently used vehicle you have your eye on isn’t a certified pre-owned, you can still be confident that the car received professional-grade detailing, servicing, and maintenance.
Private sellers, on the other hand, aren't held to such a high standard. Many of them are just making one-off sales and don’t need to worry about customer loyalty and online reviews.
With this information in mind, it’s important to know what you’re looking at when you go to view a used car, especially when you’re working with a private seller. Follow these 9 steps to ensure you cover all your bases and find a vehicle that’s worth your hard-earned money.
📐 1. Check the year and mileage
On average, a car should put in 20,000 km per year. Any more than that is going to start putting the vehicle at above-average kilometres for its model year and should warrant a discount to its less-driven peers.
📄 2. Check the vehicle history report
Investigate the car history to see if there has been any previous damage. The seller might have the history report ready to view. If not, you can download it at CARFAX Canada.
Downloading a CARFAX report is a good idea, but it doesn’t always tell the full story. There are other ways to find out more about a car’s background...
🎨 3. Examine the paint job
A close look at the paint job can reveal hidden truths. Compare panels for colour uniformity. If the panels aren’t matching exactly, the vehicle was probably in an accident.
Check for rust. If you find rust on the bodywork of the vehicle, it may just be an aesthetic problem, but it might also indicate deeper issues that are costly to repair. Frame rust, for example, could impact the integrity of the vehicle and poses a threat to the car's longevity. If you see rust on the body of the vehicle, check under the hood and the undercarriage for further signs.
4. Inspect the tires for any wear patterns
The ’Toonie Tire Test’ is a quick way to check your tread depth with a coin. If the grip is worn down, the tires may need to be replaced soon at extra cost to you. There may also be an alignment issue if the wear on the tires do not look even.
☑️ 5. Check the ground and undercarriage
Check the ground and undercarriage for any signs of leakage while you're examining the tires. You don’t want to be forking out of your own pocket for any leak repairs.
📝 6. Perform under-the-hood checks
- 🌚Look for any general signs of rust or corrosion under the hood. These signs are a good indication of the car’s past treatment, current condition, and life expectancy.
- 😑Inspect belts for any signs of wear. If any of the belts are frayed or torn, they may need to be replaced soon. You don’t want to pay for that yourself, so make sure you factor it into your negotiation.
- Check transmission fluid. Ensure that levels are high. The fluid should be a clear reddish colour. Do a sniff test. Any burnt smell indicates that the transmission is overheating.
- 🛢Check oil levels. If the car has been running, wait at least 10 minutes for the engine to settle. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean. Push the dipstick in again and then withdraw it. If the oil is really dark or looks muddy in texture, it hasn't been changed in a while.
- 🚨Check brake fluid. You can predict how worn your brakes are based on how much fluid is left in your reservoir. Low brake fluid levels mean the brakes are in need of some repairs or restoration.
- 🥶Check antifreeze. Make sure there’s no oil contamination and that the colour is clear.
- Check the battery. Does the car battery have any frayed cables, damage, or corrosion?
🔦 7. Check lights
Ensure brake lights, turn signals, headlights, and taillights are all in working order. Then, ensure all interior lights are working too.
🔊 8. Listen out for any unusual noises during your test drive
During the test drive, any tapping or rattling sounds are a legitimate cause for concern. Also, check how the vehicle handles on different road surfaces. Practice parking, reversing, and other tricky manoeuvres to see how your style of driving gels with the car.
🧐 9. Book a professional inspection
If you’re not confident performing these checks yourself, bring a knowledgeable friend who knows what to look out for. It’s also a good idea to take it to a mechanic to get it checked out. Any problems that the mechanic identifies with the vehicle can be used as points of negotiation if you decide to make an offer. The mechanic’s fee is a small price to pay compared to buying a problem-ridden vehicle.