What to Check for When Buying a Used Car: A Comprehensive Guide

Buying a used car can be an excellent way to save money while still getting a reliable vehicle. However, it’s essential to thoroughly inspect and test drive the car before making a purchase. In this comprehensive guide, we will outline the key steps and considerations to keep in mind when buying a used car. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you make an informed decision and find a car that meets your needs and expectations.

1. Conduct a Vehicle History Check

Before diving into the physical inspection, it’s crucial to gather as much information as possible about the car’s history. Start by obtaining the vehicle identification number (VIN) from the seller and running it through a reputable paid service like CARFAX. This report will provide you with valuable insights into the car’s accident history, any outstanding liens, and any recalls on the model. By reviewing the vehicle history, you can identify any red flags and make an informed decision about proceeding with the purchase.

2. Examine the Exterior Condition

Once you have gathered information about the vehicle’s history, it’s time to conduct a thorough inspection of the exterior. Start by taking a walk around the car and carefully examining the body for any signs of rust, scratches, or dents. While small areas of wear are common, extensive damage could be an indication of how the car was treated. Pay close attention to the gaps between body panels and bumpers – uneven gaps may suggest previous accident damage.

3. Check for Frame Issues

In addition to examining the exterior, it’s essential to inspect the car’s frame for any potential issues. Make sure the car is sitting level on the ground, and check for any signs of damage or new bolts that could indicate recent repairs. Inspect the bumpers and look inside the trunk and hood for any signs of warping or misalignment. Any irregularities in the frame could be a cause for concern and may require further inspection by a mechanic.

4. Assess the Engine and Under the Hood

The engine is the heart of any vehicle, so it’s crucial to examine it carefully. Start by opening the hood and visually inspecting the engine for any signs of fluid leaks, corrosion, or cracked hoses and belts. Check the oil and transmission dipsticks to ensure the fluids are at the appropriate levels and are clean. Discoloration or a burnt odor could indicate potential issues with the engine or transmission. If possible, start the car and listen for any unusual noises or vibrations.

5. Evaluate the Tire Condition

The condition of the tires can provide valuable insights into the overall maintenance and care of the vehicle. Check the tire tread to ensure it is worn evenly across all four tires. Mismatched tire brands or uneven wear may indicate alignment or suspension problems. Additionally, examine the sidewalls for any cracks, bulges, or scuffing. Uneven tire wear and tire-related issues can be costly to address, so it’s essential to carefully evaluate the condition of the tires.

6. Consider the Mileage

The mileage of a used car can give you an idea of how much wear and tear it has undergone. On average, a car will accumulate around 20,000 kilometers per year. Divide the number on the odometer by the vehicle’s age to determine if the mileage is high or low. While high mileage isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s essential to consider the potential maintenance and repair costs associated with a vehicle that has been driven extensively.

7. Inspect the Interior Electronics

Make sure to test all the electronic components inside the car to ensure they are in proper working order. Turn on the stereo, air conditioning, and heat, and check that all buttons and switches function correctly. Pay attention to any warning lights on the dashboard and make sure they illuminate and turn off as expected. By thoroughly evaluating the interior electronics, you can avoid any surprises or costly repairs down the line.

8. Assess the Upholstery

Carefully inspect the seats and interior fabric for any signs of damage, such as tears, stains, or cracked leather. Upholstery repairs can be expensive, so it’s essential to consider the condition of the interior before making a purchase. Sit in each seat to evaluate their comfort and ensure that all seat adjustments work correctly. If you have young children or plan to use child or booster seats, make sure they fit properly in the car.

9. Take the Car for a Test Drive

The test drive is one of the most critical steps in the car-buying process. Plan a route that allows you to test the car’s maneuverability, acceleration, braking, and suspension. Pay attention to how the car handles at different speeds and on various road surfaces. Test the car’s visibility, especially when changing lanes or parking. Listen for any unusual noises or vibrations, and evaluate the overall comfort of the ride. If possible, take the car on the highway to assess its performance at higher speeds.

10. Consider a Mechanic Inspection

If you believe you’ve found the perfect used car, it’s a good idea to have it inspected by a trusted mechanic. A professional inspection can help identify any underlying issues or potential problems that may not be visible during a regular inspection. While it may require an additional cost, a mechanic inspection can provide you with peace of mind and save you from purchasing a car with hidden problems.

Helpful Resources and Advice on Buying a Car

In addition to following the steps outlined above, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about the car-buying process. Research reputable sources, read reviews, and seek advice from automotive experts to ensure you make an informed decision. Below are some additional resources to help you navigate the used car buying process:

  • Online automotive forums and communities: These platforms provide a wealth of information and insights from experienced car buyers and enthusiasts.
  • Consumer Reports: This publication offers comprehensive car reviews, ratings, and reliability information to help you make an informed decision.
  • Dealership websites: Many dealerships provide detailed information about their used cars, including specifications, pricing, and vehicle history reports.
  • Brantford Chrysler: Visit our website or contact our knowledgeable staff for assistance in finding the perfect used car for your needs in Brantford, Ontario.


Purchasing a used car requires careful consideration and thorough inspection. By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can ensure that you make an informed decision and find a reliable vehicle that meets your needs. Remember to conduct a vehicle history check, inspect the exterior and interior, assess the engine and under the hood, evaluate the tires and mileage, and take the car for a test drive. Additionally, consider a mechanic inspection for added peace of mind. With these guidelines and helpful resources, you can confidently navigate the used car buying process and find the perfect vehicle for your needs.