Tips For Buying A Used Car

Tips for buying a used carMaking the decision to purchase a vehicle is not one to take lightly. This is a major purchase and you will want to spend your money wisely on such a large investment. Every person that is looking to purchase a used vehicle needs to be prepared to evaluate and test drive the car before making the choice to finalize the actual purchase. Used cars require more in depth evaluation than a new car.

1-800-Charity Cars, a national vehicle donation/distribution charity, wants to make certain that everyone deciding to purchase a used vehicle is aware that a thorough evaluation and test drive can ensure everyone gets the best vehicle for their budget.

Here is a list of tips for buying a used car:


Take the time to do your research about the vehicle in which you are interested. Know what your budget is and what your needs are before you ever step foot on the lot. Walking onto a lot blindly, without research, can lead you down the path of making a purchase that you may not have wanted, needed, or could afford.


Many dealerships will push you to have a 5-minute look over and a quick drive around the block. However, you’ll want to take at least 30 minutes to look over the vehicle, and a long enough test drive to evaluate the vehicle appropriately.


  • Look under the vehicle for any signs of fluid leaks. Do this while the engine is off, again once you start the engine for the first time, and lastly once you return from your test drive.
  • Check those tires! Make sure the tires are in good shape, have a minimum of 1/4″ of tread, and they all match in size/brand.
  • Look over the entire body of the vehicle to check for any signs of body repair.
  • Lock and unlock all doors including the trunk inside and out, to make sure all locks are functioning properly.
  • Have someone with you or the sales associate sit in the car and operate all the lights so that you can see the brake lights, hazards, headlights, and turn signals are all working properly.
  • Open and shut all the doors and trunk. Inspect all edges, hinges, and under the carpet in the trunk for signs of rust. Make sure that all of them open/shut smoothly and correctly.
  • Check all the windows to make sure they all go up and down smoothly. Listen for any sounds when they are being put up or down to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • If you notice air fresheners or the scent of air fresheners then open all the doors and let it air out. Lower the windows during your test drive as well and by the time you are done then you should be well aware of any existing odors that were covered up and you will have to deal with later.
  • Once you start the engine, open the hood and listen closely for any sounds of ticking, hissing, knocking, whistling, or screeching.
  • Once you are sitting in the vehicle check the steering wheel to make sure it adjusts to your desired position. Check the heat, air, radio/CD player, and all other controls within the vehicle from seats, to mirrors, etc. to make sure everything functions properly. Get a good feel for the space also. Is the seat right for you? Can you reach the pedals? Is there enough room for your width and height? Check the passenger seats as well for the same things. Make sure you can get in and out of the vehicle with ease in all areas.


  • You need to make sure you take at least two test drives. One during the day and another at night. Some things such as how the headlights will work during nighttime or how the interior cabin lights appear at night cannot be adequately accessed during the daytime.
  • See how the car handles in all situations. From parking fit, climbing hills and making U-turns to check the turn radius. Also, pay attention to the alignment making sure the car does not veer to either side and make quick stops to access the brake system.
  • Make sure the steering wheel is smooth and shows no sign of vibrating at any speed.
  • You will also need to drive on the highway to see how the vehicle will perform at higher speeds. Some issues with used cars will not be discovered until you hit speeds of 60 mph. You want to ensure it has a smooth ride, cruise control works, doesn’t shake, vibrate, bounce, or shudder. Pass another vehicle, so you can access the cars ability to downshift and accelerate smoothly.


Many dealers will remove items from the used cars that are typically standard in vehicles to lower the price so they seem more competitive and make more money by offering to add them to the vehicle at your expense or use them as a bargaining chip to make you think that you are getting something additional. BE CAUTIOUS OF THIS TACTIC and always check the car to make sure they have not removed the spare tire and jack since these are the most common items they remove.


  • After you are done evaluating and test driving the vehicle, the dealership will be pressuring you to make the purchase. If you have any doubts or feel that it is not the car for you then do not let them pressure you into making a purchase. If you have other cars to look at, then let them know you will be in touch soon with a decision.
  • If you want the vehicle and ready to make that purchase, then bargain with them. Negotiate the price down, or the down payment, and always negotiate a warranty on a used vehicle. Some may not offer any warranty so ask for a 30-day warranty, or if they offer one ask them to double it. Dealers are ready to move used vehicles and when a person is ready to make that purchase they are willing to negotiate and bargain. Be sure to show interest, but with a little hesitation and they will be more likely to negotiate with you to make the sale!

Whatever your choice of vehicle, budget, or needs, just be sure to follow the list above and you may just end up with a good deal on a great used car, while saving yourself time and frustration. If you happen to have a used car that you no longer want or need, you can donate that car and help a struggling family get back on the road to independence!