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What to Check When Shopping for a Used Car

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You probably wouldn’t buy a decent pair of shoes before trying them on first, so apply that same careful inspection you’d give footwear to your next used car. Try a few tips from the experts on what to check out in a used car before you drive it off the lot.

Take a Good Look at the Vehicle

While you may not be able to get up close and personal in all car auctions, most estate sales or auctions do allow for car inspection. Start by checking out the exterior of the vehicle. Does the paint look even across the entire car? Variances often indicate repairs. Look underneath the vehicle for rusted or worn suspension parts, and ask questions if someone is available. If it’s an older cars, look for rusted flooring.

Although cars sold at auctions or estate sales are normally detailed before sale, check for any noticeable drips—you should still be able to see an indication of leaks if there’s an issue.

Now look at the engine. Pull out the engine oil and transmission dipsticks. Most owners will have the engine oil changed before a sale, but the transmission fluid is not changed as frequently. Remember, you are not looking at the condition of the fluid as much as you are feeling the condition. Run your fingers on the end of the dipstick and then rub them together. The fluid should not feel gritty. If it is, it is a sign of metal particulates that can indicate damage.

Do Some Research

Check used cars on Kelley Blue Book, which will provide you with more than just the car’s base value. The site also provides users with access to prices based on the condition, mileage and other variables. Keep in mind, the price you find from your research is a guide, and pricing is adjustable by dealer or private sale. It’s also a good idea to check user reviews on the exact make and model, to learn about any quirks with that year’s vehicle.

If you have a particular vehicle in mind, and can check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), do so before you make your purchase or begin bidding. A vehicle history report can tell you many things about the particular vehicle including accident history and recalls issued. You can use a paid service provider like KBB or CARFAX. If you have the time, you may be able to obtain this information at no charge. Your local DMV/BMV may offer this service. Another option is using the National Insurance Crime Bureau website.

Where to Pay Extra Attention

Do look for signs of water damage. Cars that have been involved in floods are occasionally sold at auction. Check the odometer. Older cars used mechanical odometers, and if the numbers do not line up, that’s a surefire sign of tampering. Make sure there is a visible VIN on the car. In most cases, the main VIN should match other components. However, if the engine or a door was replaced, a different VIN may appear.

Your best results will come from being able to talk to the owner. If you can, ask about the vehicles service records. Find out how many individuals have owned the vehicle. By general rule of thumb, the fewer the past owners, the better the vehicle has been maintained.

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