The money-saving checklist used car buyers need

July 28, 2015

Buying a new car can be a tricky process, with plenty of pitfalls if you don't know what to look for. Here's some suggestions to help you drive away satisfied.

The money-saving checklist used car buyers need

Check out prices

Look at used car websites online. By researching the car you want, you can figure out the high, low and median asking prices.

Go for a test drive

Take the car for a drive, including hilly terrain, stop-start city driving and driving at different speeds. Listen carefully to the engine and use any problems to help you make a decision — or get it checked out by a third party mechanic, then negotiate a discount.

Check out the service record

  • Look at the odometer; if the digits are misaligned, the mileage may have been tampered with.
  • A vehicle history report can be extremely insightful. These reports will the car you're looking at has a Vehicle Identification Number that's been registered in multiple jurisdictions. If this is the case, it raises questions about its true identity and whether the situation warrants further investigation.
  • The report also tells you if the car is currently listed by the police as stolen and advising you of other significant problems.

Examine the interior

Badly worn items such as seats and pedals can suggest high mileage more accurately than an odometer reading, especially if there's no service history.

Look for signs of damage

  • Damp patches on the carpet could suggest a leak.
  • Check carefully for any rust around the lights and bumpers, in the wheel wells, at the bottom of fenders, under doors and under trunk carpeting.
  • Small blisters are a sign of rust to come.
  • Doors or windows that don't close properly may mean the car has been in an accident.

Inspect the paint

You'll know if there's been any recent body work if you find over-spray on chrome or mismatching colour. Don't consider buying a dirty car. Find out what's hiding underneath.

Tire kicking

  • Anything under three millimetres (1/8 inch) of tread will need replacing.
  • Uneven wear on the front tires may indicate bad alignment or front suspension damage.
  • Don't forget to check the existence and condition of the spare tire and jack.

Fluid facts

  • If the oil has bubbles in it, then water may be getting into the system, leading to major mechanical problems.
  • Radiator fluid should not look rusty.
  • Transmission fluid should not smell rancid or be dark in colour.


Dealers may offer a limited warranty — for example, 30 days on a used car. Check the terms carefully — most exclude "wear and tear," and some limit the number of claims.

Dealing with the transaction

If making a private purchase, don't be tempted to hand over large bundles of cash. The best way to pay is by a bank draft or certified cheque. If you pay in cash, make sure you get a signed receipt.

Buying a used car requires a bit of knowhow, but if you follow this checklist, your next used car could be a much better drive, with fewer surprises down the road.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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