What to Look for When Buying Used

Maybe you’ve agonized over the pros and cons of new versus used, or maybe the decision was clear from the start. No matter how you got here, you’re ready to invest in a vehicle that’s not quite new, but new to you. So now what?

Before you fork over your hard earned cash for a used ride, here are the things you need to consider:

  1. The state of the exterior. This may seem like a no-brainer, but taking careful inventory of the vehicle’s appearance is super important. Any used car is likely to show some signs of wear and tear, but if the vehicle you’re considering has uneven body panels, this should give you pause — it could indicate the car was in an accident but not expertly repaired. Areas of oversprayed or mismatched paint could also be red flags indicating that the previous owner attempted to fix and repaint the banged up car. You might want to open and close all the doors, roll the windows up and down, and see how easily the hood and trunk open and close.
  2. The state of the interior. When it comes to the interior, it’s a good idea to sit in all the seats — not just the driver’s seat — and keep an eye out for upholstery tears. The general aroma matters too (no, you probably won’t find that coveted new car smell, but you also shouldn’t be getting a stale or musty scent, which could hint at water damage).
  3. The vehicle history. You can pretty much find out everything you’d ever want or need to know about your potential car’s past by running its vehicle identification number (VIN) through a paid service like CARFAX or AutoCheck. This is the way to find out if the car in question has ever been in an accident, has any liens on it, or if there are or have been any recalls on the model. This is also the way to find out if your vehicle has a salvage title.
  4. What’s happening under the hood. When the car is turned off, take a look at the engine and keep an eye out for fluid leaks, damaged hoses or belts, and corroded batteries.
  5. Hire a pro. Even the most seasoned car experts could use some expert guidance and approval before investing in a vehicle. Some issues are super obvious on sight, and others take a trained eye to uncover. Rather than take a risk, hire a mechanic to do a thorough inspection and confirm that all is well under the hood. The upside to any fixable issues the inspection report reveals: bargaining leverage that could score you a better deal.

And remember: now that you have the car of your dreams (or at least the one that will get you from point A to point B), you’ll need a car insurance plan that fits your lifestyle. The pay-per-mile insurance experts at Metromile can get you set up quickly with a free quote.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.