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Top 5 Used Car Buying Secrets

Buying a used car can help you save money—unless, of course, the car proves to be in disrepair, needing a lot of TLC just to make it safe and functional. Here are five used car shopping secrets to help you steer clear of bad investments.

Used Car Shopping Secret #1

You should always conduct a rigorous physical inspection of the vehicle—looking at interiors, exteriors, and of course under the hood. In fact, here’s something you can start with: Check the engine oil using the vehicle’s dipstick. Look to see if it has sort of a creamy consistency to it—sort of like mayonnaise. If it does, then you need to walk away right now: The vehicle has major engine issues, and is a money pit waiting to happen.

Used Car Shopping Secret #2

Something else you’ll want to check is the transmission. Here’s how: Check the transmission cold. Put on the parking brake, then turn the keys in the ignition. Apply the foot brake as you shift and cycle through the various gears. If the vehicle takes more than two seconds to lock into the next gear—or if each shift is marked by a loud thump or a jostling sensation—then the transmission is on its last legs, and you probably want to walk away from that vehicle, as well.

Used Car Shopping Secret #3

Turn the steering wheel all the way to one side so that you can fully see the front tires. What you want to look at is the inside edge, closest to the car itself. Keep your eyes peeled for a thin wear line with little metal wires protruding from it. This is easy to miss, but could actually be a significant hazard. This is a tire that’s just waiting to blow out, and driving on it could really put you and your passengers in harm’s way.

Used Car Shopping Secret #4

Our fourth used car shopping secret involves dashboard lights. There are three to be mindful of; you want all three of them to come on and then go off as soon as you start the vehicle. These are the Check Engine light, the airbag light, and the ABS light. If they don’t come on, that’s a huge red flag, because it actually means that the vehicle has been tampered with. Specifically, it may mean that the airbags or the brakes don’t work properly, and you don’t want to learn that the hard way. This is another case where you’ll want to walk away from the vehicle—period.

Used Car Shopping Secret #5

A final tip: Check the vehicle for VIN stickers; most manufacturers will place around 11, one on each panel—trunk, under the hood, doors, rear wheel wells, etc. If you see some missing, mismatches, or painted over, that means the car has probably been in an accident, and you’ll want to get a full vehicle history.

For more tips on buying safely and smartly, stay tuned to the Get My Auto blog!