Driver's Guide

12 Things to Check Before Buying a Car

Howdy, Driver? It’s important to know the basic things to check before buying a car, whether used or brand new. I am confident you are here to learn about the basic things to look out for before you buy a car

Things to ask and check when buying a used car

This article highlights what you should know before getting the car you most cherish.

It further identifies the various things to consider in order not to waste money on a lackluster vehicle. With these tips, you should talk down a car salesman.

Briefly, let’s delve into the basics of getting a good car either as a first-timer or an old-timer. And, this article promises to be a brilliant guide indicating the relevant things to check when buying a new car.

Things to Check Before Buying a Car Privately

In this section, you will learn about the things to look for before paying for a car.

Below are the things to check before buying a car:

1. Check and Ascertain Your Financial Status

First-timers often make a financial mistake that costs their happiness a few weeks after buying a car. This may not be the case for old-time buyers who already have much-needed experiences but it’s still important to learn.

What to look for when buying a used car from a dealership

Why do you have to check and ascertain your financial status before budgeting for a car? Consider the following:

  • Budgeting is one of the critical things to check before buying a car.
  • Many who discard the relevance of budgeting end up reselling their cars.
  • It becomes easier to determine how capable and worthy you are to own a car.
  • You would easily respond to the difficulties accompanying car ownership.

Note: The reasons are not limited to the above, however, they’re what you should know before buying a car – budget-wise.

What You Do Not Know About Owning a Car

Below are what you should know before buying a car:

  • Your expenses will rise by at least 20%.
  • It’ll eventually depreciate.
  • Renewals, repairs, and replacements become part of your weekly plans.
  • You’ll relish in higher societal regard.
  • Convenient transportation.
  • Subjection to the road safety rules of your country.

Do you think you’re ready to welcome the impacts highlighted above? Then, let’s proceed, shall we?

2. Research the Vehicle

Learning about a particular car from friends should be the starting point. Their comments may be based on experiences but you require extensive reviews.

Below are the ways to further your knowledge about the desired car:

  • Reading Reviews Online
  • Joining the vehicle manufacturer’s forum or community.
  • Comparing with similar cars using review websites.
  • Contacting car review websites for assistance (free or premium advice).

While researching a preferred car, concentrate on its flaws. Earnestly, that’s the basic aspect of the things to consider in a used car you want to buy.

How about the pricing and comparison? Pricing and pricing comparison greatly count as to what to check when buying a new car privately. Although you may not figure out the actual cost of the vehicle, you’d certainly make a near-perfect pricing conclusion.

3. Find Out About the Seller

Finding a couple of things about a dealer is one of the things to check before buying a car. Some dealers have bad histories and it’s not recommended to transact with such dealers. An ideal car dealer must:

  • Have an online and reputable presence.
  • Be certified by the government.
  • Let you access the warrantee period to the fullest.
  • If the car in question is used, such a dealer would allow a proper VIN check on the vehicle.

Meanwhile, it’s okay to trust, especially when you very much know the referrer. Nevertheless, it isn’t okay to overly trust a dealer. Why? The pricing. Every dealer should profit but extreme profit isn’t ideal. So, the dealer and his/her integrity is part of the things to consider before buying a car.

4. Request the Vehicle History Report

This will be vital if you’re buying a used car. In truth, VIN, a unique 17 letter and number, (Vehicle Identification Number) shouldn’t be offered on demand but as a component. A dealer should willingly make provision for such.

Note: You should be careful not to buy a VIN-switched or a cloned car.

You can find the VIN of a vehicle either on the dashboard, driver’s side door, insurance card, etc. There is no specific area of the car where the VIN is imprinted, just look around.

Some dealers already have a directory or a printout of the vehicle details as linked with the VIN. Although theirs may be accurate, it’s recommended to re-analyze the code/number using either a paid or free VIN tracking platforms. 2 such platforms include:

The information that the VIN will provide include but not limited to the following:

Vehicle Title Information

If you should ignore the things to check before buying a car, don’t ignore the title information check. Be careful not to be given a fake title and do not buy the vehicle if it is an open title. Note that a scrupulous seller can wash the title of a car before selling the car to you. Inspect the vehicle closely to detect damages that could be a sign that the car was rebuilt from salvage.

Mileage from Odometer

The odometer mileage reading can be falsified. Crooks often rollback the reading by using rollback tools or getting rid of the circuit board. A measure to ascertain the trueness of the odometer mileage reading is to thoroughly inspect the vehicle in and out.

For a better job, you should consider letting a professional handle the inspection. Finally, compare the assessment with what the odometer reads.

Ownership Status

It is important to check the origin before buying a car. Some vehicles out there may have been involved in thefts. If such a car is traced to you, it may be difficult to pronounce yourself innocent.

Repair Records

Check the repairs record to ascertain what the vehicle was before getting to the dealer. Confirm the repair record by requesting the repair receipt of the car. The vehicle may have been involved in a ghastly accident rendering it nearly useless. It’s hazardous and not advisable to drive in such vehicles for the sake of your safety.

5. Vehicle Recall Record

More of what to check when buying a new car is the recall record. This information may already have been provided in the vehicle history but it’s preferable to recheck via the manufacturer’s portal.

Several vehicle companies have made it a norm to recall cars in this century. Recalled cars are often cars with flaws impending crash. Some of the reasons why cars are recalled include but are not limited to the following:

  • ECU error.
  • Damaged airbags.
  • Bad transmission, etc.

Mind you, even the best of companies like Toyota recall cars almost yearly. Depending on the brand of the vehicle, you may have to confirm from the website to ascertain whether the has been recalled.

6. Inspect the Interiors

First, open all the doors of the vehicle and be attentive to the smell the interior produces. If the smell is bad, the car may have been parked/dumped somewhere for a long while without proper maintenance.

things to check when buying a car

The best way to confirm the functionality of each interior part is to examine

Interior things to check before buying a car include the following:

  • The pedals – brake and accelerator.
  • Airbags
  • Dashboard and dashboard components (odometer, vehicle panel, speedometer, etc.)
  • Handbrake
  • Horn
  • The stowage
  • Stick shift
  • Steering wheel
  • Safety belt
  • The driver and passenger seat

Check underneath the carpets and look under the passenger and driver seats. Do not keep mute over damaged areas unless the conditions were earlier explained.

Finally, rev the engine, exit the car, and close the doors.

7. Check Out the Exterior

It’s easier to inspect the external parts of a car. Simply, make a 360 walk around the car and have your eyes on the parts. Inspect the taillights, gas cap, the roof, the entire bodywork, and try to identify bodily damages.

Move to the front of the vehicle and inspect the headlight, the windscreen wipe, and subtly hit the engine hood.

Lastly, inspect the wheels and look beneath for possible damages. Compare the paint job on the body of the car with where the vehicle wheels are attached.

Move to the back of the car, open and inspect the trunk thoroughly. Make sure no wangling cables are passing all over the trunk or cargo room.

You may as well lift the rug and inspect the trunk base. Look out for the spare tire in the trunk if it’s a sedan, hatchback, etc. An SUV may have the spare tire attach to the trunk of the car.

8. Inspect the Undercarriage

One of the top things to check before buying a car is the undercarriage. Make sure the undercarriage is not too rusty. Check to confirm the condition of the chassis, shock absorber, vehicle suspension system, etc.

To better inspect the undercarriage, request that the car be parked in the mechanic service hole. Go inside the hole with a flashlight and thoroughly assess the vehicle undercarriage.

You may purchase an undercarriage plastic to further guard the undercarriage against dirt and other factors.

9. Final Vehicle Inspection from Professional(s)

If you arrived with a professional, allow them to inspect the vehicle.

If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask either the dealer or the hired professional.

10. Check Under the Hood

things to check when buying a car privately

This part of the vehicle will be a bit complicated to inspect. Nonetheless, the parts of the engine room to pay attention to include:

  • The radiator
  • Transmission
  • Windshield wipe fluid
  • Brakes
  • Alternator
  • Power steering pump
  • Water pump
  • The engine
  • Belts and hoses
  • Car battery

Find out whether the vehicle has overheating problems. If it does, don’t panic, find out the overheating fault, and fix it. Also, make sure that there is 50% water and 50% coolant mixture in the radiator.

Rev the engine and study how the engine and other components under the hood respond. Make sure there isn’t a cranky engine sound unless you’re aware of the condition. If the car is ECU-fitted, confirm whether all commands are functioning properly.

Lastly, the demand for the true condition of the vehicle car battery. If there is a complaint that it isn’t charging, find out why the battery isn’t charging.

11.  Request for Test-Drive

things to check before buying a car

If you are a first-timer, your hired professional should test-drive. If you’re frequent with driving a car, you may take over the test-drive to see how the vehicle responds.

Test-driving may last up to an hour or more depending on the functions of the vehicle you intend to explore. It shouldn’t take a whole day to figure out the true state of a vehicle during test-drive.

READ Test Drive Without Buying!

Pay attention to the following while test-driving:

The Engine

It is recommendable to begin test-driving while the car engine is cold. Check the oil level, the radiator, and confirm that the cooling fan is functional.

Ignite the engine for a while and play around with the vehicle’s functionality. Turn on the air conditioning, the radio, play around with the ECU and other components of the vehicle.

Note: An already revved up or a warm engine might conceal some of the problems in the car. It’s better to inspect while the car engine is cold.

Rev up the engine and listen for knocks.

Pedal Functions

This remains one of the basic things to check before buying a car. Try moving the car slowly forward and be attentive to the responsiveness of the accelerator and brake pedals. Come to a halt and reverse gently. If everything feels good, it’s safe to match the gas.

The suspension

Get to areas with speed bumps or you improvise. You do not necessarily have to bounce the car to ascertain the functionality of the suspension system. If the suspension is noisy, there is a problem and a question to be answered.

Furthermore, drive down to a bending point. Lower the speed and maneuver the vehicle. If you hear creaking noises, there is a problem. Finally, try to match and release the gas pedal gently for a smooth bounce. If the response isn’t smooth, it’s quite unfortunate and obvious that there is a problem.


Try accelerating the vehicle and check whether there will be any unusual noise coming from the wheel bearings. If you hear a sound but can’t tell where it’s coming from, make a right or left turn.

The Steering

Make sure the steering doesn’t vibrate while braking or accelerating. While your foot is on the gas, turn the steering clockwise and anticlockwise to the fullest. This may produce a low unusual noise but there should be no creaks on the suspension, otherwise, there is a problem.

A few more functionalities you shouldn’t forget to check are:

  • Gear responsiveness.
  • Handbrake responsiveness
  • Headlights and taillights
  • Windscreen wipe
  • Bloating tires

12.  Check the Vehicle Papers

This will largely apply if you’re buying a used car. The dealer or vendor must be able to provide all the essential documents which include the following:

Things to check when buying second hand car

  • Vehicle insurance papers
  • A complete registration papers
  • Vehicle purchase receipt
  • Certificate of ownership
  • Number plate papers
  • Vehicle title

Depending on your jurisdiction, a couple more paperwork may be necessary. Confirm the papers via the appropriate vehicle agencies in your jurisdiction. Fake papers can land you in a deep mess which is why you must confirm all papers.

What to Do After Buying a Car

  • After buying a car, if it’s a used car, make ready the change of ownership document. For a brand new vehicle, such isn’t required.
  • Crosscheck and renew expired papers.
  • You may decide to continue with the vehicle insurance policy at hand. Otherwise, cancel the policy and sign up for a new policy.
  • Build a parking lot for the vehicle.
  • Replace faulty parts including hoses, handles, gas cap, radiator cap, etc.
  • Replace worn-out tires.

Guess what? Your lovely car is ready to hit the roads. Go cruising and enjoy the atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

This article identified the basic things to inspect before you pay for a car.

You should find out the various fuel-saving tips to fully explore the abilities of the car.

If you reside in the US, be mindful not to buy already banned cars, such would be a waste.

Do not forget to drive safely and adhere to the various road rules in your jurisdiction.

Latest posts by Bernard Juchli (see all)

Bernard Juchli

Bernard Juchli is an experienced racer, mechanic and team owner who trusts Avon Tyres.Bernard is the lead driver and force behind his Big Dog Garage Race Team. He is the General Manager and Chief Mechanic of Jay Leno’s Garage. Bernard and his crew of seven are responsible for all repairs, restoration and fabrication of Jay’s incredible automobile and motorcycle collection.

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