Buying a new car is always an exciting time. It’s more than getting a new set of wheels; it’s an opportunity to introduce a welcome change to your life, whether from the standpoint of safety, reliability, or style (or, ideally, all three). However, exciting as it may be, purchasing a pre-used vehicle always carries a certain amount of risks. 

Maybe the vehicle you’re purchasing was in a flood, but some essential things to look for when buying a used car simply avoided your attention, and you’re now stuck with a clunker that only a junkyard would take off of your hands.

Perhaps you fell for the bait-and-switch tactics of an unscrupulous dealer who sweet-talked you into purchasing a suspicious-looking vehicle, only to take it home and find out it’s a far cry from everything you were looking to buy.

Unfortunately, these and similar scenarios aren’t just hypothetical. They’re quite common in today’s world and carry great potential to cause financial and emotional anguish. Fortunately, though, they’re also easy to avoid, if you know what to check for when buying a used car. 

This guide will teach you how to discern a reputable dealer who sells reliable vehicles from their shady, unreliable counterparts, effectively empowering you to reach a decision that will benefit you for years to come.

What to look for when buying a new car?

What are possible red flags or signs of a scam when buying a car?

Now, this may sound a bit counterintuitive, but the absolute first among things to look for when buying a used car isn’t the car itself. Rather, your priority #1 should be to research and identify reputable used car sellers or dealerships. While this process can be tedious and requires you to sacrifice your free time, the end result is more than worth it.

What to check when buying a used car: Dealer edition

Dealing with a reliable professional not only gives you peace of mind from economic and legal perspectives, it also ensures you end up with a vehicle that will faithfully serve you for years to come. That being said, here are potential red flags that indicate a person you’re working with is anything but reliable.

Unprofessional communication

Reputable dealers will be forthcoming, ready to answer your questions concisely, and generally do everything they can to help you make an informed decision. Therefore, the first sign something is “off” with a seller is reflected in the manner in which they communicate with you. Pay attention to the following:

  • Vague, inconsistent, or contradictory with their answers and explanations;
  • Rude or uninterested when communicating verbally (in-person or via phone);
  • Convoluted correspondence, often riddled with grammatical errors (if you’re using chat apps or e-mails).

Pressure-sales tactic

Not only will a reliable dealer help you make an informed decision, they will insist you take the time to weigh it. On the other hand, scammy sellers will often try to pressure you into acting hastily, either by insisting on a quick decision or by making their offer absurdly time-sensitive.

Refusal of inspection

The process of buying a used car typically involves a comprehensive inspection and a sufficient-length test drive. If a dealer is limiting the extent or outright refuses to allow either, it should be an immediate reason for concern. 

Altered/Incomplete paperwork

Three things to check when buying a used car, every time and without fail: vehicle title, history, and maintenance records. If any of these documents contain discrepancies, show signs of meddling, or are otherwise incomplete, it can indicate that something is wrong with the vehicle. In the same manner, if a seller tries to talk you out of checking these papers or refuses to provide them for inspection, then that’s a clear sign something is wrong with them.

Limited payment methods

Legitimate dealers will typically use payment methods that leave a paper trail, such as credit or debit cards. Shady ones, however, will often insist on cash or wire transfers. In other words, anything that doesn’t leave a trace, which is an obvious reason to exercise caution.

Too good to be true price

That adage “If something is too good to be true, it probably is” is perfectly applicable here. Scammers often try to “lure their prey” by posting offers that are significantly below the realistic market value. To circumvent this, always do your price research beforehand.

What to look for when buying a new car?

Now that you have advanced knowledge of recognizing shady dealers, it’s time to get to the good part: learning to recognize shady deals. Unlike recognizing red flags in a person, which is more of a psychological skill, recognizing issues with a vehicle is an exact science.

How to check a used car before buying?

When purchasing a used car, you want it to be safe and reliable, above all else. Fortunately, some relatively easy-to-spot indicators testify otherwise. If you’re hiring a good mechanic to conduct the inspection, they are more than likely to catch some of the issues mentioned below at a glance. 

Excessive/inconsistent mileage

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the average mileage for a vehicle falls within the 12,000mi to 13,500mi per year range. With this in mind, one of the first things to check when buying a used car is the service records, as it will allow you to determine the following:

  • If the mileage drastically exceeds the aforementioned numbers, it may indicate that the vehicle has been subject to extensive use, which can mean you’re in for potentially frequent repairs and diminished reliability;
  • If the mileage is significantly below the threshold, and not corresponding with the vehicle’s overall condition or service records, it may be a sign that the odometer has been tampered with.

Rust or paint issues

At a glance, this may seem like a purely cosmetic issue. However, rust can spread quickly and jeopardize the structural integrity of the vehicle, while mismatched paint may indicate a botched repair job (typically after an accident). Therefore, be sure to pay a bit more attention to the rust-prone areas and conduct thorough visual inspections of the paint job.

Strange noises

If you hear any “funny” noises during your test drive (e.g. clunking, squeaking, grinding) or while the car is idling, it may be a sign of potential future problems with some of the critical parts. If you (or your mechanic) can determine where the noises are coming from, it is wise to double-check the area, as it can save you the headache of costly repairs.

Fluid leaks

Minor leaks may be major problems in the making. Therefore, always be sure to check the ground under the car for any signs of oil, coolant, transmission, or brake fluid leaks, as even something minuscule as a worn-out gasket can escalate into a critical issue.

Uneven tire wear

While tires are easy to replace, uneven wear can mean that the vehicle’s alignment or suspension is off, which is both difficult and expensive to fix. As such, things to look for when buying a used car should include a thorough inspection of all four wheels for signs of wear and tear.

Non-functioning features

Now, this issue may not be as critical as others on this list, but it can help you determine how well the car’s been cared for. If only a few of the features aren’t working (for instance, power windows), it’s not a big reason for concern. However, if several or the majority of them are malfunctioning (lights, turn signals, A/C, and windows), then that’s a sign that the car has been neglected, probably for a prolonged period.

There’s no things to check when buying a used car with B.Y.O.T. – they just work!

How to check a used car before buying?

We don’t try to pull wool over your eyes, we’re here to help you find the perfect used car for you. It doesn’t matter where in Waco or any of the nearby areas you are, our dealership is a pleasant drive away. We grant you access to a range of inspected, ready-to-ride vehicles with our experts at your side, ready to help you choose the right car for you. There’s no muss and absolutely no fuss with our light paperwork and seamless process. Come and see for yourself!