8 Things to Look For When Buying a Used Car


Many people purchase a vehicle based only on price and how the car visually appears. Unfortunately, how the used vehicle is presented only represents a very consideration into whether or not the vehicle is actually a good car to purchase.

This article condenses and summarizes at a high level, the 8 things that you should look into before purchasing a used car.

1. Test Drive

Driving the vehicle gives you a wealth of information, most of which you will miss if you don’t know what to look for. While it is not always possible try to get the test drive by yourself, to remain undistracted and focused on the task at hand.


We will first focus on vibrations in the steering wheel. Take the car on the highway and accelerate to between 100-120kmph. Please focus on the speed of traffic at this time and do not accelerate to 120kmph if the flow of traffic is slow. At this speed the RPM on the wheels (if unbalanced) will send vibrations to the steering wheel. Notice and feel for the differences at 80km and 120km. Should you feel anything, this is a sign of wheel alignment and balancing issues which may cause improrper wear on the tires, making them difficult to rotate and impacting longevity.

Take an exit offramp and make sure there is no one behind you. Do not slam the brakes, but press the brake quickly and firmly to slow down quickly. Feel for pulsations in the steering wheel during this time. If you feel pulsations, its an indication of warped rotors. The greater the pulsation the less likely it is possible for repair. Additionally, improper roters causes greater wear and stability concerns on your brakes.

Excessive Wheel and Engine Noies

This is difficult to confirm if you have only seen one vehicle, but it is important to pay attention to. Listen and try to compare between vehicle test drives, the noise level of the engine and wheels. The difficulty of this test is further excerbated by the fact that different tire make/models contribute to different levels of road noise.

Transmission Concerns

While it is more evident in a manual transmission car, it is extremely important for all cars to investigate the state of the transmission. Investigating this aspect of a used car requires a lot of experience for both transmission types, looking into things like gear slipping, engagement, lurching, state of the clutch, etc.

The best advice is to drive multiple vehicles of the same make/model to compare between them. After having driven 3, you should be able to start to feel the differences. Unfortunately, outside of experience, there isn’t an easy way to diagnose transmission issues.

2. Interior condition

Interior condition matters because it greatly impacts the resale value of the vehicle and is what is most visible to you whenever you drive the car.

For instance, tears in leather and staining in cloth is notoriously difficult to repair and correct. Salt staining near the drivers seat is also very difficult to remove if it has been neglected for multiple winters in a row, especially in Canadian winters.

Odors represent a big part of the inspection process as indications of prior water damage in the carpet or sunroof area or perhaps a previous owner who is a smoker, will devalue the vehicle and should be noted when purchasing a vehicle.

It is always important to pay attention to the driver seat and surrounding areas for interior wear as that is the location where the greatest amount of wear occurs.

3. Assess Wear Items

Many people ignore the major wear items on a vehicle when purchasing a car. Depending on the price of the vehicle, the tires, brakes, major milestone repairs (such as timing belt) or windshield chips represent a huge future cost that is often initially ignored.

It is important to look into how much tread is remaining on the tires and amount of brake pad remaining for a cursury look into your upcoming costs as replacement can be a thousand dollars to start.

Maintenance schedule items are often important to consider, always look into the vehicle maintenance schedule from the manufacturer and note the kilometers on the vehicle you are purchasing to see if major maintenance schedule items are due.

4. Testing for leaks

Testing for leaks is an important step as it can be indicative of bigger problems (if the leaks were not fixed). We recommend looking at where the car was sitting for staining on the driveway or pavement of the lot. Alternatively stopping at a parking lot during your test drive to let the car run for 5-10 minutes and looking at the pavement below is possible.

Keep in mind that excess fluid from the air conditioning unit is normal and should not be confused with fluid leakage.

5. Research The Price

With the internet being the resource it is today, it is very easy to find out if the price you are paying is a fair one. Looking into classified ads for similar vehicles and their pricing is a great way to find out if you have a god deal or not. This is often the best way to negotiate on pricing.

The primary determinents of pricing of a vehicle online is kilometers, vehicle trim and vehicle year. Use these factors to compare similar vehicles that are slightly different.

6. Mechanical Inspection

Most car buyers think they know enough about cars to adequately assess a vehicle. Unfortunately the cost of finding out that they were wrong is always thousands of dollars to start. At CarCheckCanada we inspect hundreds of cars and often the sellers themselves do not know that the car was in an accident.

Speak to any individual who has worked on cars, a mechanic or garage, and they will tell you that getting an inspection is extremely important to ensure that you do not buy a car that is misrepresented.

Inspections cost around $150 dollars, and can not only save you thousands of dollars, but a huge headache of dealing with a car that needs a lot of work. At CarcheckCanada our inspcetion report also provides information on how to negotiate on the price of the vehicle based on our inspection findings, often enough to save you the cost of the inspeciton.

7. Never Leave Deposits

Many of our customers put deposits down on a vehicle they are looking to buy thinking that they can get that money back if they choose not to purchase. While some sellers may actually honor that agreement, many will tell you that deposits are non-refundable.

Do not put down a deposit unless you are ready to purchase. Too often we hear about people putting down a deposit only to find out the vehicle is misrepresented, but unable to get thie rmoney back. Sellers often say that you took their car off the market and cost them money, they could have sold it, repairs were done to the vehicle for them, safety and emissions, admin fees, these need to be covered by your deposit.

The best way to avoid these problems is to never put down a deposit until you are ready to buy.

8. Look at the UVIP

The UVIP or Used Vehicle Information Package is a critical resource that is often skimmed and not considered by used car buyers. The last page of the UVIP is what they look at only, the bill of sale and where they sign.

The UVIP when looked at properly can indicate odometer tampering, detailed ownership history and liens on the vehicle. All these details are important and impact the value of the vehicle.

Keep in mind that the UVIP is only required for private sale vehicles, but can still be requested from the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) even for dealer vehicles. All you need is the VIN number of the vehicle to obtain a UVIP.

In Summary

Buying a used car is a big deal and is one of the biggest purchases a family can make. Just like with a home inspection, a car inspection is there to protect your investment and ensure you know what you are purchasing.

We stand firmly behind our CarCheckCanada inspection as we hve been providing consistent value to our customers for years. However, if you would like to do it yourself and the seller is cooperative with taking the vehicle off the lot, we highly recommend bringing it to a local garage for an inspection.


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