Used Car Buying Checklist

What to Look For in a Used Car: A Buyer’s Checklist

If you’re in the market for a quality used car, you’re in good company. Many drivers have realized the advantages of buying used instead of new. Used cars can be much less expensive because someone else took the depreciation hit. They also can cost less to insure and allow buyers to enjoy more of the features they love. But. It’s important to understand you only get the benefits when you know what to look for in a used car. Follow this used car checklist and find the quality you need at a price you can afford.

Before You Shop

Before you put your checklist for buying a used car to the test, knowing how much you can afford is essential. You’ll need to consider the down payment, the value of your trade-in, and the monthly payment. A good guideline is 10-15% of your net income for all car-related expenses. You’ll also want to know what features are most important for your lifestyle. Do you need a practical commuter car for work? Or do you need a durable truck for towing and hauling? The more you understand your unique needs, the better chance of finding a vehicle you’ll love.

What to Look For in a Used Car

Knowing what to look for in a used car goes beyond practicality and affordability. Most shoppers look at the price, gas mileage, safety features, and appearance when judging a used car. But there is much more to consider. A used car is, after all, used. However, a well-maintained used car can make all the difference for your driving pleasure, bank account, and safety. Here’s your used car checklist to separate the lemons from the peaches.

Service and Maintenance Records 

When you buy a used car from an individual, they may or may not have service records. Many drivers simply don’t keep track of maintenance reports and other documents. Others don’t have records because the car wasn’t maintained! Fortunately, you can still shop with confidence, thanks to vehicle history reports that follow the VIN number. Vehicle history reports can include the following:

  • Service history
  • Title information
  • Parts replacement
  • Fluid and filter maintenance
  • Body, engine, and transmission repairs
  • Manufactured recommended maintenance checkups
  • Accidents and damage

Interior Check

Look for tears, stains, and other blemishes on the carpet, headliner, and seats. Check for broken or missing interior knobs or other parts. Take note of any damage you could live with and use it as leverage later. Next up is checking the electronics, mechanisms, and similar components that can affect reliability, comfort, and safety. This checklist for buying a used car will ensure everything works as it should—inside and out.

  • Turn the key to the auxiliary position and ensure all warning lights come on.
  • Start the car and ensure all warning lights go off.
  • Check the turn signals and emergency flashers inside and outside.
  • Ensure the windshield wipers and wiper fluid dispenser work. 
  • Run the heater through a few settings, then the A/C. 
  • Check that the side and rearview mirrors work properly.
  • Roll the windows down, then up, and retract the sunroof if equipped. 
  • Turn on the sound system and ensure all functions and speakers work.
  • Check the door locks and that the doors open and close correctly.
  • Test the mechanisms on adjustable seats.
  • Leave the car idling and head to the hood. 

Under the Hood 

Most wear and tear on a used car happens out of sight. There’s a lot going on in the transmission, suspension, and especially under the hood. After the interior inspection, pop the hood and do the following: 

  • Listen for unusual noises or revving, then cut the car off. 
  • Note the date on the battery—the average (standard car battery) lifespan is three to five years.
  • Wait until the engine cools down—it shouldn’t take long.
  • Check oil and coolant levels, plus transmission, brake, and steering fluids 
  • Inspect belts and hoses for cracking and other damage. 

Exterior Check

When you check out the exterior of a car, do a walkaround to identify chips, scratches, and fading. If you find mismatched paint colors, it could indicate a previous accident or other damage. Here’s what else you’ll need to inspect: 

  • Check the alignment of exterior panels for a uniform gap (another indicator of damage). 
  • Inspect the tires for damage, correct inflation, and ensure they aren’t mismatched. 
  • Check that the tires have sufficient tread life remaining. 
  • Open the doors and trunk and inspect the frame for rust or damage.
  • Ensure the car has a spare tire, jack, and other necessary equipment.

On the Road

It’s where the rubber meets the road time! Nothing beats a test drive for getting to know a car. You can uncover potential problems and discover if your candidate is a good fit. Here’s how to put a car through the paces to see if you’ve found a winner. 

  • Buckle up and crank the car.
  • Keep the radio off so you can listen while you drive.
  • Drive on a bumpy road if possible and listen for squeaking and clunking from the suspension.
  • Ensure that reverse and other gears (especially in a manual vehicle) are working correctly.
  • Hit the brakes and listen for noises—the pedal should feel firm and the braking smooth.
  • Back at the dealership, check the temperature gauge to ensure it’s running cool enough.

You should buy a used car with a checklist in hand, whether it’s at a reputable dealership or on Facebook. You should also bring the Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds value estimate, a history report, and any other information you can find. Be mindful of your budget and must-haves, and you’ll have all the info needed to get the best deal on your next used car. 

Get More of What You’re Looking For at Car Time Supercenter

To get the quality used car or truck you deserve, add “Shop with a local, family-owned business” to your used car checklist. Car Time Supercenter has helped Tucson drivers get behind the wheel of a quality vehicle they love—and can afford. Call or stop by our used car lot in Tucson to discover a large selection of safe and dependable used cars backed by hometown service.

Shane Vossough

There are good reasons people will buy their next used car in Tucson from Car Time Supercenter. But I think we are one of the most trusted used car dealerships mainly because we treat everyone like family. My family has provided quality, dependable local used cars to Tucson customers since 1984, and I'm proud to be a part of our continued success. Like many family-owned businesses, I grew up going to work with my dad. Falling in love with cars was natural because of my father's passion, and eventually, I came to love the car business just like him. I officially joined the Car Time Supercenter team in 2012, starting in the finance department. Over the past decade, I've learned the used car business and how to treat customers from my family and industry resources. Today, I oversee marketing, social media, inventory, and reconditioning, so I play an essential role in delivering local Tucson used car buyers the best experience possible. I also help our family business keep up with the times while providing old-fashioned customer service. From attending NADA classes to becoming Allstate certified for back-end products, I continue to learn and add skills to serve our customers better.