used cars parked in a row at a car dealership

Avoiding Buying a Lemon: What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Because they’re typically substantially cheaper than new cars, used cars are the vehicles of choice for a large portion of the world’s population. There’s only one problem with this: buying a used car can be risky. 

After all, used cars have been, well . . . used. Because of this, they could very easily be carrying problems which impair their performance and durability. In other words, they could be lemons. 

So, what are your options? Is there anything can you do to ensure that you don’t pick a lemon? The only reasonable option is to do your due diligence. 

Here is what to look for when buying a used car. 

This Is What to Look for When Buying a Used Car 

Choosing a used car is not a process that you want to take lightly. It’s a big investment and deserves a thorough inspection. Without further ado, here are the things to check for when buying a used car. 

Exterior Blemishes

The fact of the matter is that the more a car has been driven, the better chance it has of taking on damage. While some of this damage will occur on the inside of the car, the vast majority of this damage will occur on the outside of the car. 

And we’re not talking about damage incurred by big, obvious accidents; That damage is a given and is easy to spot. What we’re talking about is minor damage incurred over time, usually brought on by small, barely-noticeable forces. 

While there’s nothing wrong with buying a used car that has suffered small cosmetic damage, you want to make sure that you’re not overpaying for it. For this reason, you need to pay close attention to its exterior. 

Look for dents, scratches, discolored paint, and rust, checking the top, sides, and undercarriage of the car. The more blemishes a car has on its exterior, the less you should have to pay for it. 

Interior Blemishes 

As was noted above, while the exterior of a car suffers the most damage, the interior of a car is prone to damage as well. Because of this, when buying a used car, you need to inspect its interior. 

First, check for stains on the upholstery. If stains are still existent after a used car has been put back on the lot, they probably aren’t going to come out. 

Next, check for damage to components within the car. When doing so, pay close attention to the seatbelts, glove compartment, storage compartments, seat adjusters, and sun blockers. 

Make sure to also check the trunk of the car. Because trunks are used to carry the most items, they could very well be stained with uncleanable substances.  

Suitable Driving Capabilities 

You should never buy a car without first taking it for a test drive. The only exception to this would be if you’re planning on fixing it up yourself.

Why? Because a test drive is needed for you to determine whether or not it drives to your liking. 

When taking it out on the road, there are a few different things you should focus on. Not only should you pay close attention to its acceleration and gear shifting capabilities, but to its turning and braking capabilities as well. If something feels “off” with any of these components, there could very well be something wrong with the car. 

Related Reading:  Buying High Mileage Cars

Generally, your first instinct is the one to trust. Don’t try to overrule your initial feeling on a certain aspect of a car by trying to rationalize it. You don’t want to drive a car that feels off to you anyways. 

Remember, there are plenty of other used cars in the for-sale lots. You should be able to find a suitable, working one, such as the ones discussed in this post by DriveK.

User Compatibility 

Not only do you want to ensure that your prospective car drives right, but you also want to ensure that you feel right while driving it. All cars are created differently and are designed to accommodate people of different shapes and sizes. 

For instance, if you’re 6’5″ and weigh 250 pounds, you might end up feeling a little uncomfortable in a small, compact vehicle. Conversely, if you’re 4’11” and weigh 90 pounds, a big truck might feel overwhelming to you. 

In the case of used cars, you also have to pay attention to personal touches. For instance, the driver’s seat on a used car could very well be sunken in due to years of consistent use. This could affect your overall comfort level as it pertains to the car at large. 

The key is to take the car for a spin and see how you feel while driving it. Again, if your first instinct is a negative one, you should look elsewhere. 

Mechanical Problems

The biggest thing to look out for when inspecting a used car is mechanical problems. Unless you’re capable of fixing cars up yourself, you want to avoid mechanical problems like the plague. 

There are a number of ways to spot potential mechanical problems. While trying to spot mechanical problems in the lot, you should be cognizant of leaks. Though not all leaks are indicative of trouble, many of them are. 

Apart from checking on the car yourself while in the lot, you’re also advised to have it inspected by a professional mechanic. Mechanics will know exactly what to look for on a used car and will check under its hood to ensure that impending problems are not on the horizon. By utilizing the services of a mechanic prior to purchase, you can end up saving thousands of dollars in repairs down the line. 

Make and Model Reviews 

Next, you’re going to want to check for reviews on the make and model of the car that you’re thinking about buying. If the car is, indeed, used, its make and model will have been driven by thousands of living, breathing individuals. These individuals will more than likely be honest about its overall performance. 

There are all types of car review sites online, including but not limited to,, and By checking these sites for your prospective car, you should be able to get a good feel for its upsides and shortcomings. 

Related Reading:  5 Benefits to Buying a Isuzu Pickup Truck For Your Next Vehicle

Blue Book Price 

The thing about used cars is that sellers are allowed to list them at whatever price they want. However, it’s rare that a used car is ever sold for its listing price. Usually, you can haggle to get the price down a bit. 

A big part of haggling for a used car is making use of the Kelley Blue Book. This can be found online and can be used to find the current value of a specific used car.

If the lot won’t sell you your prospective vehicle at or around the Kelley Blue Book price, you shouldn’t buy it. 

Vehicle History 

Another one of many things to look at when buying a used car is the vehicle history. You can find vehicle histories for specific vehicles at sites such as These sites will tell you who has owned the vehicle, whether or not the vehicle has been repaired, and other pertinent information. 

Some used car dealers will actually provide you with this documentation before your purchase. However, if they don’t, it is your responsibility to go and find it for yourself. 

VIN Number 

Most used car dealerships are on the up and up. However, there are some out there which utilize shady business practices. One shady business practice is to take in stolen cars and then replace their VIN numbers with legitimate ones so that they don’t look stolen. 

How can you determine whether or not a VIN number is legit? By utilizing a VIN decoding chart. A VIN decoding chart is used to determine that a vehicle’s VIN number matches up with its make, model, year, and assembly plant as well as with a variety of other information. 

To find the VIN number on a car, look at the spot where the dashboard meets the windshield on the driver’s side. If it’s not there, it’s probably on the inside of the driver’s side door where the door hinges. 

Pre-Owned Certification 

The last checkbox on our used car inspection checklist is pre-owned certification. While a car doesn’t need to be certified pre-owned in order to be legitimate, certified pre-owned is a good sign that it’s a solid vehicle. This is because a “certified pre-owned” tag indicates that it’s been inspected by an independent party. 

Pre-owned certified vehicles often come with better with warranties than do non-certified used vehicles. While they’re usually a little more expensive, they’re usually worth the extra money. 

Find Other Useful Auto Information 

And there it is, what to look for when buying a used car. As long as you examine your prospective car thoroughly before buying it, it should perform admirably for you. 

Looking for other useful auto information? If so, you can find it right here at Certified Master Tech. We have information on all types of auto-related topics, including auto maintenance, auto repair, and more. 

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