Buying a used car makes all the sense in the world, particularly when you’re working with a strict budget or fancy chasing down a good deal. Cars that are just 1 or 2 years old and have only had one previous owner are almost always significantly cheaper than brand new models.

Buying from a dealer can feel far safer than buying directly from a private owner, but there’s still a long checklist of important things you need to check out before grabbing those keys. Get it right, and you’ll land the car of your dreams. Get it wrong, and you’ll be sorry.

In this article, we’re going to look at 10 things you should always look for when buying a used car from a dealer. Keep these firmly in mind as you search to avoid huge upsets down the road!

Here we go!

1. Check every inch of the exterior and interior

You have every right to go over the car inch by inch to look for damage, stains, or any other blemishes. Dealers will often say the car has already been fully checked and will hand you a list of noted damages, but you should never leave it to chance and just accept their word.

Open the hood, get behind the seats, get under the car to scan the bottom, check all bumpers, and kick the tires. Most used cars you look at will have some form of damage somewhere. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy them; it’s just important to be aware of all damage and to see that any noticeable blemishes have been repaired professionally before you buy.

2. Have a mechanic take a look

This is far easier if you have a friend who is a mechanic. Nothing will make you feel more assured in your purchase than having a professional take a good look over the vehicle before you buy.

3. The handling

Not only is the test drive one of the most fun parts of the process, but it’s also a key opportunity to make sure the car feels right to you. You’re in control, so it’s all about getting through as many driving moves and scenarios as you can to really get a taste of how the car will perform in your day-to-day. Make U-turns, try parking, go over some speed bumps, test every gadget, and maybe try an emergency stop if you find yourself in a safe enough place to do so.

4. Check for leaks

Any leak should be an instant deal-breaker. During your test drive, find a clean bit of road and park there. Stay parked with the car running for about a minute, then move forward and get out. If there are stains on the road behind the car that wasn’t there before, the car has a leak and is in need of a pretty serious repair.

5. Try to pay towards the car with a credit card

Credit card purchases come with added protection from the card issuer. You don’t have to pay the full amount with a card, but you should try and pay something. As little as £100 on the card would be better than paying it all with cash. Remember, if you’re getting a loan, it’s always best to shop around for car finance to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.

6. Research the vehicle you’ve just inspected

Every used vehicle has a history, and you definitely need to know it before you buy. Here’s a quick list of the essential things you need to check out:

  • Take a look at the original specifications by the manufacturer and see if any big changes have been made.
  • Make sure to decode the VIN.
  • Review the vehicle history report.

Check out the AA for a more detailed checklist of necessary research and documents needed for used car purchases.

7. Look for reviews of the dealer

If a dealer has a really bad reputation for after-sale support or anything else, you’re going to want to know about it. Google reviews for the dealership company as well as reviews for the actual branch you’re buying from.

8. Check that you’re buying at the right time

Dealers have sales targets to meet and bonuses to earn. These performance-based schemes usually come in a quarterly schedule. Shop around, and you might notice that dealers are keener to sell (lower their prices) towards the end of March, June, September, and December. Try and buy at these times and you’re more than likely to find it easier to negotiate the price down.

9. Always check running costs

The car’s purchase price is just the start. You’ll need to make sure the vehicle is in line with your monthly living budget too. Have a good look at auto insurance, Tax, MOT, fuel consumption, and typical charges for common repairs that might be needed over the coming years.

10. Consider certified pre-owned alternatives

Is the car a certified pre-owned vehicle? These cars usually come with a handy bit of extra quality assurance. Some dealers will offer these vehicles with warranties that extend for much longer periods of time.

Pre-owned vehicles might not always be trustworthy though. It’s a good idea to check car’s history. If you’re in USA, CARFAX can be a helpful resource, and in Australia you can get a revs check through QuickRevs. You can find out if the car is owned or financed, registration details, unrecovered thefts, complete specifications.

That’s it! These are the ten vital things to look out for when buying a used car from a dealer. Pay close attention to these, and you’ll have a much better chance of dodging a painful dose of buyers remorse in the near future. Happy hunting!