If you’re in the market for a used car, you’re not alone. Today, we’ve got you covered with a used car inspection guide that will help you understand what to look for in a used car and find the second-hand ride that ranks first in your heart (and head). 

Understanding the Basics: What to Expect from the 2023 Used Car Market

Let’s say it’s your first foray into the used car market in the last 5-10 years. Things may have changed more than you expect! Here are some of the more notable shifts in recent years:

  • Technology keeps advancing. If you buy a used car made within the last few years, it’ll have a lot of the same tech as newer models. Many manufacturers have considered features like blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and infotainment centers standard features for more recent makes and models.
  • The rEVolution is in full swing. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) just keep getting more popular, and not just in the new car market. With significant federal and state incentives for purchasing US-produced hybrids and EVs making their way into the public consciousness, now’s a great time to consider these internal combustion engine (ICE) alternatives. EVs have gotten a lot more usable to boot — the median driving range of all EVs in 2021 was 234 miles. The average driver in the U.S. clocks in about 37 miles per day – a 234-mile range will last them over 6 days per charge, more than enough for your average driver. 
  • Prices can be volatile. Although used car prices are set to rise less than expected year-over-year, they’re still increasing slightly. Of course, the price of a car can vary based on factors like make, model, trim, condition, mileage, color, and more, but if you’ve got your heart set on a specific make or model, it may require some patience and sleuthing to find one in your budget. You can use the following resources to contrast and compare prices:
    • Carvana. Yes, we know we own the site, but we like to think it’s a great research tool. Even if you don’t buy your car with us, you can quickly get a temp-check on the price range for a certain make and model using our search function. 
    • Autotrader. Autotrader’s “find cars by budget” option is a great tool if you’re not too picky about the make and model and care more about finding something in a specific price range. 
    • Consumer Reports. Consumer reports is a classic, and for good reason. Their pricing guide is excellent, as are their new and used car reviews
    • Kelley Blue Book. We couldn’t write this section without mentioning KBB — the Blue Book has been the golden standard of car pricing for decades, and that’s unlikely to change. 
Photo of a used car being sold for $25995 on a used car lot.

What Type of Car Is Right for Me?

Choosing the right car can be quite a journey. But, if you’re just looking for a place to start, here’s a great guide by Car and Driver: What’s the Right New Vehicle for Me?

If you just want the basics, here’s a two-step guide:

  1. Decide on a body type:
    1. Want something zippy and stylish? A two-door coupe or convertible will make you stand out. 
    2. Looking for something more reliable with four or five doors? You’ll want to check out sedans and hatchbacks. 
    3. Need something a little larger? A station wage, SUV/Crossover, or minivan should suit your needs. 
  2. Figure out your needs:
    1. Drive on rough, snowy terrain, or want to go off-roading? You’ll probably want something with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.  
    2. Drive a lot? You’ll probably want something with good gas mileage, reliable mechanics, and smooth handling. 
    3. Fan of new tech? Check out the infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems for the vehicles you’re looking at. 
    4. Just want something reliable? Many models now rely on over-the-air downloadable updates, and many automakers are exploring subscription pricing for features like heated seats. If that sounds like a nightmare, make sure none of the above applies to the vehicles you’re exploring!
    5. Want something powerful? You’ll want to check the engine. A V6 or V8 are the classic “go fast” options, but plenty of hybrid powertrains and turbocharged four-cylinders exist that have a surprising amount of zip.

Finding the “perfect” car can be a battle — in most cases, you’ll have to settle for something somewhere. But answering the above questions gives you a place to start, and you can refine your choices as you go. 

Photo of a woman happy and smiling after buying a car.

Mileage and Maintenance: What to Look for in a Used Car

Imagine the odometer and maintenance records as a car’s autobiography, each mile and trip to the shop a new page in the book of that car’s life. Mileage plays a key role, but it’s not the sole narrator of the vehicle’s story. Maintenance records provide the nuanced details that help flesh it out, shedding light on the car’s past, present, and future.

A car with high mileage isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, nor is a low-mileage car an automatic winner. Here’s the critical question: how were those miles accrued, and in what conditions? For example, city miles with frequent stop-starts cause more wear than highway miles. Therefore, a high-mileage highway-driven car with great maintenance may be in better condition than a low-mileage city car with poor maintenance. 

Maintenance records are like a car’s health dossier, providing insight into how well the car has been cared for. Consistent oil changes, timely part replacements, and regular service updates hint at a diligent owner, which can significantly extend a car’s life, regardless of mileage. Maintenance records can also reveal recurring issues, past accidents, and significant repairs — data points that might not be evident just by inspecting the vehicle or looking at the odometer.

Any time you find a used car that looks like a good candidate, be sure to check the mileage and maintenance records like the car’s CarFax® — which will list any accidents, as well as the car’s service history — to save yourself time and trouble. The last thing you want to do is buy a used car that seems perfect, only to realize it’s on its last legs or wasn’t maintained properly. 

Photo of two men running down an inspection list of what to look for in a used car.

The Crucial First Step: Your 2023 Used Car Inspection Guide

So, you’ve found a car that might be “the one,” and it just got delivered to your door, or you’re about to drive to the dealership and give it a gander. What’s next on your list of things to look for in a used car? You’ll want to give the car a thorough inspection before accepting it. If you find something that’s a no-go, you can walk off the lot with your wallet intact or, if you’ve bought from Carvana, return the car within our 7-day money-back guarantee window. 

Here’s a quick used car inspection guide for your pleasure:

First up, we have the exterior, the car’s first impression. An exterior examination can tell you a lot about a car’s history and current status, from scratches and dents to the condition of the tires and glass. Check for inconsistencies in paintwork, signs of rust, and the condition of the head and taillights. You’ll also want to check the alignment of body elements like doors and windows. Next up, are the tires. Uneven wear could point towards issues with alignment or suspension. Also, don’t forget to check the tire tread depth — if it’s below 2/32 of an inch, you may be looking at an immediate replacement.

Tip: Inspect the vehicle under good lighting, ideally on a clear day outside!

After looking at the exterior, it’s time to check inside. The interior inspection isn’t just about judging the car’s aesthetics; it’s also about the functionality of essential components. Test the seats, controls, air conditioning, sound system, and ensure the dashboard’s warning lights operate as expected when you turn on the ignition. Also check under floor mats to make sure there’s no mold or damage.

Tip: Leave things turned on for a while and make sure nothing’s flickering in and out of service. 

If you’re buying a used car, some wear and tear is expected. However, anything that could indicate a larger issue or require maintenance soon after purchase should be noted and factored into your decision of whether or not to buy.

Under the Hood: Essential Engine Evaluation for Pre-Owned Cars in 2023

The story under the hood starts with the fluids – oil, coolant, and transmission fluid. Clean, amber-colored oil signifies regular maintenance, while murky oil could hint at neglect. The coolant should be free of oil or rust particles. And red or pink transmission fluid speaks well, but brown or black indicates potential trouble.

Next, shift your focus to the belts and hoses. They might appear insignificant, but they’re vital to your car’s operation. Cracked, frayed, or worn belts and soft or brittle hoses indicate looming repairs.

Listen closely. Unusual noises such as hisses, whistles, or knocking sounds aren’t part of a healthy engine symphony. These discordant notes could hint at issues ranging from minor fixes to major overhauls.

A glance at the battery can also be revealing. Corrosion around the terminals could suggest poor maintenance; while a recently replaced battery may seem appealing, it could also point to electrical issues that drained the previous one.

Beyond being a sign of the vehicle’s current health, these elements provide deep insight into its maintenance history and foreshadow its future performance. A well-maintained engine can promise a smoother ride and fewer pit stops at the repair shop. Remember, you’re not just buying an engine; you’re investing in the journeys it will power.

Tip: If you can, have a mechanic you trust inspect a vehicle right after purchase. If the seller offers a money-back guarantee, it’s worth getting an expert opinion on the car’s health so you know whether to keep the ride. 

Photo of a woman looking at the engine of her car.

Road Test: The Performance of Your Potential Purchase

Imagine you’re buying a new pair of shoes. Would you buy them without trying them on? The same principle applies to buying a car, especially a used one. If you go to a dealer, you’ll want to request a test drive. If you buy from a seller that offers a money-back guarantee, you’ll want to make good use of it to take your car through its paces. 

As you drive, here’s what to look for in a used car:

  • Pay attention to the handling. Does the car respond smoothly to your steering commands, or is there a hesitation? Responsive steering signifies a well-maintained vehicle, while any delay or stiffness might hint at potential issues.
  • The brakes should also be on your radar — any vibration or squealing noise during braking, as well as any hesitancy or hitching while applying pressure, requires attention.
  • Try accelerating to different speeds. A healthy car should accelerate smoothly without any hiccups or strange noises. Unusual sounds or sluggish performance could indicate potential mechanical problems.
  • Consider the overall comfort. Are the seats supportive? Is the noise level inside the vehicle acceptable? Are all the electrical and electronic systems, including air conditioning and infotainment, functioning correctly? The average American spends over eight hours a week in their car — making sure that time is enjoyable should be a priority.

A test drive is more than just a ride; it’s your first-hand experience of your potential purchase. 

Photo of a car dealer handing over the keys to a car over a car sales agreement.

Conclusion: Making a Smart Decision – Buy or Walk Away?

We’ve navigated through the basics of the 2023 used car market, mused on car selection, decoded odometer and service history mysteries, carried out inspections, and took the all-important test drive. Now that you know what to look for in a used car, it’s now time to make a decision – to buy or walk away.

Let’s pause and reflect: Can the car fulfill your daily needs? Does it fit within your budget? Do its condition and performance match the odometer and service history? The answers to these questions should dictate your decision.

Remember, buying a used car is not about finding the perfect vehicle but the one that’s right for you. An off-road SUV might seem appealing, but is it practical if you’re mostly commuting in the city? Balancing aspiration and practicality is key. 

Always remember that it’s perfectly alright to walk away if any doubts persist or if the vehicle doesn’t tick the right boxes for you. There’s a myriad of options in the used car market, and knowing what to look for in a used car will eventually lead you to the vehicle that matches your needs and budget. Happy car hunting in 2023!

Source link