Used Vehicle Buying Tips

If you are in the market for a used vehicle right now, you are probably frustrated with the buying process.  With used vehicle inventory significantly lower right now, individual consumers and dealers are charging much higher prices for the vehicles being sold.  Since March 2020, used car prices have increased almost 40 percent (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price index).

Because of the limited availability of used vehicles, it’s important that you are armed with the right information to ensure you make an informed and wise purchase.  In this month’s blog, we examine tips and tools to help you navigate the used vehicle purchase process and protect your financial investment.

There are several ways you can go into a used vehicle purchase and protect your interests.  These include:

  • Ask for maintenance and service records: You have the right to ask for the service records of the vehicle you are interested in purchasing.  If an individual consumer is unable to produce any evidence of ongoing maintenance, then they may have neglected important maintenance of the vehicle.  This should also include any damage that was the result of an accident, or even acts of God like a flood.
  • Pull a Vehicle History Report: If you are unable to see any records, you can try to see a history of the vehicle by pulling a report, such as CARFAX.  These services collect information about vehicle maintenance and history based on the vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Have the vehicle inspected by a service professional: Ideally, if you can have your trusted mechanic come with you to inspect a vehicle, he or she will be able to tell you whether there are any significant problems with the vehicle.  If the vehicle is being sold by an individual consumer, and they are hesitant to have your service professional look over the vehicle, this is a red flag.  Sometimes dealerships may be able to provide you with a certification from a mechanic or professional who has inspected the vehicle and signed off on its current condition.
  • Take a test drive: A test drive is a quick way to spot obvious issues with the vehicle.  It is always advisable to take a test drive with someone else associated with you who can be attentive to the vehicle and provide objective feedback.  A test drive should not only be to determine if you like the vehicle but to ensure that all its functions are in proper working order.

Below we provide a checklist to consider while conducting a test drive:

Driving Performance:

  • During the test drive, make sure to make turns, accelerate, and apply the brakes.
    • Do you notice any unusual smells, sounds, or movements? If so, inquire about them.


  • Check the vehicle cabin for tears, stains, and dirt, especially if the seats are leather.  Make sure to look at the ceiling as well for tears and dirt.
  • Test the headlights, taillights, brake lights, etc.
  • Test the heat, AC, along with the temperature controls and vents (front and back)
  • Test the horn, radio, navigation system (if applicable).
  • Test the windshield wipers and turn signals (make sure to check both left and right).
  • Test any luxury features of the vehicle, such as moonroof, rear tailgate lifts, heated seats or steering wheels.
  • Test seating recline and movements.
  • Examine all of the gauges on the dashboard, look for any warning indicators.
  • Make sure all windows raise/lower and door locks are engaged when used by the controls on the door and also the key fob (if applicable).

Exterior and Engine:

  • Check side-view mirrors for damage.
  • Check window glass for chips, or small cracks.
  • Inspect the tire treads and walls. Run your hand along the tread to feel for any cupping or uneven wear.
  • Open the hood:
    • Examine the engine for any loose or broken belts or hoses.
    • The engine should be clean, and not dirt or corrosion covered.
    • Check the major fluid levels like oil, transmission, brake, steering, etc.
    • Check the battery for signs of corrosion.
  • If possible, get under the vehicle and around the wheels to look for any evidence of rust or damage. Using a flashlight, look for any loose or hanging components.
  • Inspect the exhaust pipe for any damage or rust. Notice any smells or discoloration in the exhaust.
  • Inspect the vehicle exterior for any evidence of paint variations or rust and damage. Always do a test drive during the daytime, so you can see everything on the vehicle in good daylight.
  • You may want to invest in an OBD2 Reader. This is an inexpensive gadget that connects to the vehicle diagnostic system under the driver side in all vehicles manufactured after 1999. This tool will indicate any diagnostic codes that could be evidence of a mechanical problem.  Familiarize yourself with how to read the codes.


  • Ask about any warranties that may be valid, for example, a new tire replacement warranty or battery.
  • Ask about any recalls or recall notices.
  • Check online reviews for the vehicle make and model.

Buying a used vehicle can be a bit overwhelming and no one wants to make a bad purchase.  If you are more comfortable with a professional opinion, contact the service professionals at Shade Tree Garage.  We will discuss your potential vehicle purchase and offer ways we can help you in the process.

In the end, use common sense and if it doesn’t feel right, walk away.


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