Shopping for a used car definitely isn’t easy. However, if you know what to look out for when shopping, you’re going to have an easier time. When you shop for a new car, you really need to give it a good visual inspection. Remembering what all to look at can be difficult, so we’ve rounded up a list of items that you should take a few moments to check every time you go to look at a used car.

The following list can’t protect you from everything, but it can help you identify issues with possible future cars. Even if you don’t know much about cars, you should be able to do a thorough look over the following areas of the vehicle to determine if it’s the kind of vehicle you’d like to buy.

Rust

rust

Rust is a clear indicator that a car has lived beyond its prime. It’s also likely an indicator that a vehicle has been neglected. Modern cars and trucks have such good rustproofing that they don’t rust much. However, if there was some kind of damage to the car, then rust can start and slowly build from that point out. The damage could be the result of an accident or something as simple as a stone chip.

Dents or Bent Parts

dents

Any dents or bent parts, including the frame, should be noted and brought up to the seller. Look for any damage to the exterior sheet metal, but also be prepared to peak underneath the car. Look for any areas that appear off or not properly mounted. Compare each side of the vehicle to see if it’s congruent. When it comes to the frame and body, you want each side of the car to be the same. 

Also, take a close look at the paint on the sheet metal. If a car has been repaired, the paint may be a little different. It's difficult to match paint exactly and if the seller is trying to hide something, slightly mismatched paint can be a dead giveaway. 

Windows and Lights

windows and lights

Check for any cracks or chips in the windshield. If there are some, consider having them fixed before purchasing. If you don’t see anything, move on to the seals around the windows. Are they in good condition or have they started to dry out and crack?

After you’ve looked at the windows, take a look at the exterior lights. Are they intact and undamaged? Do they work the way they’re supposed to? If so you can likely move on, but if not make a list of the lights that will need fixed and present that to the seller.

Tires and Wheels

tires and wheels

Look closely at the wheels. Is there curb damage or any scratches or cracks? A conscientious driver will take extra care to keep their wheels clean and clear of damage. If you see any damage ask the seller how it got there.

Also, take a close look at the tires to determine if they’re all the same and what condition they’re in. Look at the size, brand and tread pattern. You want tires that are all the same and have good wear patterns with no inconsistencies or particularly worn areas. If a particular tire or parts of the tires are worn down more than the rest, there may be alignment issues.

Engine and Powertrain

engine

Before turning on the car, open the hood and take a look at the engine bay. Even if you don’t know what’s going on in there, you can still look for parts that appear old or worn and any dirty or rusty parts. Also, climb underneath the car and look at the exhaust system. Start with the tailpipe and work your way back. Is there any part of the exhaust that’s rusted or appears damaged? If you see a lot of dirt, rust, or damage, you might want to look elsewhere.

Next, fire up the car and listen to how it runs. Is it smooth? Does it rev like you expect it to? Then drive the car. Does it shift smoothly between gears? Is the exhaust loud? If you can, accelerate to highway speeds and then slow down, noting how the car downshifts.

Suspension, Brakes, and Steering

suspension

While you’re driving the car and listening to the engine, also take note of how it steers, handles and brakes. The brakes should be fairly smooth with no grinding or squeaking noises. The suspension should handle gaps and bumps with minimal jarring or rattling. Take into account the type of vehicle you’re driving, too. Trucks will ride rougher than cars. As far as steering goes, note any dead spots or any parts in the steering wheel travel where the wheel doesn’t turn smoothly. If anything feels off, bring it up to the seller and see what they say.

Interior

interior

The most important parts of the interior in our opinion are the controls and lighting. The controls all need to work as intended. Switches should flip and buttons should push in and then come out as designed. Also, the controls need to actually operate what they’re intended to. Go through the cabin of the car and use all the controls to see if they work.

While going over the controls, note the lights inside the cabin. They should turn on or off as designed. The last thing you want to do is buy a car and then realize the first night you drive it that the dash lights are out or that the ceiling light doesn’t work when you open the door.

Car Inspection and Clear Title Paperwork

paperwork

Checking the car and catching every single thing can be pretty difficult, but one part of an inspection that should be easy is paperwork. Make sure the seller has a clean title (not salvage), owner’s manual, and any other documentation. Repair records would be nice, but many people don’t keep all of them. Even if the vehicle has a CarFax available, it won't necessarily include all the information abou the car, only what's been reported/documented. Find out what the seller has, and then go from there.