Buying a used car is typically an economical route when in need of a vehicle, but it can also be a huge gamble. How can you be sure that this car is going to be a good investment, and not eat a hole in your wallet fixing up pre-existing problems? Even after a test drive and a once-over, it's still possible to miss the signs.

To assist you in finding a winner, here's a beginner's list of some of the most important things for used car shoppers to watch out for.

  1. Check the track record. Consumer Reports ' reliability record for used cars will give you a good idea of the most reliable and least reliable used car makes and models so you can know the track records of the vehicles you're look at before you even set eyes on them. You'll also want to check the National Traffic Highway Safety Commission's list of recalls so that you can make sure the necessary recall service was performed. used car
  2. Check the car's exterior for signs of damage and repair. You'll be able to tell by taking a closer look whether extra paint is layered on certain areas, or sprayed accidentally on chrome or wheel wells. Check whether the trunk, hood, and doors close properly, and make sure the panels are even.
  3. Check the interior for signs of flooding, past accidents, and other damage. If the car has been in a frontal accident and not properly repaired, the seat belts may be frayed and the air bag warning light may stay on (if it deployed and was not replaced).
  4. Take a peek under the hood. Check for corrosion, grease, and spots that could indicate leakage. If anything is melted or blackened, the car may have overheated or had an engine fire. You may also want to check the oil level and color to make sure the level isn't low and the oil isn't frothy, gritty, gel-like, or glittery (meaning it contains tiny metallic particles). Unusual characteristics like these are usually signs of poor car care, such as going too long between oil changes, or internal damage. Checking the transmission fluid is a good idea, too, after a test drive. It should be reddish in color and shouldn't smell like something's burning.
  5. Check for alignment, suspension, and braking issues. On a test drive, make sure that the car doesn't veer to the right or the left when you slightly release the steering wheel. When the car is idling, be sure that the steering wheel doesn't make strange noises or allow too much turning. Check for suspension issues by pressing down firmly on the bumper and fender, to make sure the car only bounces once or twice before settling. For some common tire issues that could be signs of alignment or braking issues, check out our article on Tire Wear and Tear .
  6. Check the gas pedal and the exhaust pipe. An engine that has to rev too much to accelerate the car could be the sign of a need for transmission repairs. Once the car has warmed up, black, blue, or white smoke coming from the tailpipe are all signs of problems that could lead to a big repair price tag.

Of course, the best way to know whether the car will be a lemon or will last for years to come is to take it to a reputable auto shop like All in the Wrist Auto to get it checked from top to bottom. A thorough inspection is always the best way to know whether your investment will be remarkable or regrettable.

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