Are You Getting the Right Deal: What to Look For In a Second Hand Car

Buying a second hand car has its merits, especially if you do it right. There are many car dealers in New Jersey who can help you choose a car that meets your needs and is within your budget range.

One of the best things about getting pre-owned is that you can get an efficient and reliable car without the price tag of a new one. However, if you don’t look closely—or know what to look out for—you can be handed a lemon.

Here’s what to look for in a second hand car to make your car-buying experience easier and also help you in avoiding being fooled.

Vehicle history.

Once you have your eyes set on a number of second hand cars for sale, contact the dealers or sellers and ask for the car’s Vehicle Identification Number or VIN. Check the VIN against the databases in the state in which it was last registered to make sure that the car is ‘clean’—meaning it wasn’t reported stolen or has an outstanding loan.

In addition, make sure that the car’s paperwork is in order. If the dealer or seller has a maintenance logbook, request to see it as well so you can see what’s been done to the car and if it gets regular maintenance.

Physical inspection.

If you’re not experienced in inspecting the nooks and crannies of cars, get a friend or a trusted mechanic who can inspect the car with you. Doing a thorough physical inspection can save you thousands of dollars by revealing previous damage and mechanical problems you most probably have to have repaired, jacking up servicing and maintenance costs.

It’s important to conduct the inspection in full daylight or in a well-lighted area, so you can easily see if there are dents, rust, body marks, and other defects. Bring a flashlight and strike a beam under the car, underneath the interior carpet, and the under the hood and the trunk for rust, welding marks, and the like that can indicate that the car has been in a crash.

The tires should be in good condition and not going bald, and the front wheels should be aligned with those at the rear. Check the engine, the batteries, and the oil filler cap—if it has a white substance similar to mayonnaise, the head gasket is damaged. Check the body panels and see if the gaps are spaced equally; inconsistent gaps indicate that the car may have been in a bad crash and had been refitted badly.

Check the interiors as well.

Second hand car buyers usually overlook the car’s seatbelts and fail to check if these work correctly—remember that seat belts can save your life, so put this on top priority. Next, make sure that the dashboard and the steering wheel are fitted correctly, the controls work as they should, the air conditioning functions properly, and the engine starts easily. Check the speedometer and see if the mileage is consistent with the car’s documents and what the seller advertised.

Go for a test drive.

Never buy a second hand car without taking it for a test drive. Test the steering wheel, the handbrake, and keep your ears open for any noises coming from the engine. See how the car handles on different types of road surfaces, and check the gears for any inconsistency.


A second hand car may have had its share of dents and scratches, but the seller or dealer must have already informed you about these so that you’ll know what to expect and compare the car’s condition to the price being offered. If you or your mechanic are in agreement that the car is in order, then you can be sure that you’re getting the right deal.


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