What to Look for in Your Initial Assessment of a Used Car

August 31st, 2016 by
used car initial inspection

You can learn a lot about a used car by paying attention to certain detail outlined below


You’ve decided that you want to buy a used car, so you’re looking at what’s available in your area online. You see a car that interests you – it’s the make and model you want, isn’t too old, has relatively low miles, and pretty decent price. You decide to go check it out in person. You arrive to the used car dealership and happen to spot it on the lot before even connecting with a salesperson. So here you are alone with a used car that interests you. Now what?

Obviously you can’t get inside it without a salesperson unlocking it for you, so this initial assessment you’re going to make might be called a cosmetic walkaround. You’re just going to go around the car and take a look at it, but there’s a lot you can learn from this if you know what to look for.

One of the first things you should look at carefully are the tires. If they’ve been on the car for a while, they may have their own whole story to tell about how the car has been driven. You can find the age of the tires by locating the four-digit number on the side panel information, which indicates when the tire was made by week of the year (2616 would mean the 26th week of 2016). Tires five years or older should be replaced. Uneven tread wear could be a sign of problems with alignment, steering, suspension, or even frame damage. More wear in the center of the tire indicates they’ve been consistently over-inflated. More wear near the outside edges indicate consistent under-inflation. Excessive wear on the outside edge near the sidewall indicates overly aggressive driving. Okay, that’s enough about tires – but they’re important and often overlooked in a first assessment.

As you walk around the car just looking at it, does anything seem “off” or somehow just not right? Take a closer look for any evidence of previous paintwork or bodywork because this is often an indication the vehicle was in some kind of accident. You will hopefully at least notice anything obvious (misaligned panels, slightly different coloring, paint drips, etc.), but it takes a professional to spot some signs.

Are there any dents in the car? Don’t forget to look at the roof – many people forget this (including the professionals sometimes). Check the labels on each window’s glass to see if they’re all the same. If one is different, it might indicate that window was replaced, in which case you’d want to know why. Hopefully it was just for a chip or crack that could happen to anyone as opposed to a major accident.

When the salesperson shows up with the key, open the trunk and look under the carpet for signs of flood damage or other repairs. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, slide underneath the car and take a peek around. What you’re looking for under there is any signs that things have been welded recently on the frame, which would indicate a major accident. If it was really well done, you might not notice, but sloppy work is easy to identify.

You want to be sure that the factory stickers are present, which are usually found on or near the driver’s side door. If they are missing, you’d definitely want to know why. Also, some manufacturer’s label each panel of the car with the vehicle identification number (VIN). If this is the case with the car you’re looking at, any panels without the VIN would be a cause for concern. Finally, take a quick look at the screws on the door and the hinges of the trunk and hood to see if there are any indications that they’ve been tampered with.

Those are just a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when examining a used car for the first time. There’s a lot more that goes into your thorough assessment of a used car, and we’ll eventually cover them all right here in this blog, so stay tuned.