I’ve bought quite a few used cars in my life. My first car when I turned 16 was a 4-door charcoal grey 1984 Honda Accord. I bought it with cash that I had saved from babysitting. It was a total beater, but it was mine, and I couldn’t have been happier with it.
Less than a year later, I got rear-ended so bad that they declared my car totaled so I had to get another car, which ended up being a teal 2-door 1987 Honda Accord with a sunroof. I loved that car so much, I’d probably still be driving it if less than a year later I wasn’t rear-ended even worse than the first time, causing me to be sandwiched between 2 cars. Definitely totaled.
I had less than a month before I was headed to college, so I couldn’t be as picky with my next car, and I settled for a white 1989 Toyota Corolla. It wasn’t my favorite, but it did the job.
After a year of college, I jumped ship and headed to Ecuador for a few months so I sold my Camry before leaving.
When I got back, I got a 2-door black Acura Integra. Okay. Maybe that was my favorite car.
The point is, in my first 4 years of driving, I purchased 4 cars.
But I was lucky. My oldest brother was
I was so lucky to have a big brother to go with me and check out cars before I purchased them. My memory sucks, but I can still remember bits and pieces of test drives with him. This may sound lame, but being 8 years apart, we really didn’t do much together. He moved out of the house when I was 10. So these memories are pretty cool to have.
Now that I am all grown up and have experienced having a teenager in our home purchase an older used vehicle, I realize just how lucky I was to have a car guru for a brother.
It was so stressful making calls on cars, trying to figure out which ones were even worth going to look at. Even more intimidating than the phone calls, was the actual process of going to look at and test drive the ones that went into the “maybe” pool.
I realize most people are in the same boat my husband and I found ourselves in, trying to be smart about helping our (step)son purchase an older used car, but not really knowing how to be smart about it.
So I hope this post is helpful for those who find themselves in a similar situation. I have contacted my brother several times throughout the past few days as I have been working on this, hoping to cover all the bases.
Of course this isn’t going to cover everything. There are lots of things that just aren’t feasible to check or even begin to understand, without being a knowledgeable mechanic.
But this list should give you a really good baseline to go off of.
I made a comprehensive printable and included it at the bottom of the post. It includes a list of questions to ask on the phone (with space to fill each answer out in), as well as a checklist for when you go to look at the actual car. I also included a bill of sale at the end of the PDF.
So let’s take a look at what all is in this printable PDF and WHY it’s in there!
Things to Fill in From Ad / Ask Over the Phone
There are SEVERAL things you should find out BEFORE heading to take a look at a car. Depending on the level of detail in the ad, you may be able to fill most of this out even before calling the owner.
- Source – Facebook, Craigslist, eBay,
localnewspaper, etc. This is really important so you can go back and look at a picture/listing once you have narrowed the field down to the cars you want to go look at. It also helps to not call on the same vehicle twice (guilty!)
- Contact info – Be sure to include a name and phone number/email so you can call back to schedule an appointment to go look at the vehicle if you choose to do so later.
- Color (Exterior)
- Color (Interior)
- VIN – to run CarFax
- Title – clean or salvage
- Has it been in any accidents?
- Does the seller physically have the title? (If not, don’t bother!!!!!)
- Has it passed SMOG within the last (XX) days?
(If your state requires it)
- Is registration current? When is it paid through?
- Why is the seller selling it?
- How long has he/she owned it?
- How was it maintained?
Does the ownderhave service records for it?
- When was the last major service done?
- Is there anything wrong with it?
- Original engine?
- Interior material
Conditionof interior(rips, stains, wear) Conditionof exterior(dents, paint)
- Smoking or pets in the car?
- Condition of windshield
- Approximate gas mileage (freeway and around town)
- Does it leak any fluids?
- 2-Door or 4-Door
- 2 Wheel Drive, 4 Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive?
- Power windows?
- Power locks?
- Power seats?
- CD player?
- DVD player?
- Backup camera?
- How old are the tires?
- How many keys/fobs?
- Spare tire and jack?
Once You Decide You’d Like to go See the Car
- Call your insurance to get a quote. Some cars are crazy expensive to insure, so just be sure you are aware of what it will cost you
- Google what color the fluids should be in the specific car you are looking at. Unfortunately, engine oil is the only one whose color is consistent across the board, so you may be expecting green coolant, and think something is seriously wrong when you see that it is orange or yellow in most newer domestic cars, red or orange-pink in Toyotas, and blue in Hondas. So check what colors you are looking for so you can be prepared.
Alsoknow whether you should check levels when the car is hot or cold. Again, this fluctuates. Transmission fluid is usually checked with the car warmed up,while running and in parkor neutral, but Hondas are checked with the car turned off. This does make a difference, but a quick google search should get you prepared. Google the following fluids for the year, make, and model of the car you will be looking at.
- Transmission Fluid
- Brake Fluid
- Power Steering
- Clutch Fluid (sometimes)
Things to Take With You
- License (for
testdrive and also Bill of Sale)
- Proof of insurance (for test drive)
- A shop rag (or a
couplepaper towels will work) to check fluid levels when you get there
- A CD to check the CD Player
- A DVD to check the DVD player
- The MAX amount of cash you are willing to pay
- Bill of Sale
Things to Pay Attention to When You Arrive
- Are there any visible leaks on the ground where the car is parked?
Conditionof exterior(dents, paint) Conditionof interior (rips, stains, wear)
- Check body lines between fenders, doors, hood, etc. This tells the story of possible previous accidents the car has been in and how clean the repairs were.
- If you are meeting at the seller’s house, and the car has been parked there, feel the hood to see if it’s warm. Or when you start the car, check the temperature gauge. Is it already warm? If so, the seller may have started it and run the car for a while to hide a problem it has when it’s cold. Just something to be aware of… (If you meet them somewhere, then they obviously had to drive it to the meeting spot, so this one doesn’t apply)
- Take notice of the general care and condition of the car. In the words of my brother, “Has it really been loved, or did they just put lipstick on a pig?”
The Test Drive: BEFORE LEAVING THE DRIVEWAY
Under the Hood
- Check fluids that should be checked when the car is cold for appropriate level and color (only if the car is on flat ground. If it is parked on a hill, you’ll need to move it before checking fluids)
- Oil: Clearish yellowish to light brown is clean and brown to black is dirty. If it’s dirty, ask when the last oil change was. If they have no clue, that’s a good indication that it hasn’t been well taken care of.
- Transmission Fluid:
- Brake Fluid
- Check all belts and hoses for cracks.
Inside the Car
- Turn the key and look for all the lights that SHOULD illuminate when the key is turned. All lights should do a self-check, meaning they all come on (check engine, SRS, ABS, oil, traction control, etc). Most of them should go off within a few seconds. A couple will stay on until the car starts and has pressure (like the oil light). IF THEY DO NOT ALL TURN ON, THEN THE SELLER HAS LIKELY PULLED THE BULB TO HIDE A PROBLEM AND YOU SHOULD HIGHLY CONSIDER LEAVING WITHOUT EVEN WASTING ANY MORE OF YOUR TIME. So just make sure those lights are actually working, so you can have confidence that you are getting any notices on the dashboard that you should be getting, as far as problems are concerned.
- Check the following:
- All Locks
- All Seat Adjustments
- All Windows
- CD Player
- DVD Player
- Rear Camera
The Test Drive – WHEN YOU’RE ON THE ROAD
- Don’t be scared to take it to someone you trust and have them take a look at the car, and/or go on the test drive with you!!
- Drive it long enough to test everything and get the car completely warmed up and functioning in different conditions.
- Check operation of:
- Cruise Control
- Accelerate quickly. Be aware of how the car seems to handle shifting gears.
- Brake quickly and slowly. Good brakes with a lot of life in them should feel firm.
- Turn off the radio and listen to the car as it drives
- Drive it at various speeds, paying attention to road noise, squeaks, rattles, and just how it handles overall
- Check the exhaust for excess smoke
- Let go of the steering wheel and see if it veers to one side (it may need an alignment which will cost you $)
- Go to an empty parking lot and make tight turns in both directions. Listen for squeaking, clicking, or clunking when making tight turns.
- Check fluids for appropriate level and color for the fluids that should be checked when the car is warm and turned off, or warm and running.
I just want to throw in a little note here. This list is not to tell you to not buy a car that has any of the above things wrong with it. In fact, it would be odd if you found an older car that DIDN’T
If after the visual inspection and test drive you still want the car, you now have ammo to lower the price, since you know as soon as you leave you will need to spend money fixing the things you found wrong with the car.
Make Sure You Get All of It!
If you decide to purchase the vehicle, be sure to get the following:
- Title (filled out with buyer and seller info)
- Copy/picture of seller’s driver license
- All service receipts
- ALL keys/fobs
- Spare Tire/Jack
DO NOT BUY IF…
…you are not able to walk away with the title in your hand! UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! Do not hand over your money and drive away with that car without a signed title!!!
Page 1 is a list of things to keep things organized when you (or your teenager) is making calls/sending texts/emails on cars. This is all the stuff you should know before ever scheduling a time to go look at a car. You will probably want to print a few copies of page
Page 1 is SO HELPFUL when you have a teenager who is looking for cars. I suggest making it very clear that every single question needs to be filled out before going to look at the car. Then you can be confident that you aren’t wasting your time going to look at a car that you would have said no to, had you only known a little more info.
This printable allows your TEENAGER to do the work.
Pages 2 and 3 cover what you should do if you want to go look at the car. The first couple sections are things you should do before you leave, and then the rest of the sections are for once you arrive to see the car.
The lists are in order of when you should take care of which items, so they are easy to follow and fill out.
Page 4 is a generic Bill of Sale I whipped up for ya. I always take one with me, in case the seller isn’t prepared with one. You can also google a Bill of Sale template for your state and print one off of a different website.
I hope this post was helpful! If I missed anything, please comment below so I can add it in for future readers! ♥
Remember: sharing is caring. Share this post with someone who is (or will be soon) in the market for buying a used vehicle (hint hint – someone with a teenager)!
If you are looking to buy a car, that means you’ll have a key ring. Don’t miss The One Thing Every Single Person Should Have on Their Keys!