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Used or Bruised? Tips for Buying a Pre-Owned Car

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If you’re looking for a new vehicle, a used car can be a cost-efficient, practical way to get a new pair of wheels. But make sure you do your research and go prepared: not all used cars are equal. Learn what to look for so you don’t get stuck with a car that needs repairs, an oil change, or serious safety updates.

Do Your Homework 

First, decide what type of car you’re interested in, then research similar makes and models. Check out local dealerships in the San Diego area, and compare prices. Many dealerships will have online inventories. Before you look in person, decide what you can afford to pay and stick to it! There are plenty of cars out there, so if you don’t immediately see what you want, don’t break your budget.


Once you’ve picked out a car you’re interested in, take a good look at it, and don’t be afraid of seeming too picky. Go over everything, both the interior and the exterior. Is the interior clean, or are there rips or stains? Is it missing floor rugs, knobs and dials, or have a damaged console? Does it look as though there have been any recent repairs? Also, always make sure you open the hood and inspect the engine and parts. Has it had an oil change lately? Anything that looks rusted, leaky, or damaged may indicate repairs will be necessary down the road, adding to the cost of the vehicle.

Test Drive 

When you take the car out for a test, make sure you travel on different types of roads, from San Diego’s foothills and country lanes to highway and city streets. You want to be sure to notice if the car performs differently at various speeds or conditions. Keep both your eyes and ears open: do you hear any unusual sounds at certain speeds? Does the car seem to slip on sharp turns?

The Leak Test 

Leaking fluids of any type can indicate a major problem. You’ll want to test for leaks by letting the car run on a clean patch of road for about 30 seconds; then, move the car and look to see if anything has leaked on the road. Black fluid can indicate the car is leaking oil and may need an oil change, green may mean antifreeze is leaking, and pink can be a sign of trouble in the transmission.

Optional Steps 

If your timeframe and budget allow it, consider having a mechanic inspect the car before you buy it. Use a vehicle history report database like CARFAX to learn ownership history and uncover information about previous service or accidents. Has the car been driven in unusual conditions, or spent most of its life in harsh weather outside of San Diego? Also, consider buying a certified pre-owned vehicle, which gives you the security of a manufacturer-quality vehicle at a used price point.

As with any car, make sure you engage in regular maintenance to keep it in running, safe condition!

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