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You can tell a lot from the tires. A car with less than, say, 20, miles on the odometer should probably still have its original tires.

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Also check that all four tires are the same. Any different tires may show that they have been replaced. Tread wear should be even across the width of the tread and the same on the left and right sides of the car. Ask if the tires have been regularly rotated. If not, the wear is usually more severe on the drive wheels. Aggressive drivers tend to put heavy wear on the outside shoulder of the front tires, at the edge of the sidewall.

Assume that the car has been driven hard if that area shows heavier wear. Tires that have been driven while overinflated tend to wear more in the middle than on the sides. Chronically underinflated tires show more wear on the sides. Check the tread depth with a tread-depth tool available at auto-parts stores or a quarter.

If you can see the top of his head, the tire should be replaced.

used car checklist

Examine the sidewalls for scuffing, cracks, or bulges, and look on the edge of each rim for dents or cracks. And be sure to check that the spare is in good shape and that the proper jack and lug wrench are present. When you first open the car door, sniff the interior. A musty, moldy, or mildewy smell could indicate water leaks.

Remove the floor mats and check for wet spots on the carpet. An acrid smell may indicate that the car was used by a smoker. Some odors, such as mold or smoke, can be very hard to get rid of. Try out all the seats even though you may not plan to sit in the rear. Try all the seat adjustments to make sure they work properly and that you can find a good driving position. The rubber on the brake, clutch, and gas pedals gives an indication of use. Instruments and controls. Note if the engine is hard to start when cold and if it idles smoothly.

Then try out every switch, button, and lever. With the engine running, turn on the heater full blast to see how hot it gets, and how quickly. Switch on the air conditioning and make sure it quickly blows cold.

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Sound system. Check radio reception on AM and FM. If there is a CD player, try loading and ejecting a disc. If you plan on using an MP3 player or an iPod in the car, bring that along and test out the connection if there is one. Check the headliner and roof trim for stains or sags to see if water is leaking through the sunroof, ill-fitting doors, or windows.

If equipped with a sunroof or moonroof, check to see if it opens and closes properly and seals well when shut. Inspect the convertible top for tears by shining a flashlight up into it. Use your nose as well as your eyes. Sniff and look for signs of water entry. See if the carpeting feels wet or smells musty, and check the spare-tire well for water or rust.

Look first at the general condition of the engine bay.

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  4. Dirt and dust are normal, but be wary if you see oil splattered about or on the pavement under the engine compartment. Hoses and belts. The rubber should be firm and supple, not rock-hard, cracked, or mushy. Feel the drive belts to determine whether they are frayed. Engine oil should be dark brown or black, but not gritty.

    If the oil is honey-colored, it was just changed. If the dipstick has water droplets on it or gray or foamy oil, it could indicate a cracked engine block or blown head gasket, two serious problems. Check the automatic-transmission fluid with the engine warmed up and running.

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    On some, the dipstick has two sets of marks for checking when the engine is either cold or warm. Power-steering and brake-fluid levels should be within the safe zone. The coolant should be greenish or orange, not a milky or rusty color. Greenish stains on the outside of the radiator are a sign of pinhole leaks.

    A green indicator usually means the battery is in good shape; yellow or black usually means it is dying or dead. These indicators reveal the condition of just one cell and may not give an accurate reading on the health of the whole battery. If the battery has filler caps, wipe off the top with a rag, then carefully pry off or unscrew the caps to look at the liquid electrolyte level.

    A low level may mean that the battery has been working too hard. If you can find where a car was usually parked, see if that part of the garage floor or driveway is marked from old puddles of gasoline, oil, coolant, or transmission fluid. Clear water that drips from under the car on a hot day is probably just water condensed from the air conditioner. Feel the tailpipe for residue. Tailpipe smudge should be dry and dark gray. While some rust is normal, heavy rust might be OK but could mean a new exhaust system might be needed. If the vehicle is high enough to slide under, you may be able to do some basic checks underneath.

    If not, make sure your mechanic checks it. Spread an old blanket on the ground and look under the engine with a flashlight. On a front-wheel-drive car, examine the constant-velocity-joint boots inboard of the front wheels. They are round, black, rubber bellows at the ends of the axle shafts. Structural components with kinks and large dents in the floor pan or fuel tank all indicate a past accident. Welding on the frame suggests a damaged section might have been replaced or cut out to perform repair work.

    Fresh undercoating may hide recent structural repairs. A dealer should have no problem lending you the car to have it inspected as long as you leave identification. If a salesperson tells you that an independent inspection is not necessary because the dealership has already done it, insist on having your mechanic look at it. If a private seller is reluctant to let you drive the car to a shop, offer to follow the seller to the shop where the inspection will take place. You need to be very careful when buying a used car.

    You can easily end up with a lemon or rebuilt car. When you see a horrific wreck on the highway you probably don't realize that many of those cars end up repaired, rebuilt and sold on the used car market. There are positives to buying used. Most importantly you will get more value for your dollar since somebody else took the huge hit on the initial depreciation. This hit is the largest source of lost money when buying a car. By following our used car buying guide you will learn how to avoid the common scams and pitfalls. This step may seem obvious but you shouldn't just go out to used car dealerships and start the shopping process.

    First you should search the online used car classifieds.

    Buying a used car - the ultimate checklist | RAC Drive

    Go to the local newspaper websites to view the automotive classifieds to view ads for cars that are close to you. However, to get the largest selection we recommend that you use the larger sites with thousands of listings like the ones mentioned below.

    12 Things To Check Before Buying A Used Car

    The main benefit of these sites is there are many more cars to choose from than your local newspaper. Try them all, they're free to use. Use their simple form to select the make and model and instantly see what is available near you. You will be able to easily get quotes on several similar cars to give you negotiating power!

    1. Find the Right Used Car for You

    Looking for a used car? TrueCar has you covered. With an extensive inventory of over , pre-owned vehicles for sale at Certified Dealers nationwide. You can browse through quality vehicles and know the condition of the car before you buy. Sort vehicles by TrueCar Price Rating, favorite colors, body styles and more. Search Used Vehicles on TrueCar. Compare used vehicles, locate certified pre-owned cars, quotes from used car dealers and private sellers. You can also sell your car fast at Cars. Place your online ad to reach millions of car buyers. Click Here to Visit Cars.

    This is the most important tip to follow when buying a used car. Whatever you do, you should never buy a car without first verifying what you are buying by running a history report. I get a ton of emails from people that ended up buying a used car and later finding out it had been wrecked. There are body shops that are professionals at making a car look good. It can happen to anybody. If the VIN isn't clearly listed in the ad and the seller won't give it to you then move on to the next car. They are most likely trying to hide something.

    Since you are normally buying a used car "As Is," you will want to know about any problems before the purchase. It gives you the ability to run 25 reports over 21 days so you will be able to compare the histories of the cars you are seriously considering. Find out if the AutoCheck 25 report package is right for you. It is impossible to really know how well a used car was taken care of by the prior owners. No matter how many inspections you do or how many reports you run, unless a mechanic tears the engine and transmission down, you'll never know what hidden issues are lurking.

    My advice is that you should consider buying a new car that fits your budget so that you will be covered by the manufacturer's warranty if there are any problems. You won't get the bang for the buck or have as "nice" of a car, but you can avoid headaches and expenses. Financing is handled differently depending on whether you are purchasing from a dealership or a private party.

    Either way, most banks will not give you a loan for a car older than 4 or 5 years. Try to have your credit score over because you will be considered a prime borrower and get the lowest possible APR. If your credit is really bad you might want to try and repair it before you buy a car. They offer low interest, unsecured loans for highly qualified customers. LightStream offers "The Anything Loan" which can be used to finance your used, private party or dealer, car purchase.

    Click Here to Visit LightStream.

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    Auto Credit Express specializes in finding financing for people with bad credit. You may be limited in your choices of what car you can purchase or where you can buy from but they will help you. Out of all the steps to buying a used car, the one-on-one negotiation is the most daunting! You need to use all of the available information to your advantage to drive the price down.