Key Characteristics to Look For In a Quality Used Car


When shopping for a new car, many buyers steer themselves into trouble by thinking with their heart instead of their head. So, step back, take a breath and enter into used car shopping with sensible guidelines in mind. Here are some key characteristics to look for in a car with low mileage for sale:

Clean Vehicle History

Whether coming from a reputable used car dealer or private owner, it’s worth the trouble to obtain a vehicle history report. For moderate fee (around $20), websites such as AutoCheck and Carfax give a detailed life story of the car, truck, van or SUV you are considering. Information is accessed via the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Alternatively, obtain a similar report from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) which gathers data from participating state DMVs.

A clean vehicle history will show:

  • no accidents
  • recently recorded mileage
  • no record of salvage (being declared a total loss by an insurance company)
  • no outstanding recalls

Good Test Drive

An experienced motorist can tell a lot by simply driving a vehicle. Take a test drive of at least 3 to 5 miles, and look/listen/feel for:

  • quiet engine sound
  • a steady feel to the steering wheel with no vibration on smooth pavement or pulling to the left or right side
  • smooth braking with no metal grinding noise
  • no excessive leaning when going around a curve or turning
  • quick response to acceleration
  • a transmission which does not grind on shifting gears
  • a working dashboard and accessories

Common sense says that a working dashboard and accessories speak volumes about car maintenance. Speedometer and tachometer should be functioning, as well as the radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, windshield wipers/ fluid, heat and A/C. In other words, all those mandatory and nice to have gadgets which are accessible on or around the steering wheel and dash should work. Power windows and seats should function, too, and check out interior lights and passive restraints.

A good test drive around the Greeley, CO area or your town involves checking for potential problems or issues with the car. A written check list, filled out by a companion, helps recall what is and is not functioning.

Problem-free walk around and under the hood inspection

As you walk around the vehicle, check its overall stance–that is, does it look as though it is setting squarely on the ground and not leaning? Observe the body condition, allowing for age and climate. Look for rust, uneven paint color, collision damage, windshield and window cracks/chips, and the condition of rims and tires. Is the tread worn badly or unevenly?  All head lights, tail lights, turn signals, and markers must work, too. With the engine running, a good used car will not have blue or black exhaust.  Take a peek under the vehicle for oil or coolant spots.

Lift the hood. A good car will have no obvious problems. Even a person with minimal knowledge can inspect for:

  • corrosion on battery terminals
  •  levels on oil, coolant and brake fluid
  • oil around the fill neck
  • cracked belts

It will take some time to run through these items, but by doing so, you can be sure that the used car you purchase will offer you reliable transportation for years to come.

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