Buying a car is exciting, whether it is brand new or just new to you. It can also be stressful! The “what if?” factor is high with a car. There are so many things that could go wrong and, in the case of a used car, there’s a good amount of information that you simply can’t know.

That said, it is important to take the time to answer as many questions as you can and know as much as possible about the car you are buying. It can be tempting to get swept up in that perfect shade of paint or dreamy sound system. But, stay strong! While picking a car isn’t quite as important as selecting a life partner, both decisions deserve research and a willingness to keep your eyes wide open.

We aren’t here to help you choose your life partner, but we can give you a list of things to examine as you take a look around at your closest used car dealer. Let’s start from the top:

Used Car Shopping? Here's How to Check it from Top to Bottom



This is often the first thing we notice in a car, and the color and style matter. But beyond just deciding if you like the color, take a deeper look at other details the paint might tell you. Are there cracks, blisters, or peeling? Also, take note if there are any parts of the car where the paint doesn’t match perfectly. This can be a sign of damage that required repainting. If so, ask about the vehicle report to learn about any damage in its history.

Windows and Mirrors

These are important! Check for cracks and for the seals around the windows to make sure they are strong and ready for rain. Take a seat inside and make sure the mirrors work. If the side mirrors are adjustable by a switch inside, give them a test drive and make sure they work.

Sit Down and Look Around

While you are inside the car, take a good look around. Is the dashboard in good shape? Are any knobs missing? Explore a little and check the upholstery up front and in the back seat. Pick up the rugs and look under them for wear and tear. Also, take a good sniff and see if you notice any musty smells that could be a sign of water damage.

Pop the Hood

Not surprisingly, this is a particularly important place to look around. It is always a great idea to take a potential car to meet a mechanic, just like bringing home a potential partner. Mechanics, like families, can spot things you might miss in your enthusiasm. But, you know more than you think and there are plenty of things you can check for under the hood.

Look for any loose connections, rusted bolts, or worn-out wires. Check for built up grime or rust, and examine the connections on the battery. Also, take a look and listen while the engine is running. Don’t get too close, but listen for how those belts are running. Listen for any whining or clunking signs that could indicate trouble.

Under the Carriage

This can be tricky, but if you can take a look underneath the car, it can pay off. This is where you can examine the struts and shocks and sway bars. Don’t know what those are? That’s fine–just look for rust! That’s what you really want to avoid. You also want to check for condensation, which will look like droplets of oil or water. These can be signs of bad seals or damage in the suspension system that might need a look.

Ground Check

Now that you’ve examined everything on the car, take a look at the ground beneath the car. This can be especially helpful if you are looking at a car being sold privately. It has probably been parked in the same place for a while, so there could be stains or puddles that would give a clue as to any potential problems. Not every drip or leak is a problem, but if you see some evidence of drips, it is worth a follow-up question to the owner or dealer.

Put it All Together

Looking at a car, however, extensively, while it is parked, will only tell you so much. Getting behind the wheel and taking it for a spin will give you an idea of how the car suits you. Sure, the stereo system matters, but turn off the radio for a while at first and really listen. Listen for grinding noises, especially on turns, stops, and starts. Any whistling or squeaking?

Put the car through different tests–turns, accelerations, parking, and braking. Try to do everything you’ll eventually do if the car becomes yours. Also, pay attention to the feel of the car. Does it vibrate at certain speeds or when you turn? How responsive is the steering or braking? Think of this as a job interview for the car. You want to ask as many questions as you can!

Then, of course, check out the stereo system. If everything else checks out, make your offer, crank up the music, and drive away with a car you love. And if you’re looking for a great deal on a used car, ask about our Salt Lake City rebuilt title cars. They’re painstakingly restored so you get a like-new car for a fraction of the price. And with our third-party 150-point inspection to add to your top-to-bottom check, you’ll have the ultimate in peace of mind.

Contact us to car shop on-site, or if you’re interested in buying from out-of-state, we ship more rebuilt cars around the nation than any other dealer. You can buy remotely and have your new car delivered to your driveway.