Consumer Reports details a number of things that consumers should look for when buying a pre-owned car. A buyer should check the interior and exterior of the car, under the hood and underneath the vehicle. A vehicle history report can also be useful.
When looking at the exterior of a pre-owned car, Consumer Reports recommends first looking at the overall body condition of the car. Look for any scratches, rust or dents, and make sure to examine whether or not all panels line up with one another. Also make sure that the paint is all one color, as a different color of paint could be an indication of prior body damage. Also look for any cracks in the glass and that all of the lights are working. Tires should have minimal tread wear and the car should sit level.
The interior of a car should first be inspected for any odor, such as a musty smell that could indicate prior water damage. Make sure that the seats are not worn and that all adjustments work correctly. The sound system should also be tested, including any auxiliary outlets that may be used. Also check the instruments and control panels to ensure that all warning lights work and that both the heat and air conditioning function properly.
Consumers should also look underneath the hood in order to determine any potential engine problems. Consumer Reports recommends checking the hoses and belts, fluids, radiator and battery. Once finished, make sure to look underneath the vehicle including feeling the tailpipe for any residue. If possible, check any structural components and joints that are underneath the car. Consumers that feel uncomfortable checking these things can have an inspection performed by an independent mechanic.