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A Quick Checklist for Buying an Older Used Car

Modern cars are lasting longer than ever before. Advances in automotive machinery and technology are empowering car manufacturers to build better and better quality vehicles.

Higher quality, longer-lasting vehicles are a win for consumers, generally speaking. But the used car market has suffered some disruption. It’s not uncommon to buy used cars at 100,000 or even 150,000 miles these days—and that’s at the nicer used car lots.

If you’re in the market for an older used car, one with some significant mileage on it already, you need to know what to watch out for. Here’s a quick checklist for buying an older used car.

1. Watch Out for Rust

Rust. It’s been called “car cancer” and worse. Today’s cars may well last for 200,000 miles or more, but not if rust gets them first. If you spot significant rust on the underside of a vehicle you’re looking at, be careful.

Of course, not all rust is created equal. Cars that have spent time in certain regions (like coastal Florida) will almost certainly have some. A little surface rust (or even a lot in certain unimportant places) might not be a big deal. If you’re not sure, check with a reputable auto repair shop before buying.

2. Know the Signs of Flood and Water Damage

Even if you don’t see rust, look for signs of water damage. If a vehicle has been flooded, rust is soon to follow. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, millions of cars were partially or fully submerged. Up to 500,000 were completely destroyed according to Cox Automotive estimates. It’s the ones that weren’t destroyed you need to worry about because many have made their way to the resale market.

Many of these flooded vehicles have been cleaned up. Unscrupulous salespeople might try to conceal the car’s history. Not sure how to tell if a car has been flood-damaged? Here’s a helpful video.

3. Check the Brake Fluid

Before you buy, check the brake fluid. Open the hood and find the brake fluid reservoir. If you aren’t sure what to look for, check the owner’s manual. (If your used car doesn’t have an owner’s manual, that might be a bad sign, but you can probably find one online.) Brake fluid shouldn’t be dark, and the level shouldn’t drop below the line. If either of these is the case, don’t buy the car without approval from your auto repair shop.

4. Check the Tires

Check the tread depth on the tires, and inspect tires for visible damage like cracks or punctures. A reputable car lot will replace damaged or bald tires before the sale. In many states, this is required by law. But let’s be honest: some lots might not “notice” unless you do.

5. Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Once you find the car you think you want, take it to a reputable auto repair shop for a pre-purchase inspection. Mechanics do these all the time, and they know better than most of us what to watch out for. If you have specific concerns, let your mechanic know those, too.

Are you looking for a pre-purchase inspection? We can help! Contact us today to make an appointment.

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