5 Exterior Components Consumer Reports Says You Should Inspect Before Buying a Used Car

People often mistake a vehicle lemon law for covering used cars as well as new ones. That’s not always the case, as only a handful of states have your back when you buy a pre-owned vehicle that ends up with problems. To avoid spending thousands of dollars on repairs soon after you buy a used car, you’ll want to inspect it before you make your purchase. But why is it so important to inspect a vehicle, and what should you be looking for?

Why should you inspect before buying a used car?

Used car lot where you should inspect before buying a used car.
Used car lot | Getty Images Photographed by Pablo Monsalve

Buying used can save you a lot of money. But if you don’t do your research and inspect the vehicle closely, you could be buying a lemon; one that might cost you tons down the road in repairs. 

According to Hot Cars, there are plenty of horror stories of people buying used cars and paying more to fix it up than they did for the vehicle itself. Some of them didn’t inspect before buying a used car. 

When browsing you’ll likely come across two phrases: “As Is” and “Certified Pre-Owned.” These are two different types of vehicles. When you see As Is, it usually means the seller is not liable if something goes wrong with the car after purchase. 

Purchasing a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle typically means the car has passed an inspection and is ready to drive. It will often come with a warranty to cover it for a specified time. However, nowadays, those vehicles may be older cars with higher mileage due to the effects of the pandemic.

According to Consumer Reports, here are five things to look at on the exterior of the vehicle before purchasing a used car.

1. Windows

You’ll want to inspect all the windows, but concentrate on the windshield as that will be the most expensive to replace should you need to. The best-case scenario is that no cracks, dings, or chips are present, but with used vehicles, you never know what you’ll find. Chips aren’t usually an issue, but if cracks are forming, be aware that they will likely worsen, and you’ll need to replace the glass down the road.

2. Body

Inspect all body panels on the vehicle. Look for things like rust, dents, dings, and scratches. Repaired dents may be unnoticeable to the naked eye, but using a magnet can flush out the evidence quickly. In non-damaged areas, the magnet will stick to the metal, on an area where dent filler was used, the magnet won’t work.  While you’re at it, open and close all the doors to see how well they shut. Check to see if the hinges are loose or in good working order. Also, inspect the rubber seals to ensure no mold or mildew is forming.

3. Tires

The vehicle’s tires can tell a lot about how well it was taken care of. Look at the condition of all four tires. It’s always nice to see new tires on a used car, but if that vehicle has less than 20,000 miles, you’ll want to ask why the tires were replaced. The next thing to check is treadwear. Take a quarter and place it upside down in between the tread. If you see the head of George Washington on the coin, the tread is too low.

Tires that have been overinflated will show wear in the middle of the tread, while underinflated ones will show wear on the sides. If the tread is uneven on the tire, that’s a sign that there may be something wrong with the suspension, steering, or brakes. 

4. Suspension

The first thing to check for is whether the car is sitting level if it’s on a level surface. Then, push down on all four corners of the car near the tires. If the car rebounds once, the suspension is in good shape. If it continues to bounce a few more times, the shocks (or other parts of the suspension system) are shot and will need replacing. 

5. Lights

Check to be sure all lights, including the tail lights, are working on the vehicle. Bring a friend if necessary to help you determine whether all of them work or not. Then, check each of the lenses of the lights. Are they clear, or are there signs of condensation inside the plastic or glass? Are all of them, including the reflectors, intact and not cracked or broken?

What if you’re not comfortable doing your own inspection?

Let’s face it, not all of us are experts at vehicles, so we don’t always know everything to look for that we should. The five listed here are great ways to get you started, though. If you want a more thorough inspection, it’s best to get a professional to check it over, as they can find items that we may not be able to see, like underneath the vehicle. 

Taking the car to your mechanic to perform an inspection is the best because the technician is usually someone you already trust to have your back when it comes to your vehicle. They can put the car up on a lift to see what’s going on underneath and see if there are any leaks you didn’t see before.

Inspecting your vehicle is important so that you can predict ahead of time if costly repairs are in your near future or not. Checking over the car’s tires, windows, lights, suspension, and body will give you a good indication of whether the vehicle is worth the money you would pay for it. 

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