5 Most Important Things to Check Before You Buy a Preowned Vehicle

pre owned vehicle pre purchase checklist

Buying a used car can be a smart financial decision—it can also be a very bad one, if you end up getting a car that needs a lot of work that you didn’t know about beforehand.

We’ve talked about buying preowned vehicles on the blog before. In our post Don’t Buy a Used Car Until You Read These 7 Wallet-Saving Tips, we discussed some of the higher-level concepts you need to be aware of, such as understanding the potential effects of total mileage, effective ways to do price comparisons for the make and model of vehicle you’re looking at, and the many benefits of BG’s Pre-owned Vehicle Protection Plan.

If you’re thinking of buying a preowned vehicle, that post is a great place to get started with what you need to know. However, the post you’re reading now is something of a follow up to that one. Today, we’ll be going over some of the more detailed aspects of buying a used car, namely, the areas of the vehicle you should inspect.

Even if you hire a BG certified professional to perform a pre-purchase audit, it’s still a good idea to have a rough understanding of what to look out for. So, let’s take a look at five important areas of a used vehicle to inspect, starting with the exterior:

purchasing a used car

#1 – Exterior: Body, Tires, and Lights

Oftentimes, the exterior of a car looks fine at first glance—it isn’t until you look a little closer that you notice a possible problem. A smart place to start your inspection will be looking at the body of the vehicle.

Check each of the panels as you walk around the vehicle, and keep an eye out for damage. Small scratches or dents, while perhaps visually unappealing, aren’t likely to hamper the performance of the vehicle. Rust, however, especially in large areas, should be a red flag as to how the vehicle was treated by its previous owner(s) and may be indicative of larger problems.

As you walk around the vehicle, ask the owner for permission to open and close all doors, the hood, and the trunk. Operation should be easy. If any of these things are hard to open or close, or body panels don’t quite match up, the vehicle may have been in an accident prior to your inspection.

#2 – Interior: Instruments, Leaks, and Smells

Next, take a look at the inside of the vehicle. Check the instruments—that is, all the indicators on the dashboard. Turn the key to accessory mode (the “halfway” point that gives power to things in the car without starting it). Everything should light up and be functional. Then, start the car and check for warning lights.

While you’re likely to check the upholstery, seat operation, and so on, a part often missed during an inspection is the roof. Look at the roof in the vheicle and keep an eyue out for any stains or signs of water damage. If you see anything like that, there might be a leak or even rust that needs to be addressed.

As for smells, reference our post 5 Weird Smells That Mean Your Car Needs Immediate Maintenance to recognize unusual odors.

#3 – Engine: Fluids, Belts, Hoses, and Radiator

Under the hood, inspect the belts and hoses for signs of damage, cracks, fraying, or excessive wear. The radiator should be full of green or orange anti-freeze—white or red, rusty colors can indicate damage to the radiator.


Check the fluids of the vehicle. The oil should be brown or black, or amber if it was recently changed, but never have a gray or foamy appearance (which could indicate a cracked engine block, an expensive repair). The transmission fluid should be pink and never smell burnt. The brake fluid should be full and nothing should be leaking onto the ground.

bg buying used car tips

#4 – Transmission: Shifting While Driving

A simple test, but it does require a test drive. Does the vehicle shift smoothly while driving? Are there any grinding noises when you drive in reverse? If you’re driving an automatic transmission, pay close attention while driving for slips or delays in shifting. Any of these things could indicate a possible problem with the transmission.

#5 – Handling: Brakes, Steering, and Sounds While Driving

Finally, during the test drive, pay attention to how the vehicle handles. If it drifts to one side, vibrates or shakes, or gives resistance while turning, there may be a bigger issue at play. Also listen for sounds, particularly while turning—clicks, clunks, or other noises can indicate problems with the steering system.

The brakes shouldn’t grind when you apply them. As for squeaks or squeals, learn what causes normal, harmless brake squealing and what could indicate a problem in our post Why Your Car Brakes Are Squealing and How to Fix it.

Learning More About BG Products and Services for Your New or Used Vehicles

We hope that today’s post has given you some valuable insight for what to look at when you’re purchasing a used vehicle.

Remember, whenever possible it’s a great idea to have your vehicle inspected by a professional at your local BG shop and, after making the purchase, you should consider getting the BG Pre-owned Vehicle Protection plan, which is available for vehicles with less than 120,000 miles and offers up to $2,000 worth of coverage.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

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