Say I am planning to buy a used car in the US.

  • How do I judge the car is in good condition?
  • Are there a specific set of documents I should ask for?
  • What are the tests I can conduct before deciding to buy the car?
  • How do I know if the price is worth it?

Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Please let me know if this is not the right place I should be asking this.

  • Voting to reopen since this is specific to the US, not the UK
    – Zaid
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 15:16
  • Wouldn't localization normally justify closing? Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 0:22
  • 1
    Questions 1-3 here seem fine, however I'd suggest removing the 4th one, as it is incredibly subjective. Then, as there are a large number of folks in the US who buy used cars, I reckon this question should be fine here.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 9:59
  • Ummm.. I would remove question 4 if many of you think it shouldn't be here. I was sceptical while asking it here. However wouldn't the answer be complete if someone get tips to compare their models/specs through websites like autotrader.com or cars.com?
    – Yesh
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


There are several things to consider when purchasing a used vehicle.

Most dealers will provide a Vehicle Report. You can request them on privately sold vehicles as well. If the seller denies you this option then it might be a sign that you should look else where.

Documents to look for:

Reports can tell you multiple things about your vehicle:

  • Accident, collision and damage details
  • Lein Status
  • Registration Branding
  • Stolen Vehicle Check
  • Import Status
  • Misc Records

Vehicle inspection:

Take your time when looking over the vehicle you are interested in. Look for surface damage, rust, and anything out of the ordinary. When you are looking in the trunk, remove the carpet/matting to see if there is any damage.

Do the same for the driver and passenger side doors. Pull the carpet until you can see the floor pan to assure that it is solid.

Check your rocker panels. They are usually the first thing to go in the snow belt, aside from various parts of the frame, depending on the vehicle of course.

It would be great to see the underside of the vehicle. This is more tricky when you are buying from a private seller. You would be best to have a friend who is a mechanic so you can use their hoist to take a look at it. If the seller denies you this option, then proceed with caution.

When the vehicle is on the hoist look for any damage to the frame, exhaust system and brake lines. The vehicle will not pass safety if there is significant damage to either. Aside from that, you wouldn't want to drive a death trap anyway.

These same principles will apply to motorcycles as well, with one exception. Do not purchase a bike with frame damage if your intent is to ride it without investing time and money to fabricate. It doesn't matter how "sweat" the deal is. Structural damage on a bike is a little different than on a car.

Inspect the interior for noticeable damage.


After your circle check, inspect everything.

  • Functional Doors and Locks
  • Dash Warning Lights
  • Lights/Signals
  • Heater/AC
  • Seat adjustment
  • Mirror adjustment
  • Wipers/Windshield Washer
  • Radio/Speakers

When driving the vehicle:

  • Listen to how it sounds
  • Does it shift right?
  • Is the exhaust extremely loud?
  • Do you feel any vibrations, etc?

Determining price

While this is subjective, there are things you can do to assess this. In Canada we have what is called the Black Book where you can view vehicles and their values through different conditions.

Take a look at Edmunds. Do your best to assess condition when viewing a vehicle, as described above.

  • 1
    And actually have a checklist when inspecting a car. I have found this incredibly useful to remind me to check everything I want to look over on a vehicle I am thinking of purchasing.
    – timbo
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 1:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .