Pre-owned second hand cars. Used cars. Pre-loved vehicles. Call it what you want, but buying second hand vehicles are always great options for the budget-conscious, Filipino driver. And why not? A used car can be a great option if you’ve always wanted a particular model, but could only afford it at its depreciated price. Or maybe you just don’t want the hassle of paying those fixed monthly payments for brand new cars.

Whatever your reasons are, we’d like to warn you that finding a good quality, used car has nothing to do with luck, but with careful research and observation skills. Understanding what to look for in a used car will help save you costly automotive repairs down the road, so make sure you know what to inspect when buying a second hand car. Here are some of our used car buying tips:

Do your research

Make sure to look for car models that have already proven their reliability on the road. Check out internet car forums, vehicle reviews, and other sites. Do some background research.

Oftentimes, you’ll come across specific trouble spots and weaknesses of the car, so make a note of them, and pay special attention to these areas when you do your inspection. It’s also a good time to research about the car’s resale value in the market. This helps you to pay the car for what it’s truly worth.

Inspection

Inspecting a used car is extremely important, and the more thorough you are, the better. Whenever possible, ask a mechanic to go with you when you do your used car inspection. Do the inspection in broad daylight, and do it on a dry day. The car should also be standing on a level surface, and shouldn’t have been driven at least an hour before you do the inspection.

Exterior

It’s natural for a car’s exterior to have some minor imperfections, since it’s the one that absorbs everything—from bad weather, harsh sun, and even unruly drivers. Here are things to look for when buying a used car:

Body form

Carefully look for dents, scratches, or rust on the car’s body. The paint condition should be even on each body panel, so signs of waviness indicate that some paint work has been done. Another indication is roughness along the edges of joints between panels. This is masking tape residue, a common material used when painting a car.

Some dents may have been patched with body filler, so one way to know is to put a magnet on an area. Those with body fillers won’t stick to the magnet.

You can check if the car has been used often by gently lifting and letting go of each door, especially the driver’s door. Doors that seem loose on their hinges indicate hard or long use. This goes the same for rubber seal tears or rots on car doors. If you find both, then you’re sure it has beaten the tracks for a long time.

Also check the saddle, which holds the radiator’s top and connects the front fenders. Scratch marks on the bolt heads (at the top of the fenders) show that they have been realigned or changed possibly after a crash.

Glass

Another thing to include in your used car inspections is glass. Check for cracks or dented areas. Tiny nicks and chips on windows are not a cause for concern, although you can use it as a bargaining point to lower down the vehicle’s price. However, cracks in the windshield will become worse over time, so this could become a potential problem for you in the long run.

Windshield crack

Suspension

Check that the car is in standing level, and bounce each corner down to see if the shock absorbers are working properly. The car should do a single rebound only, and if it keeps moving up and down, then the car has suspension problems.

Lights and lenses

Look at the lenses and reflectors to make sure they’re not cracked or missing. Ask a friend to confirm if all the lights are working properly.

Tires

Regular tires should be even across the tread width and the left and ride sides of cars. They should also match. If the wear is severe on the drive wheels, then it’s a sign that the driver didn’t regularly rotate the wheels.

Pushy and hard-hitting drivers put a lot of heavy stress on the outside shoulder of the front tires found at the sidewall’s edge.

Exhaust system

Check for leaks in the exhaust system by looking for black spots. Run your fingers inside the exhaust, and if you see a film of greasy grime, then it’s a big problem. Another bad sign is white vapor (don’t do this when the climate is cold) that comes out of the exhaust once you turn the car on.

Interior

A car’s interior is extremely important, since it’s where you’re going to spend most of your time. Here are things to look for when buying used car:

Smell

Check the odor of the car as soon as you first open the door. Does it have a mildewy, moldy smell? If yes, then there’s a possible water leakage somewhere. Look for wet spots to find the source of the water leak.

Keep in mind that it’s hard to get rid of odor in the cabin, and you might rack up on expenses in the process. It would be better to just look for another car if a squeaky clean vehicle smell is what you’re looking for.

Seats

Make sure to try out all the seats inside the car. Check for tears or badly worn upholstery. Don’t forget to try out the seatbelts and seat adjustments, just to be sure that they’re working and aren’t in need of repairs.

Pedals

Cars that haven’t been driven a lot don’t show a lot of wear and tear on the brakes. If you see that the rubber is worn out, then chances are that the car has been used up a lot.

Controls and instrumentation

When you’re doing a car inspection for a used car, don’t neglect to check the control buttons to see if they’re working properly. Turn the ignition switch without starting the engine, and see if all the warning lights appear for a few seconds and then turn off once you start the engine. Try out all the levers, buttons, and switches to see if they’re all working properly.

Another important thing to check are the heaters and air conditioner. Run the engine, and turn on the air conditioner at full blast. See how it quickly cools the cabin. You can do this with the heater as well.

Sound system

Turn on the entertainment system and listen to the radio’s reception. Check out all the controls there, and play some music using the CD, MP3, and iPod players. Also test the car’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections (if the car has them).

Roof

The roof can easily show signs of wet stains or sags. However, a major concern would be water leaks, since it means there’s a hole in there somewhere. If the car has a moonroof or sunroof, check to see if they open or close properly. Also check if they seal well when they close.

Trunk

The trunk is one of those places that attracts a lot of mildew. Smell for wet or musty odors, and look if the carpet feels wet. The spare tire should not have holes in it, and it should be free from rust.

Under the hood

The engine is the heart of a vehicle, so it should always be in good condition. Engines with oil on them or even on the pavement under the compartment is not a good sign. This goes the same for corroded batteries and loose wires and hoses. Here’s what to look for in a used car engine:

Engine fluids

The engine oil is normally brown or black without any small particles or residue. The honey-colored ones show that oil has been recently changed. The transmission fluid shouldn’t have “burnt” odors, and it should have a pinkish color to it, not brown. Signs of serious problems include: visible metal particles, water droplets, or gray or foamy oil on the dipstick.

Radiator

Coolants should have a greenish or orange color to them, not rusty or milky. If the radiator shows greenish stains, then it’s a sign of possible leaks.

A final word

Once you’ve done your second hand car inspection, don’t close the deal yet. Test drive the vehicle, and see how it performs on the road. Check for clanking, groaning sounds, since they can be indicators of a much bigger problem on the road.