12 Steps to Buying a Quality Used Car

12 Steps to Buying a Quality Used Car

Searching for a truly high-quality vehicle is no easy task... Despite consulting with friends and acquaintances, spending countless hours on YouTube, studying fuel consumption, trunk space, transportation tax and now feeling ready, in reality, things are different.

Searching for a truly high-quality vehicle is no easy task

The transition from the virtual world to the reality of the used car "market" will be abrupt, and you need to be appropriately prepared. Every day you will discover dozens of poorly maintained cars, some of which are damaged and repaired, and others with tampered odometers, ready to be sold under the banner of "Great Deal."

In your lengthy quest for a truly good car, you will encounter lease or imported cars about which you have no idea, you will see magically missing service books and usually, a very "cool" owner or smooth-talking salesman who will tell you:

"This car is a gem!"

After numerous conversations with people who had terrible experiences, as well as based on our own experience, we have come up with 12 steps that will lead you to the most sensible car purchase you have ever made!

So, what should you look out for? Follow the steps below one by one!

Step 1: Define Your Needs

Define your needs

Before you start researching, ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly:

  • What will be the primary purpose of your new car?
  • Do you commute daily in the city center and want fuel efficiency and easy parking?
  • How many trips do you take per year and usually how many people do you carry with you?
  • Do you enjoy speed and are looking for a car with a high "fun-to-drive index"?
  • Are you considering a diesel car for greater fuel economy?

No matter what your everyday road routine is, the first thing you need to do is prioritize your needs! Only then can you understand what your next car should be like and only then will you find it!

For instance, if you take many trips and drive over 20,000 kilometers annually, then yes, a diesel car suits you! In any other case, the payback of the extra cost for its purchase (as they are more expensive) will be long, and ultimately may not be worth it. Do you really know why you want diesel?

The same logic should be applied before you choose and eventually buy an all-wheel drive for an extra fee. Think about it: do you really need all-wheel drive?

Step 2: Determine Your Budget

Determine your budget

Proper budget calculation is perhaps the most important factor you need to consider before buying a car. Ask yourself, what amount is realistic for you, and only then start looking for the suitable car!

If you are buying on installment, calculate:

  1. The duration of the payment period
  2. Fuel cost
  3. Regular maintenance according to the manufacturer's requirements (yes, all this can be found on the Internet!)
  4. The cost of insurance for the year
  5. Transportation tax
  6. Luxury tax (if applicable)

By accurately calculating the installment, you will gain complete control, which ultimately is the "key" to feeling that you have made the right purchase!

If you are not sure how to do this, read now how to calculate the perfect monthly payment amount for your car!

After all, if you don't think all this through in advance, most likely, you will find yourself in a difficult situation and eventually go beyond your budget!

Tip: Cars that were once new and cost a fortune, and now can be found for a third of that price, do not mean that they will have correspondingly low maintenance costs. For example, a premium sedan from 10 years ago or a bulky SUV from 2009 will not have the same maintenance costs as a modern crossover.

Step 3: Conduct Your Own Research!

Conduct your own research

You wouldn't go to a completely unfamiliar restaurant for a romantic dinner, right? The same approach should be taken before buying a car. Before settling on a particular model: 1) Ask for advice from experts 2) Study forums to familiarize yourself with the personal experience of other owners 3) Find out the opinion of journalists of specialized publications based on test drives and comparative reviews.

In other words, most of the research should be done by reading! Lots of reading!

The Internet is teeming with information, so "go" online and dedicate time to studying the topic of interest to you. You won't regret it!

Tip: Watch video reviews of the car you are interested in. Enter a really troubling question in Google, for example: "How comfortable is a station wagon for a family of four?" or "What coupes are most convenient for tall drivers?", and you will find answers and recommendations that will really help!

If you are in the early stages and feeling confused, we would recommend starting by reading about 10 types of cars and determining which one is ideal for you!

Step 4: Think About the Liquid Value of the Car

Think about the liquid value of the car

If you are looking for a car to buy and plan to own it forever, then the liquid value is a concept that should not worry you. However, if you have set a "shelf life" for a new car, that is, you plan to change it in 4-5 years, then before buying, think carefully:

Will you be able to sell it quickly? Will you be able to sell it at a good price?

In general, some factors that affect the liquid value of a car: 1) Model popularity 2) Body type 3) Car mileage 4) Color 5) Used fuel 6) Number of previous owners ...and 8 more factors, which you can read about in the relevant article!

Step 5: First Conduct Your Own Inspection!

First conduct your own inspection!

Before entrusting an experienced mechanic to check a found used car, it would be good to first form your own opinion by conducting a mini-inspection. You can start your research with Inforoom from Spotawheel, finding typical problems of the used car you like!

Below are the elements of the car to pay attention to. However, if you are interested in a deeper analysis of a do-it-yourself check (DIY), then in the Spotmechanic blog, you will find a lot of information on this topic.

So, what to pay attention to?

Car exterior


Paint: Take the time and look at the car from a distance. Maybe the door or wings have a slightly different shade? If so, the car was repainted, and you need to find out the reason!

Gaps: Check the car's gaps, i.e., the space formed between two parts of the body, for example, between the hood and the wings. Is it the same on both sides? If not, then the car was probably hit, and you should explore this issue further.


Tires: The tires should have "fresh" rubber and a deep tread, without cracks, cuts, and other damage. A good way to quickly assess tires is to check the date of their manufacture. If it is older than three years, consider the cost of replacing them. Find out how to check tires yourself! In this particular case, the tire was manufactured in the 14th week of 2011.

check the tires


Car interior

Electronic features: Sit in the car, start it and start switching all the buttons activating the electronic features.

Make sure the air conditioner works properly and silently, check all lighting modes, turn on the turn signals and alarm, and turn up the sound to the maximum!

If the car is equipped with additional options, such as heated seats, activate them, even if it is summer outside!

Seats: The seats should be easily adjustable, and in a three-door car fold for quick access to the trunk.

If the upholstery is dirty, a thorough biological cleaning will be required, as it accumulates microbes that cause not only unsanitary conditions but also a strong unpleasant odor.


checking the engine

What you can independently check in the engine (without special equipment) is few, but important! So it would be a good idea to check:

- Oil level (it should be close to the "max" mark on the dipstick, don't pay attention to the color... if it's black, it means the oil is "working" well) - No leaks at the joints of the engine parts - Presence of damaged or worn parts requiring replacement

You will also get important information about the condition of the engine during a proper test drive!

Step 6: Conduct a Proper Test Drive!

Conduct a proper test drive!

It's great that you checked the car, but if you don't drive it in real conditions, you won't understand if it really suits you!

The test drive should answer many questions: - First of all, is the seat comfortable for you? - Is the driver's position correct? - Good visibility? - What is the real fuel consumption? - Is the engine power sufficient for overtaking? - Will the trunk fit a week's worth of groceries?

To make the most of the test drive, start with the 5 basic rules outlined in the relevant article!

We believe that buying a car should not be done "with a noose around your neck". We want you to "live" with it, test it without any stress or pressure, and in the end, if you regret it, be able to return it!

Tip: During the test drive, you may discover hidden engine problems (e.g., nonlinear power delivery and dropouts), suspension, gearbox, clutch, brakes, so keep your "ears sharp"!

Step 7: Stay Away from Severe Corrosion

Stay away from severe corrosion

Corrosion is usually natural wear and tear that should not scare you if it is not widespread.

However, if you look under the hood and see rusted arches or longerons, and from the outside, you find rusted elements or serious corrosion of the floor, it's better to look for another option. Severe corrosion destroys sheet metal, mechanical components, suspension elements, and even the car's "brain."

Do yourself a favor and check the car for corrosion, especially if you're looking for an older model. Severe corrosion on a car can lead to significant expenses!

Step 8: Request a Service Book and Study the Service History

Request a service book and study the service history

Yes... We've seen that too.

The service book is proof that the car was serviced correctly (or incorrectly), and it can give you a lot of interesting information.

- At what mileage was the oil change done? - Were discs and pads changed, and if so, when? - Why was the water pump replaced before 100,000 km?

These are just some of the questions that should have answers.

If there is no service book or the answers are ambiguous, it is better to refrain from buying this car.

But if you are provided with everything you ask for, then you will be able to better assess the value of the car you are interested in, partially confirm that the odometer reading is real, and calculate possible expenses after purchase.

Read how we at Spotawheel check cars, and get an idea of what you need to do!

I'm sure you wouldn't want to buy a car and suddenly incur expenses because, without knowing it, it's time to change the timing belt.

To avoid this, take some time (no more than 5 minutes) and carefully study the service book!

Before moving on to the next step, it would be a good idea to read: "Is it worth buying a used car with high mileage?"

Step 9: Detect the Tampered Mileage Yourself!

Detect the tampered mileage yourself!

Odometer fraud is a scourge that has been going on for decades...

And don't think that this phenomenon occurs only in cars from dealers! Even private sellers tamper with the mileage...

So how to protect yourself?

Below you will find 7 ways to help you avoid buying a fraudulent car!

1. Verify the authenticity of the service book

Verify the authenticity of the service book

As we mentioned before, the service book is one of the car documents that can provide a lot of useful information about its past.

Check its authenticity in the following ways:

  • First, make sure it's a factory service book. Usually, the dealer's details are listed on the first page with the corresponding stamp.
  • Check if the service center stamps under each recorded job are genuine. Get permission from the owner and call the service centers to confirm that the recorded work was actually done. If you don't get permission or clear answers from the service centers, be wary.
  • Check if the dates and mileages indicated in the service book match the technical inspections.

2. Check the inspection sticker

Check the inspection sticker

A car with tampered mileage can also be identified by the inspection sticker. In this case, the mileage at the time of inspection is indicated in the upper circle, and the mileage from the previous inspection in the lower circle. If the mileage was tampered with, it will be visible on the sticker. However, not always, so attention is required!

The first inspection is conducted 4 years after the car's first registration, and then the frequency of checks is reduced to 2 years.

  • Check if the date and indicated mileage of the last inspection match the records in the service book and the odometer readings.
  • Do not accept photocopies! All documents must be genuine!
  • Request the last inspection sticker and the previous one, then compare the dates and mileages of the car at the time of these checks. If the mileage was tampered with between the last and penultimate inspections, the difference in mileage will be indicated in the lower left corner (as in the photo) on the last sticker!

3. If it's an imported car

If it's an imported car...

The mileage with which the car is imported into the country is indicated in the import documents - so request the import certificate!

4. If it's a lease car

If it's a lease car...

Today they make up a large part of the dealers' fleet. Nevertheless, leasing companies are required to provide a list of work performed on each car and indicate the mileage on the sales invoice. Request it! There you will find the actual mileage!

5. Demand a computer diagnostics

Demand a computer diagnostics

Computer diagnostics can provide a lot of useful information about a car, but it is not an absolute solution to the problem of tampered mileage.

What can you see with good computer diagnostics?

  • Earlier readings with the car's mileage at that time (relevant only for some brands/models)
  • The history of mileage and engine hours (relevant for a limited number of cars, mainly for new models, storing this information in the memory of the control unit, key, headlight, or lock)
  • Visits to an official dealer (for service, repair, etc.)

What CAN'T you see with good computer diagnostics?

If the mileage was professionally tampered with, you won't see any of the above. Don't forget that all this data is stored on the car's "chip." There are specialized devices for tampering with mileage, with which even dealer diagnostics will not cope.

(Tip!) Contrary to popular belief, diagnostics are useful where mileage tampering was done poorly.

6. Look up VIN data on specialized sites

Look up VIN data on specialized sites

There are paid websites on the Internet where you can enter a car's VIN and learn its history, mileage, registered damage, and more.

Tip! These sites do not cover all countries (for example, France), and to obtain information about a car, it must have visited an authorized service center or an official body, such as the local inspection authority of the country of origin. In fact, this is not the most reliable way to learn information about the car you are interested in, but it is still an option worth considering!

7. Compare prices with foreign classifieds sites

Compare prices with foreign classifieds sites

Go to any site that sells used cars. Select the model you are interested in, set the same mileage in the "filters" as in the ad in your country, and see what the price range is in countries like Germany, France, Italy.

Food for thought: think about it, if a dealer buys an imported car for 8000 euros in France, then he must sell it for at least 11000 euros in our country to cover the costs of customs clearance, transportation from France, and make a good profit on his investment.

If the average prices on foreign classifieds sites are the same as yours, it becomes clear that something is wrong...

The reality is that the car was bought with much higher mileage at a very low price, the mileage was tampered with, and the car was "prepared" to look in good condition according to the tampered mileage.

This is a classic problem with the so-called "profitable" purchase, which we wrote about in another article.

Thus, the dealer makes a profit, and the buyer loses, overpaying for a car of lesser value. The problems that arise in the following months will further worsen the buyer's position.

And finally

Another way to detect tampered mileage is a thorough inspection of the car's technical condition by a specialist!

This is the 10th step in your search for a really good car!

Step 10: Expert Check

Expert check

Buying a used car without a preliminary technical inspection can become "the mistake of all mistakes."

Many cars are sold as a "find", so to understand if the owner's or seller's statements correspond to reality, first you need to "enlighten" the car.

A car is a major investment in your life, so a technical inspection is mandatory!

Few will tell you the truth as it is, but don't take a chance, check the car with a specialist! Mathematically, it is likely that a professional will find what an inexperienced eye will miss.

Tip: Remember! Ordinary diagnostics with a scanner is not enough. The car must be fully inspected on a lift, carefully checking both the mechanical components for problems and leaks, and the frame structure for possible past accidents. Finally, of course, it is necessary to drive the car to assess its behavior on the road by a professional.

Step 11: Expand Your Options


Expand your optionsBe nice not to focus on finding one particular car. Try to broaden your choice and drive as many cars as possible!

You will see that you will especially enjoy the opportunity to "absorb" impressions from each test drive, and in the end, you are guaranteed to make a much clearer decision!

Just arm yourself with patience... that's the "key" to a successful used car purchase!

Step 12: Restrain Your Enthusiasm!

Restrain your enthusiasm!

It may sound strange, but falling in love with a car before buying it can lead to the wrong choice, which you will regret later.

Tip 1: Don't get hung up on "favorite brands". Times change, along with them change manufacturers. Today's standards, considered the norm, are constantly transforming, factories change locations, engineers retire, and new CEOs enter the game every day, each with their own vision.

Tip 2: Try not to show your enthusiasm. Even if this car suits you, if the seller realizes how much you want it, you will lose your bargaining power (especially when dealing with sellers).