What to Look for When Buying A Pre-Owned Vehicle

What to look for when buying a pre-owned vehicle.

If it’s time to upgrade your current ride but the numbers on the new car price tags have you balking, a pre-owned vehicle may be just the answer. A pre-owned car is an affordable and reliable choice that gets you back on the road in no time and saves you some money along the way. As with any major purchase, there are some things you should know going in. The most important thing is to take a test drive of the car that catches your eye. This is the easiest way to tell if this particular vehicle suits your needs. Focus on how the car feels, drives, looks, and even smells. Allow yourself to trust your gut; if something feels off, it’s completely okay to say it’s not for you and move on to something different. At Nate Wade we want to make sure that the vehicle you choose will serve you well in the years to come. We’ve put together a collection of things we believe you should know before you purchase a pre-owned car or SUV. If you have any questions about our pre-owned inventory or the buying process, feel free to contact us or swing by our showroom at 1207 S. Main Street in Salem. We’re always happy to help.

Photograph of the dashboard of a Subaru from the front passenger seat.

Become Familiar With Consumer Protection Laws

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act might not sound familiar to you, but its nickname will: The Lemon Law. Enacted in 1975, this law entitles consumers to a refund or replacement if they buy a damaged or defective item. If a written certified pre-owned certificate comes with the vehicle you’re looking to buy, you would be covered by this law. If not, it’s up to your state laws to provide help. While each state is different, Oregon’s Lemon Law states that the vehicle purchased during the warranty period could be used for personal, family, or household purposes. If something goes wrong on the vehicle, the manufacturer must be notified in writing within 2 years or 24,000 miles so there’s an opportunity to repair the issue.

If the manufacturer or dealer was unable to repair the same defect after three attempts, the car was out of service for at least 30 days, or there is an issue that is likely to cause serious injury or death and is not repaired after one attempt, you’re entitled to receive a new vehicle or a full refund. It is up to the manufacturer, though, whether you receive a replacement vehicle or a refund. We realize that problems can arise with any car, whether it be new or used, and you can rest easy knowing that our team at Nate Wade Subaru is always here to support you. As always, feel free to contact our team with any questions or concerns.

Close-up Photograph of the Subaru logo at the center of a black vehicle wheel.

Educate Yourself on the Vehicle’s History

While knowing there are laws in place to protect you if you end up with a faulty vehicle is nice, it’s even better to not have to use it at all. One way to check that the automobile you’re considering is worth purchasing is to ask to see the maintenance record. This is an easy way to see what kind of care the vehicle has received over the years. Another option is to have our service technicians take a look at the car to inspect it for any underlying issues. Nate Wade Subaru is proud to have our service center staffed with the best factory trained and certified technicians who know exactly what to look for and will be honest and straightforward with you about anything they discover. An additional step you should take is to get a hold of the vehicle history report. All you need is the VIN number to be able to receive reports of the vehicle’s title, the number of owners it’s had, and if this particular car has been in any accidents. You’ll also be able to discover if the mileage on the odometer is correct, if it was used as anything other than personal use, such as a taxi, if it was subject to flood or hail damage, or if the airbag has ever been deployed. You’ll also be able to see if there have ever been any recalls on your desired vehicle.

What to Look for on the Outside of the Vehicle

Once you’ve made up your mind which pre-owned vehicle you’d like to drive home, it’s time to do a thorough inspection, starting with the exterior. You’ll want to pay special attention to the tires, the paint, and the general overall condition. Make sure the tires are all the same brand and show equal wear. Uneven tread will cause a condition called “feathering,” which is a clear sign of misalignment. Misaligned tires can affect the brakes performance, making the vehicle dangerous to operate. Check the body for dents or scratches. While small spots of rust or corrosion are okay, large patches can be problematic, affecting the car’s structural integrity.

One of the most important things to check for damage is the frame. The best way to do this is get on flat ground and look down at the vehicle to make sure everything looks even, including the lines, doors, and fenders. Make sure that all the doors function properly and check to ensure that the trunk opens and closes with no issues. If you notice a musty smell when you open the doors, it could be indicative of water damage. If at all possible, get underneath the car to examine the undercarriage for rust or other damage. One simple test you can do is to run your finger around the inside of the exhaust pipe and if you find a greasy residue inside, that means the engine is burning oil.

Photograph of a Red Subaru Legacy Driving Outside a City.

What to Look for Inside the Vehicle

While it’s best to leave the under-the-hood inspection to the professionals, there are numerous things you can keep your eyes open for. Check the area under the hood to ensure that it is free of rust or dents and make sure all the hoses and belts are not cracked and appear to be in good condition. It’s always a good idea to make sure all of the fluids are full, including the coolant. If you notice that the transmission fluid is red or pink or if there is a burning odor, that’s evidence of a serious transmission problem. While checking the oil, look for signs of leaks or a blown gasket; these include a foam residue in the oil cap, or a milky appearance to the oil.

When you inspect the cabin, look for obvious signs of wear and tear, including stains or rips on the upholstery. Don’t be shy about testing everything, including the lights, stereo, air conditioner and heating system, windshield wipers, and turn signals. Ensure that the headlights and brake lights are in working order, check that the windows roll down fully and smoothly, and make sure that the seat adjustment is functional. When you turn the vehicle on, verify that no warning lights pop up on the dash and double check the mileage to confirm that they match the odometer number on the paperwork.

Photograph of the Nate Wade Subaru lot at dusk.

Test it Out on the Road

If everything has passed your inspection, it’s time to take the vehicle out for a test drive. While we understand this is the fun part, this isn’t the time to let your guard down, for this is the most important test of all. Pay attention to every little detail. Does the vehicle start as soon as you turn the key or push the ignition button? As you’re driving, make sure there are no strange noises, knocking, or shaking; these can be signs of larger underlying issues. It’s a good idea to vary your speed to see how she handles on flat ground, city streets, steep hills, and the freeway. If possible, drive down a dirt road to see how the vehicle handles unpaved stretches. One of the most important things to notice is the steering: is turning smooth or does the wheel put up a fight? Another good rule of thumb is bring someone along with you to experience the test drive and help document everything.

When you’ve made the decision to look into a pre-owned vehicle that you can trust, come into Nate Wade Subaru. You’ll find a wide selection of pre-owned cars and SUVs to choose from plus you can be confident that our expert technicians have thoroughly inspected and tested every vehicle before it entered the lot so you know it’s safe. You can browse our pre-owned inventory online at your convenience or feel free to stop by our Nate Wade Subaru showroom today. We’re excited to get you behind the wheel of a pre-owned Subaru you’re sure to love!

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