Buying a used car is scary. No one wants to get stuck with a clunker. Smart and savvy shoppers know how to prevent that fate. Here are five highly important things to look for in a used car.

1. Strong brakes

Slam the brakes as hard as you can. Seriously. They call it a “test-drive” for a reason! If you want to be a safe driver, you need to test the vehicle’s ability to handle emergency situations (like a sudden stop). Strong brakes help you avoid running over pets and pedestrians. Sounds important, huh?

2. Repair history

The car doesn’t have to be perfect. Fender benders and minor accidents happen. Unless you’re OCD about having a spotless exterior, don’t worry about it. That said, expect to receive a full repair history. Get a Carfax to verify that information. Ask the seller to explain anything that might be significant.

3. Smooth ride

Here’s a big mistake: ending the test-drive after you travel around the block. Uh, no. You can do better than that! Make sure this car can perform in a variety of settings. See how the engine handles stop-and-go driving in a small neighborhood. Test its high-speed performance on a busy highway or interstate. You get the idea.

4. Matching tires

You’d be amazed how many people replace one tire at a time. Then they end up with a set of four completely different tires. You might as well walk around wearing a high-heel on one foot and a tennis shoe on the other. If the tires are mismatched, you can expect the rest of the vehicle to be poorly maintained. Consider it a deal-breaker.

5. Kept up fluids

Brake fluid should be yellow. If it’s brown or black, that’s a bad sign. Cancel the deal then and there. Repairing a brake system costs hundreds of dollars. No, thanks. Oil and coolant should never mix together. The combination looks kind of like a chocolate milkshake. That’s a sign of a blown head gasket, which costs more than $1,000 to fix.  

Bonus Tip: Swing by a mechanic.

After you check off every item on this list of things to look for in a used car, ask a trusted mechanic to inspect the vehicle. Brakes, engine, and transmission are major areas of concern. Definitely get a second opinion before you make such an important investment. Please share this post with anybody you know who is looking for a used car. 

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