Smart Spending

21 Things To Look For When Buying a Car

Allison Martin
Written by Allison Martin

Congratulations! You’ve just been approved for an auto loan. Now, it’s time to start searching for the perfect ride. After test driving all the options on your list, you’re torn between several options.

Sounds familiar?

Well, there’s so much more to purchasing a car that spans beyond the test drive. Once you’ve secured financing, you’ll need to thoroughly analyze the car from top to bottom, inside out, to ensure it’ll be worth the investment.

New or Used?

In most instances, what you see is what you get when purchasing a used car. You’ll have the option of changing the paint color or purchasing more add-ons, but only once the deal is sealed.

On the other hand, a new car is another ball game. In most instances, you’ll have several options to choose from. Visit the manufacturer’s website to take an online tour of both the exterior and interior tour of the vehicle. You can also visit the local dealership to get an up close and personal look. But keep in mind that it’ll be chock full of all the bells and whistles, so it’s best to read the fine print to get an idea of what the base model includes. You may discover that the ride is not worth the asking price.

A 21-point Checklist

Since most new cars come with some sort of manufacturer’s warranty to give you a peace of mind, what you’ll be looking for will be cosmetic. By contrast, a bulk of used cars are sold as-is unless you are considering a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle from the dealership or the seller’s extended warranty is still valid and will transfer to you.

Here’s a checklist of things to look for when buying a car:

Exterior Features

      1. Body: Does the manufacturer offer the color or paint finish you’re looking for? If the car is used, is the body of the vehicle up to par or are there scratches and dents that could indicate major bodywork has been performed on the vehicle? The latter could indicate that the car was totaled in an accident and is not safe for the road.
      2. Hauling Capacity: Will you be transporting heavy objects? If so, you’ll need to inquire about the towing capacity. Also, examine the trunk space to ensure its adequate and confirm bicycle and/or luggage racks can be installed on the vehicle if they aren’t already present.
      3. Doors: Power doors are a huge plus for minivans since you’ll either be hauling tons of items or having children frequently enter and exit. Test them out to ensure they function properly.

About the author

Allison Martin

Allison Martin

Allison Martin is a digital content strategist and personal finance junkie. Her work has appeared on on a number of reputable sites, including The Wall Street Journal, Investopedia, Daily Finance, MSN Money and She also travels around the nation facilitating financial literacy workshops for nonprofits, governmental organizations, colleges and universities.


  • This article reads like an advertisement – I kept waiting for the book pitch.

    Do your homework BEFORE you start talking to salesmen. To them, you are nothing but a dollar sign to be harvested.

    All you need:
    1) Arrange your financing BEFORE you go looking
    2) Car FAX
    3) Unless you are a competent mechanic, pay for one to check it out for you.

    Fail to do any one of the above three and you have no one to blame but yourself.

  • A good idea is to rent the car you’re thinking of buying. Go to your nearest Hertz and rent the car for the weekend. You’ll get a good idea of the workings, seat comfort, etc.

  • If your smart STAY AWAY FROM THE DEALERS ON RT22 IN NJ,you will be glad you did. They are the biggest bunch of thief and don’t give a hout about what they sell you,even if you can’t afford it. NEVER,NEVER,NEVER give any salesperson your Drivers Luc. Or Credit Card to go to the finance manager to check ,to check what,they now have control over you .you won’t leave without the item(s) they will get lost so you will sign any contract they put in front if you after a hour or so wIte.

  • I got taken for a ride by a used car company. I did my home work and googled the car then drove it home. I took it back next day. I found out first hand the car would get me KiLLED! I also found Others had complained to HONDA, and I LOVE HONDA, Who blew them off!! The sales man had hustled me. I stood my ground, and in the end, FORD
    Stood up and did the right think, they gave me every penny back! I now drive a used RAV 4 I bought from Another FORD dealer. I think
    my age may have helped, I would like to believe it was ETHICS!!
    One thing I found during my LONG
    TORTURE NOTHING has changed in the treatment and attitudes by car dealers when it comes to women, if any thing it is WORSE!!
    There is no amount of money that you could give me to get me back at a car dealership, new or used!! I pray this car can be good enough to be my LAST!! The BOTTOM LINE in car sales will ALWAYS BE, ” MAKE THE SALE AT ANY COST!!

  • I purchased a 2016 ford edge in Feb 2017 and the next month after the SUV needed to keep getting jump starts ,,,road side assistants was my new best friend it was not only embarrassing,but it was now an investment of something I really don’t want 4 attempts which is considered a lemon in the state of Illinois, I hired a lawyer and they want me to settle for 6,000 the car is 40k and 700.00 a month I was asking for a full refund and the lawyers seem to think this is a great deal I am an angry consumer who will never but or recommend this company to my worst enemy

  • Glad to see fitting a bicycle in the car was included. That’s the first thing I consider when choosing a car.
    2nd: is the steering wheel shape comfortable for hours-long driving (must NOT have a big fat spoke at the 6-o’clock position where my thumbs go!)
    3rd: it MUST HAVE a compass. This is one of my favorite features. I use the compass direction to help navigate, especially here in cloudy Seattle.

  • I wish I would have noticed that my new car doesn’t have exterior door locks. Nor a lock on the trunk. So if in the unfortunate event that my key fob takes a poop while I’m in the grocery store, I have no way to enter my car. The key wasn’t designed to get one inside the car.

    • Your vehicle should have a way to enter when your battery is dead. Check your key. Is there a button on it that you can push? A door key should be within the key which comes out of the remote to place in the driver’s door. Ask your local dealer for assistance if you can’t find this.

  • V4’s are so rare compared to transverse inline engines. Are we talking about some vintage, rare cars? Lost me there.
    Buy new and you won’t have these issues.

    • I bought a brand spanking new suv and two months into this expensive investment had to call road side asst. They could not find the problem, so I kept having to get a jump to get it going to drive it back to the dealership so dam embarrasing and it came off the,showroom floor.

  • I really wish my 19 year old granddaughter had seen this before she bought her car. First time buyer, got suckered into buying what looked good on the outside. She got a real Lemon and I understand Florida has no Lemon Law on used cars. She’s in a repair shop at least once a month from one week after the purchase.

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