What to look for when buying a used car

From the spotless leather seats to the smell of a freshly cleaned car, shopping for a new car can feel like going on a first date. The potential problem? If you have rose-colored glasses on, it can be easy to forget you’re really searching for a long-term partner. To help you keep a level head about your next better half, we put together a list of what to look for when buying a used car.

This advice comes directly from Shift’s Advisor Team and Concierges, who help people take new rides for a spin every day, and what advice they give customers most. The response was unanimous: the trick is to find your own perfect balance between performance, reliability, and practicality — and something you like. Here’s what we suggest.

Do (a little) homework

Normally, a solid checklist of what to look for when buying a used car will include things like the car’s service history, a clean Carfax report and signs of an unreported accident. In addition to that (we’ve covered that in detail here), we recommend reading online to find out more about the model and combing through the listing carefully to be sure the specific car you’re eyeing has the engine, transmission and other important options that you want.

Re-create your daily routine

Things might seem rosy when you’re walking a typical dealership lot, but one of the most important things to look for when buying a used car is how it works in your own turf. One advantage of taking a test drive at home is the opportunity to test how a car fits with the particulars of your daily life. If you have a driveway, make sure you won’t scrape the bottom as you pull in; if you park in a snug garage, double check that you can open the doors enough to easily get out of the car. Live on a narrow street? Be sure to try a U-turn, then parallel park. And if you generally sit in traffic during a morning commute, try to schedule your test drive during a similarly congested hour.

Consider your passengers

During the test drive, be sure to toss the keys to your Concierge and take a spin in the passenger seat. Or, better yet, go pick up your significant other so you can take turns riding shotgun. If you have kids or pets, make sure the car will work for them, too. Have toddlers in your present or future? Be sure you can get the car seat in without throwing out your back.

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Consider your bells and whistles

When it comes to options, think about whether you prefer something simple and intuitive or all the latest features. Does a backup camera matter when you’re parking? Are you dying for a power lift gate? How about GPS navigation? Electronics are also becoming more important with every model year. Sync up your phone with the entertainment system, listen to a playlist, make a few calls. Everything should work easily and intuitively, especially if you make a lot of hands-free calls or depend on music to break the monotony of a long commute.

Think long-term

At some point, turn off the stereo and listen to the car. Is that gruff exhaust note going to turn grating after the novelty wears off? Can you really get comfortable in the seat? Can you see and reach all the controls? Do you have clear visibility of the road ahead (and behind) you? Notice how the car responds against the pavement on both city streets and mountain roads. Many people buy cars based on recommendations from friends or family members, but it’s important that the vehicle feels right for you. Overall, ask yourself, “Is this something I’d be happy to sit in and drive every single day?”

While it’s important to consider your next car thoughtfully, the experience shouldn’t leave you tied up in knots. Relax, get comfortable and have fun. Remember: there’s no pressure to make a quick decision and it’s worth it to wait if it means you’ll be happier in the long run.

Ready to meet your perfect match? We’re always here to help you find the car that fits your lifestyle (plus, you have 5 days or 200 miles to return it it ends up not being “the one”).

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