Buying a reliable used car can be a time-consuming experience. You need to properly check out the vehicle and be sure you’re getting a safe, well-maintained car.

The most important thing is to have a trusted mechanic look at the car for you before you buy – this can save you a lot of money down the road. But before you have a mechanic check it out, here are some tips to help you decide if that used car is a good deal. And, don’t forget to check with your car insurance company before you buy to get an idea about your rate on the new car.

Here’s what to look for in your inspection:

1. Paint
Look carefully at the paint for dents, flaking, scratches or rust. Inspect the paint from different angles. Deep scratches signal potential for rust. Scratches on the undercarriage could indicate damage from an accident.

2. Belts
Check under the hood to make sure all the hoses and belts are in good condition – they should have no cracks and the radiator hose should not be soft. Ask if the car’s timing belt has ever been replaced, and if so, when. On average, timing belts can last from 60,000 to 100,000 miles. If the car has a steel timing chain, you need check with your mechanic. Some manufacturers state the chain is good for the life of the car, while others advise replacement at a certain mileage.

3. Tires
Unless the tires have been replaced, make sure that the number of miles on the odometer matches the wear. If the tires are worn or bald but the car mileage is low, the tires are from another car or the odometer is incorrect. Do this test: Take a penny and place it in a groove of the tire tread on several different spots on the tire. If part of Lincoln’s head isn’t always covered by tire, the tires will need replacing soon.

4. Engine
Inspect thoroughly for any leaks or signs of corrosion. With the engine running, look at the transmission dipstick to make sure the transmission is completely filled. The fluid should be pink or red. It may be darker in older models, but definitely should not look or smell burnt.

5. Frame
Do not buy a car with a damaged frame. Repairs from accidents can be easily concealed; inspect front fenders, bolt heads, the trunk and inside doorjambs with a flashlight for tell-tale signs, such as welding and scratch marks.

6. Exhaust
With the car running in neutral, step on the gas and ask a friend to check the color of the exhaust fumes. If he or she sees blue smoke, it means you’re burning oil and the engine has some internal problems.

7. Transmission
An automatic transmission should shift gears quietly and smoothly. Loud noises could mean a problem. If it has a manual transmission, make sure the gears don’t grind when you shift. That indicates they’re out of sync and you could end up with major repair problems.

8. Odometer and the Pedals
Is the wear on the car’s gas and brake pedals consistent with its mileage? Heavily worn pedals on a car with “only 20,000 miles” can indicate that the odometer has been tampered with

9. Dashboard System Lights
Check the “Check Engine Light”, the “Air Bags Light” and the “ABS Light.” Do they come on when the key is in the accessory (or right before start) position? Do they all go out after?

10. Brakes
When you’re test-driving (ideally, in an empty parking lot) at a higher speed (30 mph or more), press hard on your brakes to check them. Don’t hit them hard enough to skid, but make sure in an emergency they will be reliable.

And last but not least, be sure to take the car to a trusted mechanic before you close the deal. Why not get a free car insurance quote while you have the time?

Have you had good luck buying a used car? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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10 Things to Check Before You Buy a Used Car
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Buying a reliable used car can be a time-consuming experience. See what you should know to avoid buying a nightmare on wheels.