If you need a car but can’t afford a brand-new one, it’s a good idea to buy a used one, as long as you understand how to find a reliable one that you can trust. Aside from the fact that used cars are cheaper, there are other benefits to buying used cars, such as paying less in taxes and fees. On the other hand, getting used ones comes with a lot of risks. Or at least potential risks. 

As someone who recently imported a highly modified Toyota Hilux from Thailand without ever seeing it in person, you must be questioning my authority in speaking on this topic. And I don’t blame you. Buying a car online with limited information, especially a modified oversea vehicle, is the last thing I would recommend to a friend. Unless I hate this friend secretly.

I went through what’s wrong with the Hilux in the video below. Surprisingly, it reached 100k views rather quickly.

The Hilux, named Hylux, is a project for us. We went into this knowing there will be some work to do. Some may be out of our skill set but we have the resource to get it dialled in. The rig is back on its wheels after a front axle rebuild and now sitting on our fabricator friend’s hoist for a total refresh. More on that in a future video.

Unless you’re looking for a project like we were, I’d recommend you go with a reliable, ready-to-go vehicle in the market. Preferably local so you can go for a test drive.

Here are some things to think about if you want to ensure you get the best deal on a used car and that it is reliable. 

Know What You Want From A Car

Before you can find the right car for you, you need to know what you plan to do with it. Will you use it every day to get to and from work? Are you going to take long trips in it? If you know why you’re buying a car, it will be much easier to choose between your options. You also need to figure out what you really don’t need.

The most hair-pulling question I get is somewhat along the line of “I don’t know if I should get a Toyota Tacoma or a BMW 3 series.” Although they may be in the same price range, the Japanese pickup and the German “driving machine” are nothing alike. They serve different purposes and lifestyles.

Don’t Let Appearances Fool You

When looking for a reliable car, you shouldn’t put a high value on fancy paint jobs, electric windows, and clean interiors. Even if a car looks clean, that doesn’t mean it won’t break down in the middle of nowhere. Don’t let sellers hide things from you. Leather is nice, but cloth seats usually age better.

What really matters is what’s under the hood. It might be that you find a truly reliable car that has a few dents and scrapes on it. If so, you can quickly get these issues fixed using experts such as Platinum Wheel Repairs and know you have a solid, reliable car into the bargain.

Here’s a video from Chrisfix on the things to look for when inspecting a vehicle.

Ask For Maintenance Records

Maintenance records show what happened to a car and when. Don’t be afraid to ask the owner for the logbook. You can see if the owner changed the oil and did other necessary maintenance regularly. Whether they did the repairs themselves or took the car to a specialist garage, the person selling a good, reliable car is the type of person who has these records. I have an excel sheet of everything done to my cars from modifications to maintenance and repairs. Date and record mileage of each service. Some owners have their cars serviced by the dealer, which is a good sign that the car you want to buy won’t be a total mistake. 

Know What To Avoid

When you buy a used car, you want to make sure that it won’t cause you a great deal of trouble in the long run. This means that you also need to know which models to stay away from. For example, maintenance and repairs on European cars tend to be a bit too expensive. An old Mercedes may have a very affordable price tag out of the lot. Wait till you see the repair bills. As a rule of thumb, I’d always recommend a Toyota. I could be biased but my Landcruiser would have run forever if I didn’t roll it in the Arctic….

You shouldn’t get a car just because everyone else does and because that’s what everyone else wants. Also, stay away from cars that have already been in an accident. Even if the car was fixed and fixed up well, it is still risky to have it.

Do A Test Drive

You can’t just look over the car you want to buy and be done with it. It’s just as important to give it a test drive so you can get a feel for the car as a whole. Listen for any strange sounds or things that don’t seem right. If you find anything that doesn’t seem quite right, you might want to look for another car.