5 Signs of a Well-Maintained Used Car

May 5th, 2015 by

Buying a used or pre-owned vehicle can be an excellent option when you’re in the market for a vehicle. But it can also be a daunting process, loaded with uncertainty.

It’s important to be aware of important signs that reveal whether or not the car you’re considering has been well-cared for and adequately maintained by its previous owner.

While you might encounter some fairly obvious signs of neglect or unchecked wear and tear on your own, you should always entrust the final inspection to a mechanic.

Most mechanics, especially if they have been working at their trade for a while, won’t miss a beat when it comes to spying a repair that conceals a larger problem.

Before making your pre-owned purchase, visit your local mechanic for an inspection and to schedule your car’s next oil change in Albany, NY.

Stay Regular

oil change

Routine oil changes are crucial for the life and performance of all cars. The condition of the oil when assessing a used car must be carefully checked.

This is one of the first things you and your mechanic should check in order to assess the health of your potential pre-owned purchase.

Remember, when it comes to cars, the fluids are its lifeblood. Testing that blood is a crucial diagnostic tool to determine the overall health of the vehicle.

Pull out the dipstick and check the oil for a dark color and debris. The presence of either or both of these could indicate spotty engine maintenance, which can then be verified or refuted by taking a peek at the car’s service records.

Synthetic oil is better than conventional oil, so check which one the owner used.

If he or she doesn’t know the answer when asked, you should absolutely have your mechanic check the engine’s condition.

Not knowing what kind of oil is used could indicate a general lack of knowledge, which means lack of interest in the car’s performance and upkeep.

A Tried and True Test

chevy transmission fluid change

Checking the transmission fluid can be especially telling, since only careful and conscientious car owners change it regularly.

Since it doesn’t have to be changed as often as engine oil, transmission oil is often overlooked, particularly if the private seller claims to have or has taken care of his or her own maintenance needs.

When checking the transmission fluid, check for a dark brown color, as you did with the engine oil, but also pay close attention to any burnt odors emitted by the transmission oil. A burnt smell could signal that the car has been driven hard and not carefully maintained.

Coolant should also be checked for debris, another indicator of abusive driving and negligent service.

If your mechanic isn’t available, or you just want to double check the health of your car’s lifeforce, try a Lubrichek motor oil tester, a quick, convenient, and reliable way to determine the condition of your car’s oil.

All it takes is a few drops and you’ll get a diagnostic report letting you know the state of the oil and if it’s time to change it.

Also, with Lubricheck, you can avoid changing your oil too often or too early, thereby saving yourself some hard-earned cash.

The One and Only

Chevy Equinox - Used

Owner, that is.

Whether purchasing from a dealer or private seller, ask about the car’s previous owners.

If the car has switched hands multiple times, it’s best to walk away because, even with Carfax reports and service records, it’s difficult to track the car’s history and multiple sales of the same car might suggest that the car is a lemon, pawned off by one seller to another.

However, if only one owner enjoyed the car before you, it’s easier to determine what led up to the selling moment and how the car was cared for up until that point.

Ask the seller why he or she is selling it. The answers will give you some insight into how the car was cared for and what the owner intends for a selling price.

Let’s say the owner inherited the car from a deceased family member or friend. Depending on the situation, they likely weren’t planning on having a car to sell and might be looking to offload it for some quick cash.

Whereas if the owner wants to sell it because he or she has already purchased another car or is about to, you might wind up paying close to the asking price because the owner isn’t necessarily in a hurry to sell.

The motivation behind the sale will give you a clue as to what you will likely end up paying.

Perfect Permanent Record

The ideal pre-owned car has a spotless record when it comes to accident history.

Excellent drivers and car owners with impeccable maintenance standards aren’t immune to fender-benders, but it’s best if you can find a pre-owned car without any such skeleton in its closet.

Even if a car has been beautifully repaired after an incident, no matter how minor or major, the engine could harbor what the Magliozzi brothers of NPR’s former Car Talk show called “electrical gremlins,” including worn out wires and uneven tire wear from misalignment.

If you’re considering a pre-owned purchase from a dealer, that dealer should have a complete car history available to you.

The same, of course, is true of an individual, private seller.

However, with a dealership you likely have greater accountability and recourse, should something go wrong, post-purchase

With a private seller, particularly if he or she is looking to make a quick buck, you could wind up stuck with a clunker.

Back on the Market


Pre-owned purchasers would do well to consider a car that is recently back on the market, following a lease termination.

In other words, a car that was leased by a single owner and returned to the dealership once the lease term was over.

These cars are beloved by dealers because they are easy to sell.


In most cases, the same dealer was responsible for the original lease and is familiar with the owner and the car’s overall history.

Because of this, rather than send the car back to the manufacturer or to a used car auction, the dealer is inclined to purchase the vehicle for the dealership’s used car lot, improving the quality of its inventory.

The dealer knows if the car has been well maintained, regularly serviced, and otherwise cared for.

In fact, much of that maintenance might have been scheduled and performed at that dealer’s own service center.

Cars recently off-lease, or “certified pre-owned cars,” offer additional peace of mind to both seller and purchaser because the service and accident history is more readily available, transparent, and can always be further backed up by a dealer-requested and delivered Carfax report.

Miles as Messengers


Low yearly mileage is another key target when purchasing a pre-owned car. Ideally, you want to find a car that is less than five years old and/or has fewer than 50,000 miles on its odometer.

It’s okay if the car’s mileage is slightly above 50,000 miles, particularly when considering a car from one of the car brands known for rock-solid reliability, especially if you can verify its service record and accident history.

Aside from that, the general rule when scouting used car candidates with good mileage is as follows:

  • 10,000 miles per year = Excellent
  • 12,000-15,000 miles per year = Acceptable
  • More than 15,000 miles per year = Keep searching


Yearly mileage in excess of 15,000 miles indicates an accumulation of wear and tear on vehicle parts, which can be even worse depending on the car’s age.

Keep these tips in mind when purchasing a used car and you’ll drive away with a beauty instead of a beater.