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Car Buying

What's Normal Wear for a Used Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2014

If you're interested in buying a used car, then you've probably already come to terms with the fact that it won't be perfect. After all, used cars have been driven before, so they won't be new-car fresh. But what kind of wear is normal for a used vehicle? And what kind of wear is going too far? We examine the condition you should expect when buying a used vehicle.

Curb Rash on Wheels

It's normal to expect a used vehicle to have a little curb rash on its wheels. That's the term for the damage done to a wheel when scraping a curb at low speeds, and it's hard to imagine any vehicle not suffering from at least the slightest amount of curb rash, even if it's only a year or so old.

What isn't normal is excessive curb rash or damage to all four wheels. In cases like this, you might start to wonder how the driver treated the rest of the car and whether there may be more issues lurking elsewhere. In that case, you may want to negotiate a lower price. Fortunately, curb rash can be easily removed without paying for an entirely new wheel.

Seat Wear

Depending on the age of the used car you're considering, you should expect a little seat wear. Of course, cloth seats won't wear as fast as leather upholstery, which can become cracked and worn out over time. But when you're buying a used car, don't expect the driver's seat to be as pristine as it would be in a brand-new vehicle, and don't be surprised if the front passenger seat is a little worn, too.

Excessive wear would be defined as rips or tears in the seats, visible seat padding or foam, or other major issues that go beyond usual use. This may not be so bad, depending on the price of the car you're buying, but you shouldn't expect a typical used vehicle to have problems beyond normal wear.

Scrapes, Dents and Scratches

Unfortunately for drivers who want a perfect used vehicle, scrapes, dents and scratches are a reality of car ownership. You should expect a few of these on just about any used car you buy, even if it's only a few years old.

We suggest trying to negotiate a lower price, however, if the car has excessive imperfections. More than a few scrapes or scratches would definitely cause us to think twice, and so would a large number of dents, especially if they're on hard-to-reach spots or on body-panel creases where a dent-repair firm may have trouble removing them. Once again, you might be expecting this type of wear depending on what you're paying for the car, but a normal used car should only have minimal damage to its body panels.

Our Take

In the end, we suggest that you accurately set your expectations before buying a used car. Simply put, the car won't be perfect, and you shouldn't expect it to be. Normal used cars will include curb rash on the wheels, scrapes, dents, scratches and seat wear -- all items you probably won't be able to avoid unless you buy a new car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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What's Normal Wear for a Used Car? - Autotrader