Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

One of the most popular used trucks for sale, a grey 2020 Honda Ridgeline, is shown from the rear on an open road.

Used or Abused: Your Guide for Checking Out Used Trucks

The used automotive markets can be a little scary. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned cash on a lemon. This is especially tricky to navigate when evaluating used trucks for sale. Trucks can handle a lot of tough terrain, but dodgy weather and weighty work can add an additional amount of stress to them.

So, I’ve compiled a list of things to keep your eye out for when buying a used truck. Use this helpful guide to feel more confident that the used truck you’re buying is meant for the road—and not the scrap yard.

Wear and Tear

Some parts of any vehicle will wear over time, regardless of how nice you are to them. Things like the buttons for climate control may have lost some of the labeling that tells you what the button does. If a truck has been off-road a lot, small scratches may blemish the paint, and door dings are inevitable—no matter how pampered the vehicle is. However, other things can indicate that a vehicle has not been well-maintained.


Look at the tires first. These are excellent indicators of whether or not a vehicle has been in for regular alignments and balances. Uneven tire wear can look like the inside or outside edges having less tread, or it can look like random tread pieces missing. You may even notice rubbing on the face of the tire.

A tire wearing unevenly can indicate a couple of things about the vehicle. Either the person driving it is really good at hitting curbs; the truck wasn’t receiving those regular alignment and balance services; and/or the truck has some driveline, suspension, or chassis parts that may need to be replaced.


While the wear and tear on the interior of the truck doesn’t necessarily denote that it wasn’t well maintained, it stands to reason that if you care about the inside of the vehicle you care about the rest of it, too. Something that you can look for in the interior of the truck is if there are any exposed wires. Exposed wires can indicate that some tried to do a DIY wiring job. Again, that isn’t necessarily a problem; there are a lot of great DIY videos for doing such handiwork out there. However, leaving wires exposed means they are more likely to be broken, pulled, or damaged, which could lead to the vehicle electronics not functioning as well.

A green 2020 Toyota Tacoma is shown from the front while driving through a sand dune.


Listen to the brakes. Make sure the truck stops when you want it to. Good brakes are stiff and won’t make much, if any, noise. Bad brakes will have your foot to the floor before even engaging, and no one wants their first stop in a used truck to be the mechanic’s shop. If the brakes are squeaky or sound like they’re grinding, they are likely to be bad and will need to be replaced soon.

Undercarriage and Suspension

This is a great place to check on trucks. Trucks are used for all kinds of off-road adventures, and, while they are built for that, some people can take it to the extremes.


When you’re checking the undercarriage, you should be looking for any large dings or scratches. The little ones are likely to happen on any normal outings; however, bigger ones can indicate that the truck was used to cross or climb rocks without being properly equipped with underbody protection. You’ll want to make sure that none of the dents or dings in the undercarriage have punctured holes through the equipment.


Slow leaks can be hard to find, especially when you’re just doing a quick check over of the vehicle. However, large ones will be obvious in a few minutes. We recommend checking under the truck for any puddles of fluid. If there are leaks, then try to see where they are coming from. Sometimes, these leaks can be attributed to a screw that rattled loose—but other times, they require more labor-intensive work like replacing seals or o-rings.


You should always test drive a vehicle before buying. This step is important for determining if you like the feel of a truck’s drivetrain and cabin. I recommend taking your truck over some mild bumps at appropriate speeds to make sure that the suspension is still responding well. If you’re looking at a used truck with an aftermarket lift, this can also help you gauge how stable that lift is—and whether it was installed properly.

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance does not get enough credit in the automotive world for how much of a difference it makes. Many people treat services like oil changes as if they’re annoyances that can be delayed. Some vehicles can handle that kind of treatment, but it can significantly reduce the lifespan of the engine and transmission.


This is an easy first assessment for the vehicle. Is there a sticker on the truck that indicates when it was last serviced? Look at the date and mileage amounts, consider that against the vehicle’s current odometer, and then decide if the vehicle has been well-maintained.

Oil Check

This is one that a lot of us forget to do when we’re checking out vehicles. Do an oil check yourself. Really dark, gritty, or clumpy oil is a sign of the engine not being maintained. It takes a good amount of time for the oil to get that bad, so you have to think about how running such low-quality oil through the engine will affect it.

You will also want to check that it does not have water in it. Running water through the engine can seriously damage it, and watery oil is a quick way to make your engine sick.

A blue 2019 Ford Raptor is shown from the front while jumping on a trail.

Air Filter

This is another easily overlooked aspect of vehicle maintenance. Look at the air filter to make sure that it’s not chock-full of dirt and grime. This is a good way to ensure the truck you’re looking at has been well taken care of. A dirty air filter decreases vehicle fuel efficiency, can cause an engine to misfire, and will reduce the truck’s horsepower.

This info is worth considering when you want the most truck for your dollar. Most air filters are relatively affordable and can last for a good amount of time before needing replacement, so if the filter is bad, it’s another indicator that the truck needs a bit of upkeep.

Engine and Transmission

Engines and transmissions are tricky to diagnose with a simple test drive, but you can at least put them through the motions by doing an inner-city and highway test drive. The inner city test drive will ensure they can handle frequent starts and stops. The highway drive will ensure that you can put the engine and transmission through all of the gears smoothly. How are the acceleration and handling? These steps help you evaluate how the truck runs—and will continue to.

There are plenty of great used trucks out there, and there are a lot of vehicles that people would have you believe are worth more than they are. These are some go-to ways to make sure you’re getting a great value for your dollar. Properly cared-for and well-maintained used trucks are excellent vehicles for any driver—and I hope this guide helps you find the best used truck you can!