One of the most important traits you want in a previous owner is cleanliness. Before a used car is sold, whoever is selling it is probably going to thoroughly clean it to make a good impression, but some things can’t be cleaned. Look for any clearly visible stains on the seat cushions. If there are a couple of obvious stains, there are going to be several more less obvious stains you’ll find after the purchase. Also, if the previous owner smoked, getting that smell out of the car is going to be near impossible. Unless you yourself are a smoker and don’t mind the smell, avoid a car that’s been regularly smoked in. If the seller doesn’t make any attempt to clean the inside or outside of the car, that should raise some red flags.
You also want a previous owner who took good care of their car. If you ask them vague questions about how they cared for their car, they’ll probably try to give you the impression that they took good care of it, whether they did or not. Instead, ask them specific questions like how frequently they changed the oil, what kind of oil the engine needs, or what the ideal tire pressure is. Simple things like not changing the oil or driving with deflated tires can lead to expensive problems in the future.
Finally, if you’re buying directly from the previous owner, you want to be sure that they’re being honest. If you feel at any point that they’re acting suspicious or withholding information from you, walk away. If they are upfront about any minor or even serious issues with the car, rather than leaving those things for you to discover on your own, they may be worth doing business with. So don’t buy a used Mazda 3 in Kansas City until you are fairly certain it is coming from a good previous owner.