Before you buy a used car, there are a few things you should check. Some of these things are minor and may not tell you anything about the car, but others can keep you from making a big mistake.
Tools for Inspecting
Don’t go used car shopping without a flashlight, a jack, and a clean white rag. The first will allow you to check out places of the vehicle that are dark. The jack will get you a view of the car’s underside. And the rag will enable you to check on the vehicle’s fluids.
Basic Things to Inspect
Here are some basic things you want the vehicle to have:
- Owner’s manual
- Documents of service history
- Correct mileage
If any of these things are not available or not up to date, you may want to keep looking, but you don’t need to rule out the vehicle based solely on these things.
Here are some things that you don’t want to see on the outside of the vehicle:
- Curb damage on the wheels
- Windshield wiper blades that don’t work
- Missing hubcaps
- Chipped or faded paint
- Different colored vehicle panels
- Different brands or sizes of tires
- Evidence of an accident
- Bad headlights or taillights
Here are some things that you need to check on the inside:
- Fabric on the seat or ceiling
- Trim and dash
- Operation of the windows
- Window condition
- Spare tire and jack
- Heater and air conditioner
- Internal lights
The engine is one of the most important aspects of the vehicle. Make sure to check these areas.
- Hoses: Do they feel stiff or brittle? If so, they may need to be replaced. Also, look at the clamps to make sure they aren’t loose.
- Belts: Make sure the belts have no cracks and don’t feel brittle. You may be able to find out when they were last replaced. If the owner doesn’t know, then the belts are probably pretty old.
- Battery: Check the date on the battery. If it’s several years old, you may need to replace it.
- Leaks: Look underneath the vehicle to see if anything is leaking from the engine. If there is a leak or a spot that looks like it’s leaking, it could mean that there’s a bigger problem.
- Fluid Levels: Look at all of the fluid levels. If they aren’t at the proper level, they probably were often not at the proper level. That means the engine was working harder than normal, so there may be more wear and tear.
- Air Filter: Check to make sure that the air filter is clean. If it’s dirty, try to find out how old it is.
Major Deal Breakers
If the vehicle you’re looking at has any of the following, walk away:
- The title includes the word “salvage”
- Large amounts of rust
- Mildew or mold smell
- Water damage under seats or in the glove box
- Metallic particles in the oil (look at the dipstick)
- Oil smells like gasoline or looks milky
- Automatic transmission fluid dipstick smells burnt
- Particles in the oil (when you wipe it on a rag)
- Knocking noises