Buying a used car requires more care and time be taken. You can never be quite sure where's it's been or what it's been through in the past. That can be a scary thought for some people, which is why people are diligent in their search for a used vehicle.
In addition to accessing its vehicle history report, many experts also recommend that you take any used car you are considering buying in for a professional pre-purchase inspection with a certified mechanic. A trained eye can make sure the car is all that it's made out to be and no problems are hiding beneath the surface.
However, before spending time or money to get a qualified mechanic to look at it, you should give a car a personal inspection. If you know what to look at and for, you may be able to identify issues.
So, what are the most important things to check in your personal inspection? Recently, iSeeCars.com put together a used car inspection checklist you can use to guide you on the way. Here are some things you should have a close look at.
Rust on a used car can be a sign of serious bodywork issues to come. On working parts, it can foreshadow that serious issues may be coming down the line. Therefore, you should visually inspect the vehicle as best you can.
Look for rust around the wheel wells, wherever screws and bolts go through panels (known as fastening points), and underneath the car. If you see any, especially on working parts, it's a good enough reason to pass on the vehicle.
Despite the old saying, literally kicking the tires won't be able to provide much helpful insight. Instead, take a close look at the tires to inspect their condition and tread. Look for signs of wear or defect such as cracks or bulges, and for wheels that have bends or weld points. These are bad signs and may be enough of a reason to not buy.
Leaks from the engine block, transmission, and brakes are all bad signs. So, check under the car for leaks, preferably after it has been parked somewhere for over an hour. Open the hood and look for leaks there, especially around the seams of the engine block.
Checking the car's body can signify if the vehicle has been in an accident or had repairs you should know about. You can do this by inspecting the body for dents/dings/scratches, making sure seams, lines and edges are even and aligned, and verifying that paint and color match throughout.
You should also check the hood and trunk. Make sure they open and close easily and latch securely. While replacement body work isn't necessarily reason to back out of a purchase, a seller who isn't honest about the car's repair history may be.
Under the Hood
There are several things you should inspect under the car's hood.
Belts and Hoses - Check for cracks and frays or signs of deterioration. Also, give them a squeeze, as they should never be rock solid or brittle.
Oil - Remove the dipstick, wipe it clean, reinsert it and pull it out again to inspect. Visually check for any flecks or grit in the oil, and make sure it isn't black, grey or foamy. Black or gritty oil are bad signs that could signify problems on the horizon.
Transmission Fluid - On automatic transmission models, the transmission has its own dipstick. Check it visually to make sure it is not dirty or black in color, and also give it a smell. Transmission oil that smells burnt or metallic could be reason to believe expensive transmission problems are coming.
Coolant - You should check the engine coolant. It should be uniform in color (of which it can vary, but never brown), full, clean and oil-free.
There are also things you need to check out in the interior of the car.
Power Components - Power doors, windows, locks and seats can be expensive to fix on some models. Therefore, checking them to see if they operate smoothly is important. Don't forget to try manually unlocking the doors as well.
Seat Belts - All should be operational, flow as intended and be able to click into place.
HVAC - You are also going to want to test the heating and air conditioning. Make sure that you give them proper time to get up to speed before evaluating. Problems with the HVAC system are typically very expensive to repair, so any issue is likely a good enough reason to walk away from the purchase.
The Bottom Line
It's important to check the car's vehicle history report and ask for maintenance records, but this used car inspection checklist can help you dig even deeper. But it is still wise to take any used car you are about to buy in for a pre-purchase inspection with a certified mechanic.
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