Inspecting Used Cars Before You Buy: The 4 Things You Should Never Forget

When shopping around for a used car, it’s easy to simply trust what a seller tells you. Although many dealerships sell used cars that are pre-inspected, you never quite know what you’re getting unless you get a second opinion or the car is from a reputable dealership. While vehicle history reports are always recommended, they don’t always shed light on the little details. That’s why, for many car shoppers, it pays to know a thing or two about car inspections. At the very least, you won’t always need to rely on your mechanic or a friend to inspect a car for you.

Let’s take a look at some used car inspection basics.

Vehicle Exterior

Inspecting a vehicle should start from the bottom up and outside in. Before starting your inspecting, make sure the vehicle is level on the pavement. Then, begin by inspecting the tires for wear. Are there ridges, bald spots or uneven wear on the tires? In addition to replacing the tires, the vehicle may also need an alignment. Next, start from the bottom of the vehicle and check for rust spots, scratches and dents. Though scratches and dents are usually repaired easily, rust spots are nearly impossible to reverse. Before diving into the vehicle’s interior, open the trunk and check for rust spots or other signs of damage or water spots.

Vehicle Interior

The interior of a used vehicle can say a lot about the vehicle’s history and condition. If you notice extremely new or extremely old interior components, this could be an indication that the vehicle has required part replacements. Often, small details like this remain concealed from potential buyers. Before moving on to inspect the engine, carefully inspect the vehicle’s upholstery for any tears, stains or rips. A musky smell in a car’s interior may indicate that a vehicle has been exposed to water or humidity. Make sure to ask the seller about any weird smells you might notice.

Inspect the Engine

After you’ve finished inspecting the interior, check the odometer for the car’s total mileage. Next, pop the hood and inspect the engine’s compartment. Specifically, you’re looking for signs of corrosion, leaks or worn parts. Inspect the engine’s hoses for tears and cracks. Then, remove the oil filler cap and look for signs of a foam residue. If it is present, this vehicle likely needs a new head gasket and is not worth buying. While the engine is running, remove the transmission dipstick and inspect the fluid, which should be pink or red. If it looks or smells burnt, the fluid is old and needs to be flushed and replaced.

Operational Inspection

Before signing on the dotted line, it’s important to test drive a vehicle. While test driving a vehicle, turn on the air, heat, radio, lights and any other electrical component to ensure everything is in working order. While driving, note any pulls in the vehicle, braking problems or unusual noises. If you have concerns about a vehicle but still wish to purchase it, try negotiating with the dealership to have the work completed prior to purchase.

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