Here are some tips for inspecting a used car that prospective buyers can use to reduce the chances of buying a car with a lot of problems. While perhaps the best way to inspect a used car is by having a certified mechanic take a look it, a buyer can easily look for some common problems on their own.
Buyers should pull the dipstick and examine the oil that is present. Buyers should look for signs of coolant or other containments in the oil which is a sign of a serious problem. An extremely low oil level is also a bad sign. If the seller hasn’t taken time to top off the oil before selling the car, chances are good the car was neglected before it was for sale. Black, runny oil is a good sign that the oil needs changed, but new oil is only a sign that it has been recently changed. Engines should start and run smoothly without unusual sounds, vibrations, or leaking. Ask the seller about any obvious engine repairs. Repairs are to be expected on older cars, but recent year used cars should not have required major engine repair work unless neglected or abused.
The acceptability of the condition of the car’s interior is largely a mater of personal opinion. However, most repairs to seats, upholstery, and interior controls are expensive if required.
Examine the exterior for dents and significant repainting that might mask significant damage. If the seller states that nothing serious has happened to the car, but the exterior states otherwise be very cautious. Damage to the exterior may be strictly cosmetic, but may also indicate a collision that has caused alignment and other problems. Look at the tread wear on the tires to see if it is even. Tires worn on one side are a sign of alignment or other problems.
Buyers should shove downward on each corner of the car and quickly release to test the suspension. The car should quickly and quietly settle and not bounce up and down. Shocks and struts can be replaced, but these repairs can be expensive and these costs should reduce the price of the car.
Buyers should check to make sure the air conditioning, heater, defroster, and radio work properly, but not on the test drive. During the test drive the car needs to be quiet so the buyer can listen for noises from the engine or other parts of the car. Drive the car at highway speeds to make certain that the engine and transmission work smoothly. Cars should also be driven into a parking lot or other area where tight turns can be made at slow speeds (in drive and reverse) to listen for slack in the drivetrain, worn CV joints and wheel bearings, etc.