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Inspecting a Car



How to inspect a used car

Vehicle quality is better than ever before. That's especially good news if you're in the market for a used vehicle. Still, there's work to do before you hand over your money and the seller hands over the keys.

A shiny exterior may be appealing, but it takes more than good looks to make your used-car purchase a good deal.  Test drive the vehicle. Ask the seller some questions about the car's history and maintenance.  Inspect the vehicle for telltale signs of existing or potential problems.

A car is a major investment and the last thing you want is unexpected expenses soon after your purchase, especially with high mileage or older vehicles no longer under warranty.

So, put on some comfortable clothes and grab a flashlight, rag, pencil, and this checklist. Your personal inspection will help you narrow your choices. Then, pass the checklist on to anyone conducting additional professional inspections, which any car worth more than a couple hundred dollars warrants.

Under Hood
  Fluid levels
  Oil (should be light brown)
  Antifreeze (should be green)
  Power steering (should be clear)
  Transmission (should be red)
  Belts (check for cracks)
  Hoses (should be firm, not soft or hard)
  Battery and connections (green dot should be visible on GMs)
  Electrical connections and wiring
  Old oil buildup or sludge inside valve cover - where the oil filler cap is (signs of neglect)
  Fuel smell
Under Vehicle
  Undercarriage for damage
  Exhaust system
  Tires for uneven wear
  Loose parts hanging from body
  Rear suspension for leaks
  Rust on body
  VC boots (corrugated rubber boots, usually black) that surround the CV joints on front-wheel drive vehicles
  Operation of hood, doors, door glass, all latches, and keys
  Exterior body paint (look for overspray on weather strips, molding around windshield, rear glass, inside fenders, near hood or trunk lid, rear panels, and door handles)
  Vehicle's body for waviness, irregularities on both sides
  Mismatched colors and uneven textures
  Poorly fitted panels that suggest body repairs
  All lights: headlamps, taillights, turn signals, brake lights, back-up lights, and license plate tag lights
  Spare tire, jack, and tools
  Water or water damage in trunk
  Seats, door panels, headliner, rugs, and mats
  Seat belts, front and rear
  Door locks, power windows, and power seats
  Radio, tape player, or compact disc player
  Horn and steering column
  Windshield wiper and automatic fluid
  Dash lights, interior lights, and everything you can get your hands on
Before Engine Start Up
Note: Stand behind vehicle upon start up; look for smoke
  Barely visible or just a little. White is normal
  Blue smoke indicates burning oil
  Black smoke indicates engine too rich (too much fuel)
  Heavy, white smoke indicates a blown head gasket or cracked head
Note: Never buy a car without driving it extensively first.
If the owner or dealer balks, walk away.
  On your test-drive, find some rough pavement, go over a few bumps and listen for rattles, squeaks, and loose suspension.
  Test to see if car pulls to one side or the other (sudden veering may indicate car needs front-end alignment)
  (Front-wheel drive only) Find a parking lot and turn sharply to the right and left in a tight circle and listen for knocking sounds (may need CV joints)
  Brake performance: Brakes should stop smoothly and quietly (no squeaks or pulsations or pulling from one side to the other)
  Brake pedal should feel firm - not spongy
  Engine performance: Engine should run smoothly and quietly. Listen for pings, rattles, knocks, grinds, vibrations, squeals, engine hesitation, or stumbles on acceleration.
  Transmission performance: An automatic transmission should shift smoothly without jerking, slipping, or hesitation on upshift. When coming to a stop, it should not bang on downshifts.
  A manual transmission should operate easily with one-inch toe play on clutch pedal. Shift gears and listen for grinding sound. If you hear noise, chances are it may need a clutch plate or internal repairs.

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