When purchasing a used car, there is always a possibility that the vehicle was not well maintained by the previous owner or that it has serious damage caused by a collision or flooding. As a general tip, always have a trusted third-party mechanic check the used car before purchasing it. However, it's always smart to know how to inspect the vehicle yourself. In this article, we provide a walkthrough of how to go about inspecting a used car.
Check the Exterior Bodywork
One of the most important things to look for in the bodywork is rust. Surface blisters are usually harmless and can be easily treated, but rust from inside panels poses a serious problem. A small spot of rust on the paintwork may be a sign of advanced corrosion underneath. To check, press the area with your thumb or tap it. If it cracks or is brittle, this is a sure sign that this car has advanced rusting.
Also keep an eye out for rust that may be hiding below the front and rear bumpers, along the sides and at the bottom of the doors. If you see rust on the inner wings, bulkhead and chassis, do not buy this used car. Also be sure to check for rust underneath the vehicle. Having the car repaired because of rust can be very expensive and in the end may cost even more than the price of the car!
Check the Odometer
Remember that a healthy average annual mileage is approximately 10,000km. When checking the odometer, see if the numbers are out of line. If this is the case, the odometer might have been tampered with. Dishonest sellers may manipulate odometers to show a different mileage. Check the general condition of the car and if it agrees with the mileage shown on the odometer. Signs of high mileage include worn-out brake pedals and carpet and a slumped driver's seat.
Also be wary if the odometer shows very low mileage. Low mileage is not always a good thing as it may mean the car has been rarely used or may have been only driven on short trips. This style of driving without any long distance may cause engine troubles in the future.
Check the Engine
Check out the general condition of the engine. If the engine is dirty, it suggests that the car has not been well maintained. If the colour of the oil is dark black it may mean that the car has not had a regular oil change. Also check that the end of the dipstick does not have a beige-coloured, think liquid at the end. This liquid may signal head gasket leakage.
Listen to the engine when you start it. If you hear rattling and knocking noises, immediately reject this vehicle!
Check the Transmission
For manual transmission, check that the clutch and all gears are operating smoothly. The clutch should not be too stiff when stepped on and the gear should transition easily from low to high, high to low. For automatic transition, see the transition dipstick for correct fluid level. Also try to smell the dipstick. If it smells burnt, do not purchase the car.
Check the Suspension
When taking the car for a test drive, listen for rattling noises when passing through rough roads. A noisy and bouncy ride suggests worn-out shock absorbers. You may also check the shock absorbers by pushing down on the vehicle enough to let it bounce back. It should rebound just once. More than once means the shock absorbers need replacing, which can be costly.
Check the Steering and Brakes
Check that the steering is not heavy and that the car does not steer towards one side. If the vehicle is heavily steering towards the left or right, wheel alignment or replacement of worn-out tyres is needed.
When applying the brakes, the car should not swerve or shake and there should be no screeching sounds. Also check that the brake gives good resistance and does not sink all the way to the floor when stepped on.