Monday, October 16th, 2017

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How To Inspect a Used Car

Most used car buyers don’t take the time or make the effort to thoroughly check out the car. Neglecting this step often results in costly repair bills or worse, owning a car that is not worth fixing. Here are some of the checks and tests you should perform before you buy.


Body Condition

Outside the car, look for signs of rust inside and around the wheel wells, window trim and at the base of the doors. Look for discolorations or blisters in the paint and check the paint inside the trunk lid and hood. Is the paint all the same color? Are there any cracks or pits in the windshield?

Open and close the doors. If they squeak or groan loudly, if they bind or lift when closing and opening, that might be the sign that the car has had major frame damage.

The Tires

Look for uneven or irregular tire wear on the outside or inside of the tread. This tells you that the tires were not balanced properly or that there is a front end alignment problem.

You can determine if there is a safe amount of tread left on the tire by taking a penny and inserting it so that Lincoln’s head goes into the tread. If the tread is deep enough to cover his eyes, there are still some miles left on the tires.


Press down hard several times in rapid succession on the corners of the car and let go. The car should dip once and then settle back. If it continues to bounce it probably needs new shocks.


The smoke from the tail pipe should be barely visible. If it comes out black that probably means too much fuel is being supplied to the cylinders and an adjustment should be made by a mechanic. However, if it comes out blue that means that the engine is burning oil.

The Exhaust System

The exhaust system (i.e., the engine pipe, catalytic converter, muffler and tail pipe) should be well anchored to the under carriage. If the exhaust system looks okay, you may want to perform a pressure test.

While the car is running – parking break on – hold a large, heavy piece of cloth tightly against the end of the tail pipe to block the exhaust from leaving the tail pipe. The engine should begin to labor and sound like it’s about to stall. That’s good.

If the engine continues to run at the same rate, does not appear to labor and you hear noises popping out from different mysterious places, the car probably has one or more leaks in the exhaust system.

Checking Under the Hood

If you see signs of oil on the engine, this may mean some gaskets need to be replaced. After you’ve taken the car out for a test drive, check the engine for any signs of fresh oil leaks under the car.

Fluid Checks

1. Check the coolant

Never remove the radiator cap if the engine is hot. The coolant should be of a uniform color. If it appears to be streaked by a secondary color – like red – it could represent rust and indicate that the coolant hasn’t been changed recently.

2. Check the oil dip stick

If the oil seems to have a lot of sludge in it, that means the oil needs changing and it could also be an indication of the previous owner’s poor attitude toward car maintenance.

3. Check the transmission fluid – Automatic transmissions

Check the fluid after the car is thoroughly warmed up. It should be pink or reddish in color. If it’s orange, that could signal transmission problems. Sniff the fluid on the dip stick. If it smells burnt, that’s a sign that the car may need a transmission overhaul.

4. Look for fluid leaks under the engine compartment

Look under the engine compartment for any signs of fluid or liquid that has leaked from the car. If the fluid is slippery and oily, it’s probably coolant, transmission fluid, motor oil or brake fluid.

© 2008, Young Money Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to How To Inspect a Used Car

  1. Pingback: The Truth About Used Car Prices

  2. Lindsey says:

    Sweet! Thanks for the tips on inspecting/buyin used cars. Im actually in the process now so this article came to me at just the right time… so yeah, thanks =)

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