- Be sure you look at everything – not just the items the seller wants to show you.
- The best time to inspect a vehicle is on a sunny day. You’ll get a visual idea of the vehicle’s actual condition.
- The older, less expensive a car is, the chances for something to be wrong are higher. This is especially true if a vehicle has more than 100,000 miles on it. Keep in mind that it could have engine wear and tear along with vehicle rust.
- Understand what you can fix and what will need a professional touch.
Have a checklist of items to look over, a light to check under the hood, a magnet for hidden rust repairs and a friend with car knowledge.
Look Over The Paperwork
- You want to be sure the vehicle is local road certified.
- Get a repair or service history from the seller.
Have A Professional Inspection Done
Make sure you get a complete inspection of any vehicle before buying it. The majority of garages will be happy to do this for you. You can also use specialist pre-purchase inspection services. After the inspection, you and the seller will get a report that lays out any needed repairs… if any.
Checking Over The Vehicle’s Outer Shell: What You Should Be On The Lookout For?
The majority of older vehicles have been subjected to rust. Rust can be a real issue in certain places and its amount. Look to see if there are any rust spots on the vehicle’s primary structural supports. Rust in these areas is very dangerous, and may likely not pass the warrant of fitness inspection. On top of that, any repairs for it will be expensive.
2 Ways To Find Out If A Vehicle Has A Rust Problem
- Is the paintwork bubbling? A filler could have been used to hide the problem.
- Is a magnet sticking to the car? If so, then chances are the seller hid the rust problem. Bear in mind that this test won’t work if the filler has iron dust.
Check for rust on the following:
- Under carpets, spare tire area and boot liner
- Steering wheel mountings and weight-bearing parts
- Inside the gas cap door
If the car has been recently painted, it may be because the seller is trying to add something. How can you tell if a vehicle has been recently painted?
- Rippled finish – This is an indicator of bodywork on the underside.
- Different colour shade on the different parts – look for different shades or overspray around the windows’ rubber strips and under wheel arches.
How can you find out if a vehicle has shock absorbers that are worn out?
- Stand at one corner of the vehicle – push up and down to maintain a rhythmic motion. Stop. If the vehicle doesn’t quit right away, its shocks have been worn out. Do this for every side of the vehicle. If you can’t get any movement going, then they’re bad.
- Stand back to see the whole car. Is there any part of it that sags –front or back? If there’s sagging, it may be the shock absorbers or defective springs.
Be sure you check every tire; spare too. Your tire tread must legally be 1.5mm deep across 3/4 of the tread pattern for the whole tyre. Check for the following:
- Clues for tread wear in the tyre’s centre groove. This can be seen at 1.6mm. If you can see wear on the tyre, it’ll need to be replaced.
- Uneven tyre wear means there’s an issue with the tyre’s suspension, alignment or steering. Be sure you turn the steering wheel to full lock in both directions to check both front tires.
Make sure you open and close the vehicle doors, the hood and the trunk to ensure they’re properly aligned and are smooth. Check to ensure windows can open and close easily. And, be sure they stay open halfway.
A vehicle with an exhaust leak can be deadly. The fumes can get into the vehicle and fill it with carbon monoxide poisoning. This will lead you to pass out from it. How do you check the exhaust and muffler system?
- Look for areas where putty had been used, soft or brittle areas.
- Place a rag on your hand and start the vehicle. Place your hand at the end of the exhaust pipe, blocking it. A pressure build-up will blow the hand away. If there’s no pressure, the system is leaking somewhere.
Checking Over The Vehicle’s Inner Shell: What You Should Be On The Lookout For?
- Adjust the mirrors.
- Check out the radio, wipers and levers for both the hood and trunk.
- Have a person on the outside check the lights and indicators. Are they working? Be sure you check the brake lights.
- Twist, pull or push all the dashboard switches and knobs to ensure they’re working.
- Look for any loose or old wiring under the dashboard.
Seat and Seatbelts
Seats are securely attached to the floor
Seats have seatbelts and they work properly
Seatbelts work when they’re pulled suddenly
Comfortable and adjustable driver seat
Check for damage under the seat covers – important if they’re fitted
Webbing hasn’t faded or frayed. If you see this, it means the UV rays have weakened the seatbelt and it’ll need to be replaced.
Keep an eye out for leaks, which is an indicator of wear and tear as well as rust. Fixing leaks can be extremely devastating to your wallet. Be sure you check the carpets and seats for water stains. If you can, pick the carpets up to look for stains.
Checking Under The Hood: What You Should Be On The Lookout For?
When an engine looks dirty, it’s usually a sign of neglect. However, a very clean engine could mean the owner was trying to hide defects. Check for the following:
- Burnt/frayed wiring, streaks of oil, and damaged hoses or hoses not properly attached
- Gas leas around fuel lines and carburettor
- Black soupy oil (sign of a worn-out engine)
- Leaks under the vehicle – oil, transmission, coolant, etc.
With the engine running, be sure you do the following:
- Take the oil filler cap off. If you see a lot of gas come out of it, the engine is worn out (you need to replace the cap).
- Allow the engine to idle for several minutes. Be sure a friend watches the exhaust to see if there is blue smoke when pushing the accelerator pedal. A single puff of blue is fine, but if it’s continuous then the engine is worn out. (This test generally only works with gas-filled vehicles).
When looking over the vehicle, check for
- Water, rust and leak stains.
- Leaks where the cylinder head meets engine block.
- Leaks in the radiator hose.
- Take off the radiator cap to check the water, but only if the engine is cold.
- If you see oil in the water, you could have a big issue.
- Some rust colour is fine.
- Blue/green tint from engine conditioner or coolant is fine.
- Clear water doesn’t mean much. Only that it’s been recently changed.
Once you’ve checked the radiator, put the cap back on.
Taking The Vehicle For A Test Drive
Before You Drive The Vehicle
Be sure the vehicle has insurance. If you test-drive an uninsured vehicle, you could be responsible for any damage.
Some Pre-Driving Checks
Get into the vehicle, and switch the ignition on. However, don’t start the car just yet. Notice for the following:
- Warning lights that go on. No lights means there’s a fault somewhere
- Coolant and oil level lights that turn off after several seconds
- Handbrake light goes off when it’s been released
The vehicle’s ABS (anti-locking braking system) and SRS (airbags lights) have a testing sequence of their own. Review the manual to find out what they are. Always be mindful of lights that don’t go off. This is especially important for the coolant and brake light.
Start the engine up; better if the engine is cold. When you do this, listen or check for the following:
- How quickly the starter and motor responds
- No odd noises such as rattling exhaust or backfiring
- Oil pressure light will de-illuminate after the vehicle’s been running for several seconds
- No blue smoke coming from exhaust
The Test Drive
When you’re driving your vehicle, listen for noises that appear odd and could possibly mean the car has problems such as:
- Knocking/tapping noises from failing piston pin, piston or rod bearing
- Clunking/clanging noises when the stopping or starting the vehicle – problems with suspension, drive shaft, transmission, exhaust and engine mountings
- Squealing noises could mean linings are needed or the brake pads have to be replaced
- Whining or grinding is a sign that the bearings or gears are worn, which are expensive to repair
Use an empty carpark to test the vehicle. Drive slowly on a full steering lock for both directions. If you notice any rhythmic clunks from the vehicle’s front end, it may mean the drive shaft joints need to be replaced.
Be mindful of smells, as burning oil smell tends to mean the engine is worn out. A gas smell is an indicator of an exhaust leak. And, these leaks can result in carbon monoxide getting into the vehicle and causing you to pass out while driving.
- Check out the acceleration process: Does the engine pull smoothly – no loss in power or stalls? When your foot is removed from the accelerator pedal, is the engine smoothly powering down?
Many people forget this next test, but you have to find a hilly road to do your test drive on. How is the car driving up the hill? During this time, look out for blue exhaust smoke, which comes from burning oil. When going down the hill, remove your foot from the accelerator. At the bottom of the hill, push on the accelerator. If it’s an old engine, it’ll take some time for the vehicle to speed up and the exhaust may release a large puff of smoke.
Gears and Brake Tests
It’s imperative to test the brakes out. What do you see?
- Are they responding quickly to your touch?
- Does the vehicle stop without pulling to each side?
On a quiet roadway, do an emergency stop. Push on the brakes firmly but without slamming them. The car should quickly slow down and go in a straight line. If you notice the vehicle moves to one side, let the brakes go and fix the steering.
In order to check the vehicle’s gears:
- Are the gears changing smoothly and easily?
- Do you notice any crunching noise? If so, then this could mean the gearbox needing fixing.
- If the vehicle is an automatic, are the gears smoothly changing? If you hear or feel any bumping changing, there’s a problem with the vehicle.
- If the transmission has a burnt smell and the oil isn’t clear red, there may be a problem.
The Final Test
Stop driving the car, and just let the engine run. Check under the hood for the following:
- Water/oil leaks
- Electrical or cooling system issues