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  • Writer's pictureTash Khan

What to look for when buying a used-car...

Looking to buy a used-car? Not sure what shape it's in mechanically? Want to know if you're getting the best deal for the car? There are five physical categories you need to focus on before purchasing your next used car...

  • Exterior

  • Interior

  • Engine and transmission

  • Steering and suspension

Part 1: Inspect the Exterior

  • Inspect the underbody. Take note of anything hanging or dangling from under the car. Don't forget to inspect for rust!

* AVOID a car with rust. It is expensive to fix. Rust can be caused by the car being close to salt water air but it is also common in certain cold weather metropolitan areas. *

  • Inspect the outer body. Look for any dents or dings as well as any paint imperfections or discoloration.

  • Inspect the exterior lights. Check for cracked or faded head and tail lights.

  • Inspect the interior. Open the trunk and look under the carpet for water damage. You can also smell for odors as water damage will smell like mildew.

Part 2: Inspect the Interior

Turn off the car and turn the key to the on position. Verify all dashboard lights are working, especially your check engine light. If a light does not come on, it is likely a bulb is burnt. Start car and make sure all lights now go away. If a light stays on this is indicative of a problem and needs a mechanic to look it over.

  • Make sure everything works inside:

    • AC (air conditioning) and heater

    • Radio

    • Moon roof or sunroof open and close properly

    • Make sure the seat adjusts properly and that all seat belts are present and in working condition

    • Verify windows roll up and down properly

    • Check for quality and condition of carpet. Be aware of rips, tears, stains or faded upholstery.

Part 3: Inspect the Engine and Transmission

  • Visually inspect engine. Visually look over the engine, check for overall cleanliness as this can reveal maintenance.

  • Check the engine fluids. Engine oil should be clear in color. The transmission oil should be pink or orange in color. Next check that the brake fluid level and color is clear. Check the coolant in the expansion tank. If the engine is cold you can open the radiator cap and check the fluid there. If you do see liquid or stains anywhere in the engine area, it is highly recommended to have a mechanic look over the spots and verify why there are there.

  • Check the engine belts. Check the alternator, power steering, and AC accessory belts for cracks. Verify the last time the timing belt was changed.

  • Start vehicle. As you listen, if it sounds as if it is running rough, or if the engine itself is jerking around, it could be indication of worn out engine mounts or a misfire. Any abnormal noises like metal on metal, pinging, or clanking should be addressed as these could be signs of an exhaust leak or other problem.

Part 4: Inspect the Steering and Suspension

Now it is time to test drive the car. You will want to drive the car not only on city streets, but also on a freeway to get a good feeling of how the car handles at lower and higher speeds.

  • Things to look out for on the test drive:

    • Before driving off, use the steering wheel to face wheels forward. Turn the steering wheel to the right and count how many turns it takes to stop, then do same to left. The amount of wheel turns should match the opposite side, for example, if there were 3 turns on the right, there should be three turns on the left, not three then two. If they do not match, this could indicate steering problems.

    • While driving, check for quality vehicle steering and the comfort of suspension. The steering should be tight. Make a series of left and right turns, drive over speed bumps, make U-turns and see how car handles.

    • Be sure to listen for noises and feel that the ride is smooth. Noise and rough rides could be indicative of suspension problems.

Next Step

Schedule Pre-purchase Car Inspection

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