Keep a sharp eye out for the following as you get your first look at a used car:
1. Body”Look for rust, particularly at the bottoms of fenders, around lights and bumpers, on splash panels, under doors, in the wheel wells, and under trunk carpeting. Small blisters may indicate future rust sites. Check for paint that does not quite match, gritty surfaces, misaligned body panels and paint overspray on chrome — all possible signs of a new paint job, masking body problems. Look for cracks, heat-discolored areas, and loose bumpers — warning signs of a past accident. A welded seam may mean that the car is actually a body shop’s “rebuilt” creation from salvaged parts. Look for welded seams in the trunk and on the floor; bumps under the paint around the windshield or rear window, or between doors, may indicate a rough welded seam beneath the paint. Also, look for hail damage. If the vehicle is dirty, have it washed for a better inspection.
2. Tires”Uneven wear on the front tires usually indicates either bad alignment or front suspension damage. Uneven wear on late model cars with radial tires may signal improper tire rotation. Do not forget to check the condition of the spare tire and make sure the correct jack is in the trunk and in working order.
3. Battery”Look on the sticker for the guarantee date. A battery generally needs to be replaced after 25,000 miles.
4. Doors, Windows, Trunk Lid”Look for a close fit, ease of opening and closing, and secure latches. A door that fits unevenly may indicate that the car was involved in a collision.
5. Window, Glass and Lights”Look for hairline cracks and tiny holes.
6. Tailpipe”Black, gummy soot in the tailpipe may mean worn rings, or bad valves and possibly expensive repairs.
7. Shock absorbers”Lean hard or “bounce” on a corner of the car and then release it. If the car keeps rocking up and down, the shocks may need replacing.
8. Fluids”Oil that is whitish or has white bubbles may mean that water has been introduced into the system and this can be a sign of major mechanical problems. Check the radiator fluid; it should not look rusty. With the engine idling, check the transmission fluid; it should not smell rancid or look dark brown. Check for leaks and stains under the car, on the underside of the engine, and around hoses and valve covers.
9. Mechanical Parts”Be sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights, backup lights, and directional signals work properly. Test the radio, heater, air conditioner, and windshield wipers.
10. Interior”Check the upholstery for major wear and tear; look under floor mats and seat covers. Check the adjustability of seats and make sure all seat belts work. Check the locations and working order of airbags. Ask whether they have ever been deployed. Check the steering wheel; unlocked, with the engine off, it should have no more than two inches of play. Lots of wear on the driver’s seat and/or heavy wear on the brake and accelerator pedals of a car with low mileage may indicate tampering with the odometer.
Click here for Part 1 of this series.