Buying a used car? Most used-car sellers aren’t trying to pass off an upcoming repair bill onto you — but some may not be aware of the vehicle’s issues themselves. That’s why the smartest used-car shoppers take extra steps during the inspection and test-drive process to ensure they’re getting a second-hand ride that’s not concealing any problems or headaches waiting down the line.
For a professional pre-purchase inspection in Scottsdale, you can visit Lusso Motorsports Group to be greeted by our expert mechanics and guided through the process. But for those of you that prefer to do things yourself here are some things to check when purchasing a used car.
1.) Vehicle History
It almost goes without saying that you should look up the car’s history beyond what the seller has to say. Running the VIN (vehicle identification number) through a service like Carfax which will tell you if the car has been in an accident, has any liens, any recalls on the model, ownership history, as well as any services that have been done on it.
2.) Check The Vehicle’s Body
Start by walking around the vehicle and taking note of any signs of scratches, dents, and rust. Little areas should be no worry, but large areas of damage should be warning signs as to how the car was treated or possibly evidence of an accident. Check each panel and the roof, looking for scratches, dents, and rust. Not to mention, every panel should be the exact same color (if it’s not it may have been involved in an accident, then repaired with non-original factory parts.
3.) Check All The Doors
Open and close all the doors, along with the hood and trunk or liftgate, to make sure they work smoothly, close tightly, and the locks work. If the vehicle has a power liftgate operated by the key fob, test it out. While the trunk lid or liftgate is open, make sure there’s a spare tire and jack – or a tire inflator kit, which is becoming more popular with automakers these days.
4.) Inspect The Tires
Tires are a great way to figure out how a vehicle has been kept. During your walk around, take note if all of the tires are of the same brand. Seeing a different brand on one or more of the wheels might raise some red flags.
If you see any, be sure to ask the seller about it. Look at each tire individually and take notice if the sidewall has cracks, bulges, or scuffing. You’ll also want to look at the tire tread and see if there is enough tread by using a tread-depth tool or a penny!
Ask if the tires have been rotated on a regular basis and look at the tires to see the tread worn evenly on both sides.
5.) Turn On All Of The Lights
Have the seller or friend turn on the lights and make sure that all of them work. Don’t forget to check the reverse lights, turn signals, and high beams as well.
Look at the light housings to make sure that they aren’t cracked or damaged, and that there isn’t any moisture coming in. You may even want to get as detailed as to check the lights around cup-holders, the foot of the car, and underneath seats.
6.) Check Under The Hood
Belts and Hoses: Feel the hoses around the radiator, air conditioner, and other components to find out if there are any cracks or holes. Check the drive belts as well to see if there is any fraying.
Radiator: Find the plastic reservoir connected by a rubber hose to the radiator and check to see if the anti-freeze color is either green or orange. A milky or rusty color will give an indication of a problem with the radiator. Also, look at the radiator itself. Any green or orange stain on the radiator may indicate a leak.
Fluids: There are four key fluids you want to check: oil, transmission, power steering, and brake. To find out where to check the fluids, open up the owner’s manual or have your mechanic give a look at it.
- Oil: The oil should be either dark brown or black. If it appears to be an amber color, then the oil was recently changed. If the oil on the dipstick has water droplets or appears grey or foamy, the car could have either a blown head gasket or a cracked engine block, which are both serious and costly problems.
- Transmission Fluid: The transmission fluid should be a pink color and have the smell of oil when you check it. If it’s brown or has a ‘burnt’ odor, then the transmission could be in trouble. Another sign of trouble to be on the lookout for is visible metal particles in the transmission fluid or the oil.
- Brake and Power Steering Fluids: These should be filled to the proper level. Be sure to look underneath the car as well to see if any fluids are leaking.
7.) Check The Engine Lights
Check that all the warning lights on the instrument panel light up when you turn the ignition on (they should turn off after a few seconds).
Start the car up and play with all of the switches and buttons throughout the vehicle to make sure that they operate properly. Be sure to try out the A/C and heater, the audio system, and if the check engine light is on bring it on it to LMG in Scottsdale to have it checked out!
8.) Test Drive
Listen to the noises the car makes while it’s in motion: Before you start the engine, turn off the stereo and turn the fan off so you can focus on hearing the engine and any other sounds the car makes. It should be smooth when the engine is idling, with minimal vibration through the steering wheel.
Accelerate slowly: Place the vehicle in drive and accelerate slowly; You want to make sure the engine changes gears smoothly without inconsistent sounds. The steering should be smooth and responsive, and it should return to the center position easily after turns, if it doesn’t this could be a power steering issue. The brakes should provide smooth, shortstops. Listen for unusual noises that might indicate mechanical problems.
Take your time: Don’t settle for a quick drive around the block. Give yourself time to adapt to a new car. Tell the seller you want to take the car on the highway, and take it up to at least 60 mph. You should plan on driving at least 10 miles to give yourself enough time to evaluate the vehicle under a variety of conditions. Look for opportunities to drive over speedbumps or other rough surfaces to see how the suspension reacts.
Test at highway speeds: At highway speeds, check for vibrations from the wheels, suspension, and steering wheel. Step hard on the accelerator to make sure the transmission downshifts quickly and smoothly. Make abrupt stops on both the highway and surface streets – when it’s safe to do so – to check brake performance. Watch for pulling to one side, squeaks, or other noises. With the stereo off, listen for how loud the wind and road noise are, and whether there are air leaks around the windows and sunroof. Turn on the stereo to determine if wind and road noise will drown out the music. Test the cruise control while you’re on the highway.
Complete Pre-Purchase Inspections
After conducting a thorough test drive and evaluation, you should have a better idea of whether this is the right vehicle for you, and may even have uncovered potential problems needing to be addressed before going through with the sale.
It’s also a good idea to get a mechanic to give the car a thorough inspection, as they can often see places you can’t. Lusso Motorsports Group in Scottsdale, Arizona has expert mechanics ready to assist and guide you through the process.