Purchasing a used car can be a daunting experience. This is even truer if you are considering buying a used car for the first time. There are many things to look for when purchasing a used car before making your final decision. Here are a few general pointers on how to check a used car before you buy it.
Checking The Car’s Form
Make sure that the car is on level ground before checking it out.
Check the tires. The tires should be worn evenly and they should match. Look atthe surface of the tire for feathering (bad alignment). Bad alignment can be caused by worn steering/suspension components, the pothole down the street or frame damage. Also check the spare tire and compare the tread to the other tires if it is a full spare.
Carefully check the paint job of the car, taking note of any rust spots, dents or scratches. Look at the sides of the car from end-on for waviness; that indicates paint work. Run your finger along the edges of the joints between panels; roughness indicates residue left from masking tape.
Never buy a frame damaged car. Check the saddle (connects the front fenders and holds the top of the radiator). It should not be welded on either side, it should be bolted in. Inspect the bolt heads at the top of the fenders inside the hood; scratch marks indicates that the fenders have been replaced or realigned (after a crash). Look for welds inside the door jambs
Checking Under The Hood
Check under the hood of the car for any indication of dents, damage or rust. These can all be signs that the car was either poorly taken care of or damaged. Each fender, just inside where the hood joins, should have a decal with the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the car; if it is missing, that fender was replaced.
Check the hoses and belts. They should not have cracks. The radiator hoses should not be soft.
Inspect the engine for any sort of leaks, or corrosion. On the engine block, look for any dark brown oil stains, this will indicate that there is a leak in a gasket, and could possibly lead to an expensive repair in the future. Check the brake fluid, and reservoir to make sure it is not leaking. The belts should look new (i.e. not have cracks or signs of drying). Old belts can snap, and if you do not know how to replace them, it will cost between $100-500 depending on which belt goes bad.
Checking Inside The Car
Go inside the car. Check the seats and upholstery of the car for any tears, rips, stains, or other type of damage.
Check the odometer of the car for the mileage. This is important because the mileage indicates the car’s age. On the average, a normal driver will drive between 10,000 to 15,000 miles (16,000 to 24,000 km) a year; however, this depends on many factors. Remember, cars age by time and mileage. Buying a 10 year old car with very low miles is not necessarily a good thing.
Verify the lights and all the regular functions of the car when not moving. This include: any sensors for parking, back parking camera, radio, CD, music installation, etc.
Testing The Car While Driving
Check for sounds, trepidation or clunking noise when making a 90 degrees turn. Do this at low speed. This means again, wear at the front direction level: joints need to be changed.
Be sure to check the brakes of the car by pressing down hard enough on the brakes to decelerate rapidly, but not enough to slide. Try this going around 30 mph (48 km/h) in an area without traffic. You should not feel any vibration from the brake pedal, or hear any squealing or strange noises. Brakes that pulsate indicate the need for having the rotors resurfaced or replaced and new pads installed. It should not swerve; this can be caused by a bad brake caliper or worn steering components.
Checking the Documentation
Check out the car’s service history which should give you some information regarding the performances, repairs, and problems of the car. Ideally, the current owner would have kept a record of the times when the car needed servicing and should be willing to show you this information. Some cars do not have maintenance records because they maintained them at home. This should be fine as long as they can prove they maintained the car properly. There are instances where used cars are sold because of past accidents or negative experiences.
Bring someone who knows cars. It is a good idea to bring along a trusted friend with a good background of automotive know-how to check things that you are not sure of. If you do not have a trusted friend in the auto industry you can pay a mechanic to complete an inspection on it for around 75-100 bucks. Make sure this mechanic has good reviews so you will not get scammed into thinking the car is a lemon.
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