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Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Inspect a Used Vehicle Before Purchasing it

Recently I was faced with the task of helping my son find his first vehicle to purchase. Being that he is just in his first year of college, we decided to purchase a used car. One of the biggest things I learned from this experience was just how critical it is to inspect the vehicle from top to bottom, end to end and then over again as well as to have the vehicle inspected by an automobile mechanic before ever finalizing the purchase of a used vehicle. Keep in mind I am a single mother of 15 years so the pressure I felt to do this right was enormous since I have little knowledge or experience with car motors and transmissions and everything else in between. I prepared the best I could and learned about the many things we could check on a vehicle to give us an idea if we should pursue moving ahead on the vehicle we were most drawn to. It is my intention and hope through this article that I help someone else faced with the task of purchasing a used car by sharing a few of the tips I learned.
It's very helpful to bring any research with you that you have done on any of the vehicles you will look at such as the report you can obtain from the Kelly Blue Book to make sure the asking price is not too far off from where it should be.
Always inspect the car during daylight hours. Scan down the sides of the car and look for paint irregularities or surface unevenness. Look for any "rusty" areas, mismatched paint colors or panels on the car that appear to be re-painted as this may indicate the vehicle was in an accident or has corrosion. Check if the vehicle has a trailer hinge since this could mean the vehicle was used for towing and is worth at least looking into further.
Check all the engine fluids which include motor oil, transmission, oil, brake fluid, and power steering fluid to name a few. Transmission fluid should be reddish in color but transparent. If it smells burnt, that's not a good sign. Oil should be golden in color; if it's black, that's not a good sign either. Are there any coolant leaks from the engine? When checking the engine oil, determine if the level of oil is within the normal range or if its low.
Bring a mirror with you to check the underside of the vehicle - look for oil or transmission fluids that may have leaked on other engine parts, and dents or scrape marks which may indicate the vehicle has been driven over rough roads and perhaps sustained other damage.
Bring a strong magnet with you and a piece of cloth. Cover the magnet with the cloth and check out different areas on the car to see if the magnet sticks to the metal. If it sticks in some areas and not in others, chances are the car has had body damage and has been repaired with Bondo or some other kind of material. It's probably a good idea to pass on this kind of vehicle.
Bring a dollar bill. Open each door and hang the dollar bill over the top of the door and close it. As you pull on it, it should be snug. Check out a couple of other places on each door of the vehicle. If it slips out of some areas, then the car has likely had some kind of damage.
Look at each of the tires for uneven wear. If the outside or inside edges are worn, it may have problems with the alignment. Does the car have a spare tire, jack and wheel wrench?
The condition of the cars interior gives you a good idea of how well the rest of the car has been taken care of. When inspecting the interior, check for any dampness under the carpet and in the trunk. Do you notice any possible tampering to the odometer? Does the air conditioner provide really cold air? Check all the interior power features such as windows, mirrors, and door locks, etc. Does the heater and defogger work properly? Do you feel comfortable in the drivers seat with the seat belt, mirrors, steering wheel, seat, and visibility? Test the wiper blades, headlamps and turn signals.
Check the manufacturer's label, which is usually located on the driver's door or door jamb. Are there any signs of altering? Check the VIN number. Also check the exact date when the vehicle was manufactured.
When test driving, does the car start quickly and without hesitation? Do you notice any pinging, knocking or whistling sounds? Do you notice any shaking or vibration of the car especially when driving at a higher rate of speed? Does the car make creaking or knocking noises when driving over bumps? Does the steering feel loose? Is the steering wheel straight? Does the car pull to one side and is difficult to maintain a straight driving line? Do you notice any smoke from the engine area or from the exhaust? Do you smell burnt oil or transmission fluid? Check the dashboards control panel for any warning lights that may be on such as "check engine" or "service engine" indicators. Check the temperature of the engine on the control panel to find out if the engine is running too hot. Is there any hesitation when accelerating? Is the motor as powerful as it should be for the type of motor in the vehicle? Does the car feel like the idle may be off when parked and perhaps feel as if it might stall? Does the brake pedal go clear to the floor or feel loose or spongy? Does the car pull to one side when braking? Do you notice any grinding noises when braking?
Having a vehicle inspected by a professional is one of the wisest things one can do when deciding whether or not the vehicle your interested in purchasing is going to be a reliable car however there's a lot to be said for just plain good common sense thinking and that "gut feeling" we get with knowing if we should pursue a particular vehicle or move onto the next.

By Kim Yeschick

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