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How to Inspect a Used Car You Want to Buy

Updated on March 14, 2011

Hiring a mechanic to inspect a used car you want to buy could be costly if you don´t hit on the money on that first or second choice. You don’t have to be a specialist to inspect a used car for sale by owner or by a second hand car dealer and making sure you don´t bet a lemon instead.

  • Start by having a slow walk around the car to check for paint tone differences on each and every panel.
  • As well while you´re at it check closely at the gaps between each and every panel.
  • A difference in tone on one panel could just mean that it was recently paint, ask why.
  • A difference in gaps between the panels could mean that the car had at one time a serious accident.

  • Look down the length of the car for ripples in the metal panels. If rippled on a large area, inspect the frame carefully.

Gap differences between panels should be carefully inspected

  • Get the phone number of the previous owner if possible and ask how much work was done to the car after the accident. Some dealers won’t give you this information.
  • Get the km reading on the car when it was sold. If the speedometer now reads less, it has been adulterated with and move on.
  • Rub your finger inside the exhaust. If it comes out oily, the car is burning oil.
  • Make sure the engine is cold and have the seller or dealer start off the car and see the amount of smoke that comes from the exhaust pipes.
  • A small amount of smoke the first couple of seconds is bearable for a used car if it has few kilometers on the dash.
  • Let the car run for a while and keep a close ear to the engine. It should sound smooth with no pings or grinding noises.
  • Check the car for signs of fresh undercoating. There are reasons to undercoat an old car, and that is to hide rust or hide weld spots if the car was in an accident.
  • Doors, engine hood and trunk should open and close freely. A door that has to be forced is another sign of a possible accident.
  • Check for rust around moldings, under the bumper at the bottom of doors, in the trunk, under floor mats and around windows.
  • Around window rubbers see if the is any leftover paint on the rubbers itself. It could mean it had a cheap paint job.
  • Rust on the radiator could mean future headaches. Check the tires and the spare to see if the brand matches. And check the wear on each tire that could show possible misalignment.
  • Check the brakes by applying strong pressure to the pedal and holding it for 30 seconds. If the pedal goes slowly down then there is a leak somewhere on the brake system that needs repair.
  • Test-drive the car and remind the seller anything that doesn’t work, from the air conditioner to the windshield wipers, lights and so on.
  • Listen for knocks in the engine and grinding or humming in the gears.
  • Check the brakes by doing a fast stop and see if the car does not veer off to one side.
  • Drive over bumpy land and listen to the shock absorbers.
  • These simple tips can save you future hassle before you make your deal.


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