Before you buy a used car, DO THIS!

I as a mechanic am constantly receiving phone calls about doing pre-purchase inspections on used vehicles my customers are looking to buy. Most of those first vehicles they have me look at are not worth the money the seller is asking. They are then able to either talk the seller down to save on the future repairs that I have found, or they are able to keep looking for other vehicles. In turn it saves my customer money in future repairs that will have to be made.

Pre-purchase inspections in most areas are readily available, if you have a trusted mechanic they will be the best to call. But any mechanic shop should have a form of inspection they can perform within an hour to uncover any hidden future repairs, or give you the piece of mind before you make the purchase. If you cannot have a mechanic inspect the vehicle. Or you are mechanically inclined enough to feel comfortable inspecting it yourself, I will review what you will want to look at before you purchase any used vehicle.


The top 3 things you want to look for that could be more to fix then the vehicle is worth.

  1. Previous repair work was done poorly This could include anything that you see from broken clips, visible body repair work, to improper engine service.
  2. Frame damaged It is important to pay attention to the condition of the frame under the vehicle. Any signs of welding, pinched metal, twist, or bends should be looked at intensively before purchases are made.
  3. Fire or water damage This kind of damage can be covered up easy. Either by interior pieces or paint. Any signs of electrical fires or water damage is not a good sign. Water damage can be a result from seals being cracked or damaged, or rusting around wheel wells or body.

Drive train and suspension issues should be inspected as well, most of these kind of issues will be able to be repaired, and you can use what you find to negotiate a lower purchase price to reflect the future repairs that will need to be made.

  • First thing is start the vehicle and look for any lights on the dashboard. Newer vehicles today are equipped with several computers. They are constantly monitoring the vehicles efficiency and performance. And they will illuminate warning lights on the dashboard whenever they suspect a problem. There are machines to erase those codes, but they should all come back after approx 30 miles of driving. So it is crucial to make sure to give the vehicle a proper test drive.
  • Your test drive should include at least 20-30 miles, and the route should have hills, bumps, and potholes to test the performance and suspension of the vehicle. Any loss of power, or noises while car is going over the bumps should be noted.
  • Walk around, Make sure to turn all the lights on and slowly walk around the vehicle. Notice any body repairs or damage. Take a look at the brakes the best you can through the rims. Make sure the pads are not worn to terribly. You can also inspect the tires, any ad normal wear or low tread depth should be noted.
  • Pop the hood, Here you will want to look for any obvious fluid leaks and listen for any abnormal sounds while running. You will want to locate the power steering and transmission dip stick (if equipped) and check those fluids while the vehicle is still running. Transmissions are the industries biggest money maker, because they go out so often. It is important to not only check the level of the fluids but the condition. New transmission fluid is typically a dark red. And signs of slipping will cause the fluid to burn and start to turn brown and black.
  • Shut down the vehicle, Then you should be able to check your oil at this time. Most oils are a gold color, and will turn black after spent. But it is important to not only make sure it is full, but it is not frothy white, or mixed with any other fluid. If so major engine work could be in the future.
  • Coolant condition can tell allot about a motor as well. If you have signs of oil or white froth inside of radiator. It could be a good sign of cracked block or head gasket.
Oil color differences

Buying a vehicle can be very stressful. But with the right inspection allot of your worries will go away. It is always best to take the vehicle to a local mechanic, but this will help you find most deal breaking issues.

Thank you for reading, Hope this information helped aid your purchase!

All images above were found on Google

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