What Should I Inspect When Buying A Used Car?

Mechanic holding a strut assembly during a pre-purchase vehicle inspection.

What should I inspect when buying a used car?

A vehicle pre-purchase inspection could save you thousands of dollars either by helping you negotiate the purchase price of a used vehicle or by avoiding the purchase altogether. 

Below is a list of items that we recommend you inspect before buying a used vehicle:

Inspect The Used Car On The Outside

1. Does the odometer mileage make sense for the year, make, model, and the story that comes with the vehicle? (Note: Typically vehicles are driven between 10,000-15,000 miles a year.)

2. Inspect the exterior door jams, truck jam, and hood jams for proper spacing between the panels. Especially, look at the gaps where these body panels move and pivot. If the gaps are too small, large, or don't look like the other gaps on the vehicle, there may have been some bodywork done on the vehicle.

Bodywork isn't necessarily a bad thing, you just want to understand the extent of the work and confirm that the bodywork doesn't affect the safety or integrity of the vehicle.

3. After you are done looking around the vehicle, have a look underneath the vehicle. Under the vehicle, you will look for signs of oil leaks, water leaks, anything hanging down that looks out of place, and anybody or suspension items that have manufacture stickers on them. 

Manufacture stickers that come on panels and suspension components may indicate the vehicle's items were replaced due to some sort of accident.

Inspect The Used Car On The Inside

4. When it's time to start the vehicle, please take note if the vehicle is cold or already hot. If possible, you will want to start the vehicle from a cold state (vehicle has been sitting for more than 4 hours). Immediately listen to the engine for any odd noises and go to the back of the vehicle to visually check for abnormal smoke (white, blue, or black usually means there is an issue internally in the engine.) 

5. Now in the vehicle, run the air conditioning, check all door locks, power windows from all locations, radio, vents, sunroof (if equipped), cruise control, parking brake, blinkers, lights, 12v charging port, 4wd, seat heaters, etc. 

The main thing to think about while inspecting inside the vehicle before purchasing a used car is to test everything that has a switch, dial, moves, turns off/on, turns, opens, closes, etc.

Road Test The Used Car

6. On the road test, notice how the vehicle is shifting, braking, accelerating, turning, etc. You can compare the vehicle to what you think is normal (even if you don't know the make or model specifics) and if something doesn't seem proper, ask questions! 

We recommend driving around the city streets and at freeway speeds to confirm you don't feel anything out of the ordinary. 

7. Okay - you are back from the road test, leave the vehicle running, put the vehicle's transmission in park, and apply the parking brake. Walk around the vehicle and use all of your senses to evaluate the vehicle once more.

Visually look for items you may have missed, smell for any funny or odd smells, listen to the engine now that it's hot... you get the idea.

8.  Inspect the vehicle's computers for any stored or pending trouble codes (you will need a compatible scanner for this sort of operation.) We recommend running this inspection after road testing the vehicle so you can find out anything after putting the vehicle through its paces.

Body Inspection Of The Used Car

9. Now pop the hood and have a visual inspection of components. A trained eye will help you here. For those of you who don't have a trained eye, please look for any oily areas, battery corrosion, leaks, and anything that may seem out of the ordinary. Then ask questions about those areas of concern.

This is also an opportunity to look around where the fenders connect, the hood closes, and where the radiator support is located to look for signs of new or old bodywork/damage. Also, pop the trunk or hatch to check fitment and look for signs of bodywork.

10. Once you feel like you have performed a proper assessment, take a few minutes to think about the vehicle. Will the used vehicle serve the purposes that you will use it for? Is it too big? Too small? Fuel economy? Are the seats comfortable? Enough legroom? 

Professional Inspection When Buying a Used Car

We hope this was a helpful guide on what to check when purchasing a used vehicle. A+ Japanese Auto Repair in San Carlos has a pre-purchase inspection where we perform the above inspection as well as a much more detailed assessment of the mechanical and electrical items bumper to bumper!

You will receive a digital vehicle inspection where you can see what the technician sees. You are also able to share your inspection with the seller to point out items of concern. Most of our clients are easily able to recoup their inspection fee by negotiating the price after the inspection is performed!

If you are looking to purchase a used car, we highly recommend having a professional auto repair shop help you look for items before you purchase the vehicle. It could save you a lot of headaches and money down the road.

Book your vehicle inspection when you are ready to buy a used car!

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What To Check When Your Check Engine Light Comes On

A+ Japanese Auto Repair, Inc.
780 Industrial Road
San Carlos CA 94070
Categories: Car Maintenance
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