Guide for checking a used car before buying

Checking a used car before buying it is a recommended process to be done together with a specialist. If, however, you decide to do this yourself, here are the things you need to be careful about.

What to ask the car dealer/seller on the phone?

  1. In what state is the car? Was it repainted? A repainting made improperly does not last more than 4-5 years
  2. Since when does he own the car?
  3. What repairs has he made so far? Where?
  4. Does it have the original engine?
  5. Was the car involved in an accident?
  6. When was the last review done?

What to check when you see a used car?

First of all, insist on seeing the car after it has sat and has not been started for a while.

  • Visually check the car exterior for blows, scratches, etc. which, if not mentioned, can give you indications of how the car was used.
  • To detect possible traces of accidents: with the hood lifted, check the struts if they are straight, and show traces of strokes, bends, etc.
  • Check the wing line when combined with the counter wings, the factory screws come painted and you can see if they have signs of intervention.
  • Careful! Some manufacturers do not paint the extension of the front bumper of the car in the body, so it is well known that it is not necessarily a sign that the car was hit in the front.
  • Open the doors. Depending on the mileage stated by the seller, the doors may work well or badly. With the door open (repeat at each door and trunk) pull the locksmith (sometimes it is difficult) and check the car poles if they were damaged. They cannot be repaired very well, and if they have been repaired, you can see traces of welding.
  • At the same time if the car has been repainted, under the seal you can see this because that is a place where the painter and the tanner do not give too much attention because it is covered by seals.
  • In the trunk, lift, and carpet or plastic appliances observe the board.
  • Inside, check if the miles on the dashboard reflect the condition of the interior. (a car with 30,000 miles and a very worn steering wheel can raise question marks). Check the steering wheel, shifter, pedal, seat status, door faces, and dashboard buttons. Check that all the systems of the car (signaling, climate, music, wipers, ceiling lights, onboard bulbs, etc.) work, and if something doesn’t work, ask why.
  • Under the hood: do not be fooled by phrases like: “the engine is encapsulated”. It is not encapsulated at all, it has only a plastic shield under which there is soundproofing. Some of them are fastened with relatively easy screws, and others are simply forced into the rubber holes, so they are simply pulled out.
  • Check for fluid leaks between the cylinder head and the engine. There should be nothing liquid. If the engine is washed ask why. It is best to see a dirty engine. Remove the dipstick, if a very thick oil is present, it is not a very good sign, because it may mean that an additive has been put in the engine or a thick oil has been put in order to “stop” any engine bumps, and at the first oil change, you will have surprises.
  • At turbo engines it is possible to find traces of oil near the intercooler, it is not a tragedy, usually at 62.000 miles, the oil accumulates considering that the turbine has lubrication and the oil vapors also pass through the intercooler, just simply wash it. There are just traces and some deposits, nothing to worry about. The turbine is also visually checked for traces of oil, there should not be anything on it. There should be no leakage of any liquid. (brake pipe, servo hose, cooling hose, etc.)

Starting the engine

  1. Another important step in checking the car is starting the engine. In some older engines, which do not keep the oil on the ramp, it is possible to hear a louder noise at the first RPM. Also, the diesel “buzzes” a bit louder when it’s cold.
  2. What you need to know is that the engine must start fast, especially when it’s hot outside. For diesel engines, let the glow plugs do their job. Listen to the engine and identify any suspicious sounds. With the engine running, remove the jog and check for smoke or compression.
  3. Move the car and check where it was parked to see if there is a trace of liquid on the floor. The only liquid that is allowed to be under the car is the one formed from the condensation on the air conditioner, but the one has a hose and is easy to identify. Also, check how thick the smoke is on the exhaust pipe and what color it is (black is fuel smoke, white is oil smoke).
  4. Turn the steering wheel to the left and right and check that the power steering is working correctly. Also, analyze tire wear. This should be uniform across the width of the tire. If the rear tires are worn, it may mean that they have been replaced with the front ones.

Test drive with a used car

  • Do not make sudden moves until the engine is warm. Check if it heats up to the level indicated by the manufacturer and if it stays there (in some cars it is even the middle of the grade, in others, it is hatched with green, and in others, the grades are indicated).
  • After the engine has warmed up and you find that everything is fine, you can become more brutal in accelerations to see the response of the engine. At the same time, at sharper accelerations, you can check for driveshaft bumps (at the front-wheel-drive ones) or by acceleration-engine braking, if there are transmission problems.
  • Another aspect to consider is that the shifter must not be resistant when changing gears nor transmit very high vibrations of the engine. After a few miles, put your hand on the shaft and observe its temperature. If it is hot, it may indicate a lack of oil in the gearbox
  • Test the brakes. It doesn’t have to make weird sounds or make the steering wheel vibrate. Avoid checking the fuel consumption shown on the dashboard., it may not indicate correctly. On this occasion, check the speedometer, as well as all other electronic components that come into operation when the car is running, including the horn.
  • After stopping the car, lift the hood and check again for fluid leaks after the engine has been running (especially when dealing with an engine that was washed before the test drive). Also, take a look at the exhaust pipe, checking how the smoke comes out by pressing the acceleration pedal.

Raise the car on a ramp

  • It is advisable to lift the car on a ramp and visually inspect the shock absorbers. They should not have traces of leaks, and the springs should obviously not be broken. Check for traces in the door area of ​​the doors, struts, oil pan, and gearbox.
  • Visually inspect the bushings, but also the brake discs and pads. On some cars that have not been used for a long time, it is important to know that the bushes can also be damaged by the aging of the tire. A brief check should also cover the path of the exhaust pipe, but also the condition of the engine, gearbox, and exhaust buffers.
  • Another important step when buying a used car is to check the service book. Check at least three times the VIN on the documents, which must correspond to the one in the car. If the engine series is unreadable, make sure that the car’s identity card is marked “series-free”. If you are not good at cars, hire a reliable person to help you identify problems.
  • I want you to be aware of one thing. If the car has minor problems, negotiate the price and do not refuse a car that is 95% good. Do not miss an opportunity just because the car has worn tires or a broken stop. After all, you buy a used car.

Other important information

There are other modern ways to check a used car, one of them is to perform a VIN number check for your potential target. You’ll see valuable information regarding the correct mileage, accident history, and more

Scroll to Top