Purchasing a new vehicle always represents a significant financial commitment, even when your new vehicle isn’t new at all. Even pre-owned vehicles, significantly marked down from the original sticker price, will cost a few bucks, and it’s important to ensure they represent a decent value.
This means doing your homework—reading reviews and consumer reports before you sign on the dotted line. It means taking the vehicle for a test drive, ensuring you like how it runs and how it sounds. And yes, it means inspecting the vehicle thoroughly.
As you inspect a used vehicle, you can and should be meticulous. Again, it’s your money you’re going to spend, so you have a right to know what you’re getting into. All the old clichés about checking under the hood and kicking the tires apply, then. To help you ensure a rigorous inspection, we’ll offer a few specific guidelines.
How to Inspect a Used Vehicle
Some things to keep in mind:
First and foremost, check the documentation, including the window sticker, which may tell you whether the vehicle is under warranty or is being sold “as is”—important things to know, and potentially indicators of the vehicle’s quality.
Also make sure you know the vehicle’s history. Ask the seller/dealer to provide you with a Carfax report, which will tell you if the car has been in an accident, had major body work done, etc.
Inspect the body condition—looking over each part of the exterior (doors, fenders, bumpers, etc.) for scratches, dents, misaligned parts, rust, inconsistent paint color, or anything else that might point to shoddy repair work or bad vehicle maintenance.
Check the suspension, too. Walk around the vehicle to make sure it appears level. Bounce each corner of the car, and look to see if it rebounds a single time (which it should, if the suspension is good).
Put the keys in the ignition and activate each light to make sure that they work properly. Inspect the tires, and hopefully you’ll see that all four are the same and that there are no obvious signs of uneven wear.
Also pay attention to the interior of the car. Odors, scratches, missing knobs/buttons, or stained upholstery all point to a car that has not been maintained particularly well. Be wary of these things.
Make sure there is oil in the car; a car without oil in it simply has not been taken care of well, period.
If you have any concerns about the vehicle, and in particular the engine, ask to take it to an independent mechanic. This will cost you a bit more money, but it will provide you with better information and greater peace of mind as you make your purchase.