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How To Inspect a Car

Buying a used car is always a little bit riskier than buying one brand new, but in most cases the risk is offset either by the lower price, or by the fact that the car you are purchasing is a collectible car you've dreamed of for years. Whether you are purchasing the car from a dealer or an individual, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

If you have the ability to bring a mechanic along when you look at a car, you should do so. If not, these tips will give you a good idea of what to look for.

Verify The VIN

The Vehicle Identification Number  (VIN)should be on a plate either under the dash, on the doorpost, or on the firewall of the engine, if not in all three places. Make sure the number is the same in all locations, and also that it matches the registration. As well, use a site like CarFax.com to check the VIN number, which will tell you if there are active liens, thefts, or serious accidents that were reported to the authorities. If you're buying from a dealer, they should provide this information for you.

Ogle the Odometer

Cute alliteration aside, it's important to note the odometer reading, especially on an older car. Assume an average of  10,000 - 20,000 miles per year, and compare the number to the apparent condition of the car. If there's more wear and tear than there should be, this is a red flag. If the odometer reading is suspiciously low for the age of the car, this is also a red flag.

Do the Inspection in Daylight

Looking at a car at night won't give you an accurate picture, so it's important to schedule a daylight appointment to check it out.

  • You'll want to look for excessive wear of the upholstery on the seats, as well as note the condition of the accelerator and brake pedals. (Pedals that are over-worn may signify faulty brakes, while new pedals can actually mean the same thing.)
  • Is everything original? If the stereo system has been upgraded, ask for receipts and warranty information.
  • Check the tires. Make sure they're in good condition, and also confirm that the spare is in the trunk, along with a jack, if one originally came with the car
  • Get physical. Lean on each corner of the car and make sure it reverts to the original position quickly. Too much bouncing may mean bad shock absorbers.
  • Do a visual inspection of the body and look for rust, dents, or obvious repainting. Any ripples in the body are a sign that body work has been done. Ask about that. Also ask about the car's history, and check what you're told against the VIN report.

Hire a Reputable National Inspection Service

A reputable national vehicle inspection service can be an invaluable assets during the purchase process. This is especially true in this age of the internet where the buyer and seller are not in the same location. Unfortunately fraud is a part of this new medium or sellers are overly optimistic about the condition of the vehicle they are selling. To counter this you need someone on your side such as InspectMyRide.

Warranty must be in Writing

If you're buying from a dealer, ask if there's any kind of warranty. If so, you'll want to make sure you get a written copy of it, that states exactly what is covered, and for how long.

If the VIN report is clean, and everything else meets your satisfaction, you should take the car for a test drive to make sure you didn't miss anything, and also to look for a few more key points. Again, take your mechanic with you if you can, and if you cannot, bring along your spouse, or a friend, just to have another opinion. Is a good way to protect the car buyer from a bad purchase.
During the test drive, you'll want to be certain that:

  • The car starts immediately, and idles smoothly once warm, that the gauges and indicator lights work properly, that steering isn't stiff, and doesn't make any moaning or
  • The gauges and indicator lights work properly
  • Steering is not stiff, and does not squeak or moan
  • Brakes feel firm and centered and do not squeal

Be certain to drive at varying speeds on different road surfaces when you can, for the best evaluation.
If after all this you are comfortable with your choice, and believe the price to be fair, go ahead and make your purchase, but be sure to have a mechanic go over the car as soon as convenient, if you have any lingering doubts.


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