Test-driving and an under vehicle inspection should be performed before purchasing a used vehicle. After checking the fluids and visible elements under the hood, the vehicle’s body and under-carriage can be inspected. When this inspection is finished, take the car for a thorough test drive.
Carefully walk around the vehicle and look for signs of rust or accident damage. Subtle changes in the color of the paint may indicate that repair work has been performed. Check for a bubbly appearance in the paint around fender wells and doorframes. This can be a sign of rust forming under the paint.
Frame and underbody:
Look underneath the car for signs of accident damage or heavy rusting. If the vehicle’s frame appears bent, you should have it professionally inspected. Small amounts of underbody rust are not usually a problem. You need to check for areas that appear corroded to the extent of breaking. Check for leaks from the engine, transmission and brake lines.
Odometer and interior:
In older vehicles, looking at an analog odometer would quickly provide a buyer with information about tampering. Some used car sellers would set the mileage reading back to make the vehicle more appealing. Tampering with the odometer would cause the numbers to not line up evenly. Digital odometers do not provide the same easy visual clue.
If you are unsure that the mileage on the vehicle is accurate, perform an interior inspection. The brake and gas pedals often provide a reliable picture of how much mileage the car really has. Normal wear and tear should be expected. Completely worn down pedals may be a sign of high mileage.
The pedal picture included shows the normal wear for a car with 110,000 miles. If the pedals have recently been replaced you should ask the seller why this was done. If the carpeting on the driver’s side is worn down, it may also indicate higher mileage.
Tires and front end:
The depth of the tire tread is an indication of how long the tires can be expected to last. When you purchase a used vehicle, the important part of a tire check is the wear pattern. An uneven wear pattern may be as simple as a poor alignment condition. It could also point to serious problems with the front suspension.
Look underneath the front of the car and check for worn out rubber boots and bushings. Pay attention to any areas that have major rust formation. Check for bent control arms or tie rods. Ask the vehicle’s owner if suspension lubrication was performed at regular oil changes.
Recommendations for a test drive include driving at 35 mph on regular roadways. Ensure that you have a safe, traffic-free road to prevent accidents. Try to drive on uneven streets to see how the car handles bumps. Test the steering to determine how well the vehicle controls. Listen for unusual sounds in the steering and brakes.
Do not play the radio while you are making your test drive. You need to be able to hear any squeals, banging or clunking sounds the car may emit. If it is possible to drive on a highway or freeway, do so at around 60 mph. Check the vehicle for any unusual pulling or vibrations at this higher speed.
If you have any doubts about the quality of a used car, do take it to a mechanic before completing your purchase. You can also take the vehicle to a large auto parts store. Many of these centers will provide a diagnostic check of the main systems for at no charge. Most used vehicles will have minor problems that require attention. A reasonable inspection before your purchase can prevent serious headaches later down the road.