Buying a used car can be an exciting venture, offering the allure of affordability and a wide range of options. However, the used car market can be a double-edged sword, with both great deals and potential pitfalls. A car pre-purchase inspection can help you avoid some of those hazards.
To ensure a successful purchase and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road, a thorough car pre-purchase inspection is an absolute necessity. Never let the seller provide you with a warranty in lieu of an inspection or woo you with a clean Carfax report.
Don’t let the cars with higher mileage discourage you from considering them. Some makes and model cars are renowned for their longevity and reliablity. Even if they have 70-80K miles on them they still have many more miles left in them and could turn out to be a great buy..
We had a customer bring us an older model Acura with 72K miles for a car pre-purchase inspection. The inspection revealed it needed new brakes. Knowing this, the buyer was able to get a price concession from the seller. Everything else checked out OK. He purchased the car which has been a very reliable vehicle and now has 172K miles.
If you need solid transportation and you don’t care much about cosmetics, you may be able to score a real deal for a car or truck that is mechanically sound. So a scratch in the paint or a tear in the bumper isn’t a big deal. An inspection will help prove this either way.
In this post, we’ll explore why you should perform a comprehensive car pre-purchase inspection before buying a used car from a used car dealer or private party. We’ll also provide you with a checklist of items to bring to the inspection and guide you through the process of inspecting key components, along with symptoms to watch out for. In addition, we’ll discuss why you shouldn’t solely rely on a CarFax report and to bypass the inspection process.
If after reading this post you decide an inspection is more than you can handle, get the help from an ASE Certified repair facility.
For car pre-purchase inspections near Wheeling IL count on the pros at Wheel-Inn Body & Motor Works. For a very reasonable price they can perform a comprehensive vehicle inspection. Wheel-Inn is both ASE and iCar Gold Class Certified so they really know what their stuff.
How long does a pre-purchase inspection take? Depending on the make and model, usually around an hour.
Car Pre-Purchase Inspection Win
A customer brought us an older Honda Accord for a pre-purchase inspection. Initially, the car looked like a solid purchase and was proceeding well until the technician removed the cover from the brake master cylinder reservoir. What he found was that the brake fluid was a frothy milky white. Someone had used motor oil instead of brake fluid resulting in catastrophic brake system damage. This was a huge win for the customer and saved him substantially down the road.
Why Inspect? Safety is #1
The primary reason to inspect a used car thoroughly is safety as indicated in the above story. Ensuring that all critical components are in working order can prevent accidents caused by mechanical failures.
- Cost Savings: An inspection can uncover hidden problems that may not be immediately obvious, helping you avoid costly repairs or replacements shortly after purchase.
- Negotiation Power: A thorough inspection report can give you leverage in negotiations. You can ask for a lower price or request that the seller fixes any issues before you commit to the purchase.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing that the car you’re buying is in good condition can provide peace of mind and confidence in your investment.
Pre-Purchase Inspection Checklist
Before you head out for a car pre-purchased inspection, it’s important to come prepared. Here’s a checklist of items you should bring with you:
- Safety Gear: Gloves and eye protection to keep yourself safe while inspecting.
- Checklist: A printed or digital inspection checklist to ensure you don’t miss any critical components.
- Jack and Jack Stands: These are necessary for getting under the car safely.
- Tools: Basic tools like a screwdriver, pliers, and a wrench for minor assessments.
- OBD-II Scanner: This device can help you check for any hidden error codes or issues within the car’s computer system.
- A Trusted Mechanic: If possible, bring a professional mechanic along to provide an expert assessment.
- Notebook and pen: For taking notes and recording the vehicle identification number, mileage, and asking price
- Paper towels: For checking the engine oil
- Flashlight: For looking under the car for leaks and/or corrosion
- Small magnet: For detecting concealed bodywork
- CD/AUX cable: To test car stereo
- Auto history report, if possible.
Components to Inspect and How to Do It
Now, let’s break down the key components you should inspect and how to go about it.
- Paint: Check for any signs of rust, dents, or repainting that might indicate an accident.
- Tires: Look for even wear and ensure there’s adequate tread depth. Uneven wear could indicate suspension issues.
- Lights: Test all exterior lights (headlights, brake lights, turn signals) to ensure they are working correctly.
Under the Hood
- Engine: Start the car and listen for unusual noises. Check for visible leaks and signs of maintenance.
- Fluids: Inspect the oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant levels. Any low levels may be a red flag. Also check the brake fluid in the master cylinder. It should have a light yellow tint.
- Belts and Hoses: Look for cracks, wear, or fraying. Replace them if necessary.
- Battery: Check for corrosion on the terminals and the age of the battery.
- Dashboard Lights: Ensure that all dashboard warning lights turn on and off as they should.
- A/C and Heater: Test both the air conditioning and heater systems to ensure they work properly.
- Electronics: Check all interior electronics like windows, locks, and the audio system.
- Seats and Upholstery: Inspect for any tears or excessive wear.
Under the Car
- Exhaust System: Look for rust, holes, or leaks in the exhaust system.
- Suspension: Bounce each corner of the car to check for worn shocks or struts.
- Brakes: Ensure that the brakes are in good condition by checking the brake pads and rotors.
- Take the car for a test drive to assess its handling, acceleration, braking, and steering.
- Listen for unusual noises or vibrations during the drive.
- Ask the seller for maintenance records, which can provide insight into the car’s service history.
- Ensure the VIN on the documents matches the one on the car.
Symptoms for Problem Areas
During your inspection, it’s crucial to be vigilant for symptoms that might indicate underlying issues. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:
- Smoke from Exhaust: Blue smoke indicates burning oil, white smoke can be a sign of a coolant leak, and black smoke suggests excessive fuel consumption.
- Sputtering or Stalling: This might be a sign of engine misfires or fuel delivery problems.
- Brake Noise: Squeaking or grinding when braking can indicate worn brake pads or other issues.
- Vibrations: If you feel unusual vibrations while driving, it could be due to alignment or suspension issues.
- Check Engine Light: If the check engine light is on, it might signal various issues, from minor to severe.
- Overheating: An engine that runs hot may have cooling system problems, which can be costly to repair.
- Transmission Slipping: If you experience delays or difficulty when shifting gears, the transmission may need attention.
- Unusual Smells: Strange odors, such as burnt rubber, can indicate problems with the clutch or other components.
Why You Should Not Skip a Car Pre-Purchase Inspection
While services like CarFax can provide valuable information about a used car’s history, they should not be solely relied upon for several reasons:
- Incomplete Information: CarFax relies on the data it has access to, which may not include every accident, repair, or service record. Sellers can choose not to report incidents, and not all service providers report to these databases.
- Delayed Reporting: Information can take time to appear in CarFax reports. This means that recent accidents or issues might not yet be documented.
- Limited Scope: CarFax can’t provide insight into the current condition of the vehicle. It can tell you about past incidents but not the current state of critical components like the engine, transmission, or brakes.
- False Positives: CarFax reports can sometimes flag minor incidents as significant, causing unnecessary concern.
- Overlooking Maintenance: CarFax reports often focus on accidents and repairs but may not emphasize regular maintenance, which can be just as important.
A CarFax report can be a helpful tool in your used car buying process, but it should not be a substitute for a thorough inspection.
A car pre-purchase inspection allows you to evaluate the current condition of the vehicle and identify potential issues that a history report might not reveal. Combining both a CarFax report and a detailed inspection will provide you with the most comprehensive information, ensuring that you make an informed and safe used car purchase.