Ready to shop for a used car? Here are some useful items to bring with you to the dealership, plus a checklist of areas you'll want to examine when you inspect the vehicle.
Useful Things to Bring
CD & cassette tape
Tread depth gauge
Notepad & pen
Battery acid tester
Remember: always use caution when inspecting a vehicle, even if it is not running!
- Inspect the car in daylight or in a well-lit area. You will need a safe space to open the doors and walk around.
- Does the vehicle have all the equipment that is indicated by your research material? Note what’s missing.
- Note all removable items. Specify which of these should be included in the sale.
- Check for service records in the glove box. Look for an oil change sticker– was it changed recently?
- Write down the VIN. Later you can review it with a vehicle background reporting company like CARFAX.com to check the vehicle’s details or to get a vehicle history report.
- Do wheels and hubcaps match all round? Do all tires have safe tread?
- Check panels individually for scratches; chips; drips, runs, overspray, etc. Compare panels for color match.
- Check trim and other items attached to the exterior. These can be expensive to replace.
- Remove any seat covers and sit in each seat to check its condition.
- Push on all airbag covers to feel if they are still inside. If evidence of glue or tampering is present, the airbag may be missing.
- Pull on all seat belts. Inspect for excessive wear and make sure they retract properly.
- Inspect the headliner for damage and condition.
- Was it a smoker’s car? Inspect the ashtray and the end of the lighter.
- Test all power features: windows, sunroof, locks, mirrors, seats, convertible top, etc.
- Test all stereo components (this is why you should bring a cd and cassette tape).
- Check all fluids.
- Examine the engine compartment for leaks, smells, damage, etc. Newly replaced parts may look clean.
- Look under the car for any fluids that may have leaked. Try to identify the fluid and its source.
- Stand behind the car and have someone start it. Look for excessive smoke from the tail pipe.
- Look around the engine compartment for escaping smoke, fluids; or loose parts.
- Note any odd rattles, noises and odors.
- Have someone rev the engine to around 3,000 RPM while you repeat the above steps.
Test Drive Checkpoints
Drive the car far enough to get it up to temperature and to check that the odometer is working. Have someone else take notes.
- Do all instruments function properly? Are there any odd readings? Does the speedometer work smoothly?
- Drive in a way that simulates stop-and-go traffic.
- Does the vehicle accelerate smoothly and with power?
- Are the brakes effective? Noisy?
- Drive steadily and listen for repetitive noise and wind noise (some cars are noisier than others).
- Change lanes, make turns, and park a few times. Are you comfortable controlling the vehicle?
- Test all gears. If the vehicle has overdrive, activate it while driving and ‘feel’ for gear change.
- Make sure the clutch lets out smoothly. If it engages close to the floor it may need service.
- Before starting the drive locate the various controls. Are you comfortable using them while driving?
- Get directly behind, and low enough to see under, the car. Have someone drive the vehicle away from you in a straight line. Do the front wheels line up with the rear wheels? If not, the car may need some work or it could have sustained some damage.
After Test Drive Checkpoints
- Repeat the “Engine” checks above, both at idle, and again at an elevated and even RPM.
- Stop the engine. Repeat once more the “Engine” checks above.
Remember: this guide is not a substitute for a professional inspection!
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