- Look for unmatched paint or poor body fit (may indicate collision damage).
- Check for body filler (use a refrigerator magnet on suspicious spots, unless body panel is not made of metal to begin with).
- Look for rust all around, especially at wheelwells, under doors, in trunk.
- Musty smell or dampness in trunk may indicate collision damage.
- If car appears newly painted, why?
- Push down and release each corner of car. If it bounces more than once, car may need struts or shocks.
- Push and pull on each wheel from beside the car. If wheel moves in or out, bearings or CV joints may be in bad condition.
- Remember that uneven tire wear may indicate suspension problems.
- If car has new tires, be extra careful in checking suspension.
- Check for “dog-tracking” by having a friend follow you while driving the car. If rear end of car seems to be sliding to the side, car may have serious frame damage from a collision.
- If front-wheel drive, check CV joint boots on either end of front axles (should be a total of four). If torn or missing, expect to have trouble with expensive joints!
Under the Hood
- Check for proper fluid levels.
- Oil should not smell burnt or contain water.
- Coolant (antifreeze) should be green, not rusty. (Note that Texaco now makes an coolant that is orange.)
- Automatic transmission fluid should be red or pink and not smell burnt.
- Look for leaks around radiator and hoses.
- Spots on ground under the car may indicate leaks. To be sure, place a clean newspaper on ground under the car after driving it. Check in a few minutes for spots.
- Wear of seats, steering wheel, etc. should be consistent with odometer mileage.
- Pay special attention to amount of wear on pedals.
- Musty smell or new carpet may indicate flood damage.
- Make sure windows, safety belts, etc. all work.
- Check glove box contents. You should have an owner’s manual.
- Look for repair orders which may show the car’s mileage.
- Make sure mileage makes sense with current odometer reading.
- Wear should be even on each tire and among the set.
- Tires must be same size.
- Wear should be consistent with odometer mileage.
- Insist on a spare, jack, and lug wrench.
The Final Steps
- Inspected by mechanic. If car passed your inspection, take it to an independent mechanic for a more complete inspection.
- Test drive the vehicle