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How to Inspect a Used Car

Buying a car can be a trying process, especially if buying used. Even with CarFax reports, maintenance records, and seller guarantees, there's the possibility that you will walk away with a plague-ridden vehicle. However, by following some basic principles, you can reduce your risk of purchasing an unreliable car. And in doing so, save thousands of dollars over buying a brand-new automobile.

To give yourself the best chance of driving away with a trouble-free vehicle, we strongly recommend that you conduct at least a basic inspection first. If you have the opportunity, you can even have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic. Putting forth a little bit of effort now can save you both time and money in the future.

The Basics on Inspecting a Used Vehicle

There are a number of different ways to have a vehicle inspected. Even if you aren't exhaustive in your inspection, even a cursory glance may turn up something that could cost you money down the road. Before purchasing a used car, consider taking the following steps:

Get a Pre-purchase Inspection

The very best thing that you can do before buying a used car is have it inspected by a professional mechanic. A pre-purchase inspection typically costs around $100 and can be completed in a matter of hours, yet has the potential to reveal areas of concern that could cost you thousands of dollars to fix. If you have a regular mechanic, you can have him or her conduct the pre-purchase inspection for you – simply arrange the logistics with the seller (assuming he or she agrees to it; if not, it's probably a sign that you shouldn't buy).

Inspect the Engine

If you don't have a regular mechanic, you can still take a look at the engine compartment yourself. Though such a glance won't let you look inside the engine, it can give you a good idea of whether or not the vehicle has been kept up. All of these signs may be indicators of larger problems:

  • Hoses or belts that are visibly cracked
  • Conspicuous corrosion on the battery terminals
  • Motor oil and coolant that appears to be contaminated (motor oil should be a smooth black or brown; coolant should not be cloudy or rust-colored)
  • Visible fluid leaks (of motor oil or coolant)

If any of these are present, you should consider not purchasing the vehicle. After all, when purchasing a used vehicle, you should do everything that you can to find one in the best condition possible.

Inspect the Exterior

Even if you're more concerned with mechanical reliability than you are aesthetics, you should definitely do everything that you can to find a used car that is as free of visible blemishes as possible. And that is because these blemishes can greatly reduce the resale value of your vehicle should you decide to sell it – whether they concern you or not!

In addition to checking for dents, cracks, rust, and other flaws that will need to be addressed, you should also check to see that all of the exterior lights are working. These include:

  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Turn signals
  • Parking lights
  • Emergency lights

Not only is driving around with broken lights dangerous, it's also illegal. Don't risk being pulled over because you failed to ensure the lights on your new vehicle work.

Inspect the Interior

The interior should be approached with the same level of care as the exterior, and for the same reason: even if you don't care what shape the interior is in, someone else will if you ever want to sell your car. Additionally, it is important that all of the necessary components in your car's interior are working, both for safety and legal reasons. These components include:

  • All gauges
  • All interior lights
  • All HVAC controls

You want to ensure that the interior components of your car are functional and in good shape. If, for example, the speedometer doesn't work, then this should be something to take into consideration before you buy. You can use this information to negotiate a lower price or simply walk away.

Drive Away Confident in Your Choice!

Buying a used car can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be! If you know how to inspect a used car, you can save thousands of dollars over buying new and still have reliable, comfortable, and practical transportation. Just follow these steps!



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