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How to Inspect a Used Car

You’ve found a car that seems perfect. The price is right, it drives well, and has all the features you’re looking for. But is it too good to be true? Whether you’re at the dealership or buying from an independent seller, you can’t always trust the salesman to reveal the dirty little secrets of their products. It’s important to learn how to spot red flags on your own. Here are some tips to conduct an effective vehicle inspection.

Bottoms Up

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Grab a flashlight and start with the undercarriage. Look closely at the condition of each of the components. If you find something that looks newer than the rest, and the seller hasn’t told you of any repairs, he’s probably hiding something. Also inspect the framework and floor pans for rust, and check the ground for signs of drips and leakages.

Tired Tires

A vehicle’s tires can be a surprisingly good gauge of the car’s condition. Check for wear by inserting a penny into the tire treads. If the top of Lincoln’s upside-down head is visible, the tires probably need to be replaced. Perform the penny test in multiple places along the wheel tread to see if the wear is even. Uneven wear can be a sign that the car is misaligned, often due to a serious accident. Check that the condition of the tires is appropriate for the mileage. If the car has low mileage and worn tires, there’s a chance that someone tampered with the odometer.

The Walk Around

Many buyers do a walk-around inspection without knowing what to look for. Your primary targets are rust and damaged seals. Check the lower part of the body for exposed metal, rust, bumps, and discolored paint. Some rust is to be expected, especially near the wheels. Use a refrigerator magnet to check for repaired panels on all sides. If the magnet sticks in some areas and not others, there might have been extensive repairs. Make sure the doors, windows, and trunk close and seal properly.

Under the Hood

Don’t be intimidated. Even auto-novices can easily spot issues in the engine compartment. Make sure everything looks clean and rust-free around engine. If there are signs of newer paint, or if the bumpers around the hood have been painted over, the car has likely been repainted due to damage or rust. Make sure the oil is clean and at the correct level. If not, it’s a good indicator that the car was not well cared for.

If you know what you’re looking for, you can keep yourself from making a terrible buying decision. Avoid the pressure to hurry the inspection, and make sure you look over every inch of your new vehicle.