You found the vehicle that appeals to you; you’re now at the stage when you need to decide if the vehicle is sound mechanically. The look of the vehicle is important, but for your own good this is the time to stop and think about financially protecting yourself against deciding to buy a car on emotion alone. An emotional vehicle purchase could cost you thousands of dollars in repairs-The trick to buying any previously owned car is to know what you are getting.The following checklist is basic but thorough; a car purchase is a big decision; take your time to inspect the vehicle so you can make an informed purchase.

  • Red Flags - Ask to see the title to make sure the vehicle is not salvaged; a salvaged vehicles title will be stamped with the word salvage. Make sure the person selling the car is the person on the title; many unregulated dealers are disguised as private sellers. If the seller objects to your inspection, walk away. Never feel rushed while inspecting.
  • Exterior - Walk around the car, windshield free of cracks, note any dents, scratches, or rust. Trunk, hood, and door seams should align properly; doors should open and close easily. Paint on all panels should match. Make sure headlights, turn signals, and hazard lights are working. Tires are all of the same make, free of cuts, bubbles, and cracks. Uneven wear indicates alignment and suspension problems. Make sure the spare tire, jack, and lug wrench are fully functional.
  • Interior - Check for cleanliness and comfort. All gauges in working order, no warning lights should remain lit. If the airbag warning light remains lit further inspection is needed. This is the time to make sure everything is working-a/c, Heater, stereo, windshield wipers, power seats, seat belts, power windows & door locks, sunroof opens and closes properly.
  • Engine - Run the engine and listen for odd noises, look for smoke. Idle should run smooth. Check for fluid/oil leaks. Make sure all belts and hoses are in good condition. Make sure the engine oil, and radiator fluids are clean. Transmission fluid should look clean, not gritty; gritty indicates a possible internal transmission problem. Battery terminals free of corrosion.
  • Test Drive - Gears should shift smoothly-no slips or delays when driving. No grinding noises when in reverse. When braking, a pull to either side could indicate a brake problem. No grinding noises when applying the brakes. Parking brake should engage and disengage freely. Steering should be effortless-vehicle is stable, no drift, shaking or vibrating at highway speeds.
  • Mechanic - If the vehicle passes your inspection; it’s time for the next step. Make arrangements to have the car inspected by a qualified and trustworthy mechanic. Offer your noted observations.
  • Miscellaneous - Owner’s manual, located in the glove compartment. Request to see all service and repair records.
  • Things to Bring - Notebook and pen for taking notes and recording vehicle identification number, mileage, asking price…Camera, paper towels for checking oil/Transmission fluid. Flashlight to check for leaks and corrosion. CD/IPod for testing car stereo.
  • Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles - Dealers normally perform multi point inspections and provide limited warranties in addition to any remaining on the original warranty for Certified Pre-Owned cars.
  • Ask for a Vehicle History Report - Most used car dealers should provide a vehicle history report. If no report is available you can Generate a CARFAX report.