When buying a cheap or inexpensive car, getting a good deal can be totally dependent on how good of an inspection one does before making their purchase. Of course doing some research is the secret to this, but this article is aimed at giving a few pointers to our less mechanically inclined shoppers. Now keep in mind these are $1000 dollar or less cars we’re talking about so expect to find a few things mulcherparts (although I see cars all the time that are in amazingly good shape), but hopefully this inspection will give you a good idea and a starting point so we don’t run into surprises down the road that could have been avoided in the first place.
To start off we need to remember that with our inspection we should have our intended purpose for the vehicle in mind. For many the engine, drive train, suspension, and brakes should be the top priorities. However I typically see some buyers are unwilling or even afraid to pop the hood, because they claim to not know too much about cars.
Even if for those who have never changed their own oil, there are some general rules of thumb that can apply to almost every car, truck, and SUV. Lets start off with an easy one – the exterior; see any major damage? For some people their intended purpose may allow them to not really care about how nice the paint looks, but checking for wreckage, rust, bondo, mismatched paint is important. Big bondo or primered spots could be the result of some major rust repair or a sign that this vehicle has been in an accident. Especially with older cars major rust can be a serious issue and should be looked at to see if it poses any structural hazards.
Next is something novice car buyers habitually avoid and that is LOOK UNDER the car! Thats right, I assume you didn’t wear your tuxedo today so check under there. What should you look for ? Well again with older vehicles rust in the floor can be a serious problem, but also do you see any spots on the ground? Is it oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid? A small oil leak in an old car doesn’t have to mean its a deal breaker, but its something to ask about or look into further.
Of course the only thing between you and the road are those tires so take the time to see if they are heavily worn, under-inflated, or flat. Often times if a car has been sitting for extended periods of time the tires can be flat and this can result in cracking of the sidewalls, which may mean a blow out is in your future if left unchecked. While you’re down there if the car has disc brakes try to look for rust, grooves, or heavy amounts of brake dust build up on the wheels this could mean new pads, rotors, or drums may be needed.
Finally lets pop the hood, once again even if you have little to zero car knowledge there are still some things anybody can check. First take notice of anything that doesn’t look factory (i.e. manufacturers typically don’t use duct tape during assembly). If you see things like hanging wires or out of the ordinary then it would be good to ask the owner how some of that got there. Often when less than qualified people make repairs or mods this can result in problems down the road. Look for obvious leaks or fluids around the engine bay this can be from leaky gaskets that may need attention. If at all possible bring a flash light to inspect the usual wear parts like hoses and belts. Check for things like fading, cracking, or tears. The battery is also another typical wear item and should be checked for corrosion or build up around the terminals.
Now that we’ve taken a good look at our car its time to fire it up for a test drive! (that is if it will even start) Read on to Part 2 for getting the most out of the test drive.
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