Buying a used car--How to inspect it?

Discussion in 'Community' started by Frisco, Sep 21, 2005.

  1. Frisco macrumors 68020

    Sep 24, 2002

    I am looking to buy my sister a used car. I have an appointment tonight with a private seller to look at a 99 Civic with 75K miles.

    Any idea on what I should look for/check out?


  2. jim. macrumors 6502

    Dec 22, 2004
    C-ville, VA
    Some of the big chassis damage things will be hard to see if they have been covered well. My advice is to ask if you can have it inspected by a mechanic. Many will do this for very little (as compared to buying a lemon), and most honest sellers will allow you to do such. If the seller doesn't like the idea, then chances are there is something hiding, and you should look elsewhere.

    On the surface, you should check for leaks, check the hoses and belts for wear, ask for the service history on the car (the seller should have that available). It will be hard for you to check the alignment and joints by eye, unless you know what you are doing (or have a hydraulic lift handy). It is hard to predict what can go wrong with a car, and many problems will not pop up on a small test drive/eye inspection. This is why getting the opinion of a trustworthy mechanic is a must when buying a used car, particularly in a private sale.

  3. Doctor Q Administrator

    Doctor Q

    Staff Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Los Angeles
    The car repair shop I use has a regular inspection form they fill out for any car you bring in, for a small fee. Of course, the logistics could be awkward if the seller isn't near your favorite car shop.

    What I did the last time was to ask the seller for permission to have this check done, at my expense, and I offered the seller a copy of the resulting report. That way, I got the inspection and if the mechanic found things were OK the seller knew he could show it to all prospective buyers, so he had an incentive to lend me the car for this.
  4. Lacero macrumors 604


    Jan 20, 2005
    Do a visual inspection of the underside of the engine block.
    Get a mechanic to inspect the car.
    Check with your gov't licensing branch to check the car for outstanding liens.
    Contact the proper insurance agency to see if the car was involved in prior accidents.
  5. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

    May 7, 2004
    Sod off
    Yeah, what jim said. ;) A mechanic. And ask for service records or where the car was usually serviced.

    There's only so much a non-mechanic can do, but a couple things:

    Drive the car at least long enough for the engine to warm up. While driving, be on the lookout for vibrations coming thorugh the steeing wheel or a tendancy to pull to one side; these could be symptoms of bad halfshafts, u-joints or suspension components (or even tire issues).

    If it has an automatic transmission, make a note of hard, clunky shifts (could be leaking fluid or need a fluid flush/change). If it has a manual, be aware of excessive clutch slippage.

    Play with all the accessories: radio, wipers, climate control, horn etc.

    listen for funny sounds or vibration when turning the wheel when the car is running but at rest; this may indicate power steering issues.

    Take a look at the engine temperature monitor after the engine is warmed up, make sure it isn't up in the red zone.

    Obviously, look for engine warning lights on the dashboard.

    Always listen for funny noises; I once test drove a car that was making all sorts of horrible sounds, and the owner claimed it was coming from "a bunch of stuff in the trunk". yeah, right. :rolleyes:

    After the test drive, let it idle for a minute or two then poke your head under the car to check for leaking fluids like power steering fluid, automatic transmission fluid (both red), or oil. Remember that if you ran the air conditioning it will drip condensation; this is normal.

    If the engine runs rough, it could be something as simple as a dirty air filter, fouled spark plugs or dirty MAF sensor. Then again it could be something expensive...

    There are millions of other things, and you best bet is to have a mechanic throw it up on a lift, look it over and test drive it. If you know a menchanic willing to do that, by all means.

    Civics are usually pretty rugged as long as they weren't being hot-rodded around everyday by some punk kid, so it's a fairly safe purchase. Just keep your eyes open and use common sense.
  6. Frisco thread starter macrumors 68020

    Sep 24, 2002
    Okay thanks everyone!

    You offered me many great tips!

    Appreciate it :)
  7. jim. macrumors 6502

    Dec 22, 2004
    C-ville, VA
    Indeed! While rare, this does sometimes happen, and the gov't doesn't care whether or not you bought the property in good faith. The owner is responsible.

  8. stonyc macrumors 65816


    Feb 15, 2005
    Just to add, getting a vehicle history report through something like CarFax isn't a bad idea either. A vehicle history report will tell you quite easily and cheaply (when I was looking at used cars, Carfax was offering an unlimited # of reports for $19.95 for one month) if the car has been in an accident, its ownership history (doink!), etc.

    But to echo others, getting the vehicle inspected by a mechanic is a MUST when buying a used car... even if it is from a dealer, and even if they've done an inspection themselves. Not that you shouldn't trust the dealer, but the inspection should be done by someone you've trusted for awhile (ie. alot of your other cars' work has been done by that person).
  9. jim. macrumors 6502

    Dec 22, 2004
    C-ville, VA
    Actually CarFax only works by looking through police reports, and stuff like OnStar. So if the car was in an accident AND the owner called the police AND the police bothered to do a detailed report, then you would see it on CarFax. If the damage was dealt with privately or solely through insurance, you will not see it. This means that some things like front chassis damage probably won't be on carfax unless it was bad enough to get the car totalled. It will tell you the previous owners though, so you can see if it was a rental.

  10. Xtremehkr macrumors 68000


    Jul 4, 2004
    Check for mud or other signs of water damage. There have been a lot of cars shipped out of New Orleans that should have been scrapped but are being sold on curbsides all over the place. Cars with serious flood damage are rotting from the inside and will fall apart pretty quickly.

    Otherwise, just visit a mechanic and have them check it out.
  11. Mechcozmo macrumors 603


    Jul 17, 2004
  12. Jay42 macrumors 65816


    Jul 14, 2005
    0-60, quarter mile, top speed- the basics.

    Honestly, the only thing you will actually be able to find would be rust/corrosoin (thats a big one, check all around the wheels/fenders, etc) and something glaringly obvious when driving. If its a manual, check to see how loose the clutch is or test to make sure the auto kicks down through all the gears when you hit the gas.
  13. bemylover macrumors regular

    Jun 20, 2005
    CARFAX saved me several times from buying useless peace of metal insstead of a car. it's definately worth 20$ they ask for it, and you can do the check before actually seeing the car, just buy asking the dealer for VIN. If the owner "forgets" the VIN, you know that you don't want to buy that car.

    Don't trust dealers, they try to rip you off.

    good luck

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