Used car inspections and tests

There are a number of visual checks it’s best to do before you buy a car:

Exterior tests

  • Look along the sides of the car – Are any panels wobbly? Are they misaligned? Do the same from each corner of the car, front and rear. If the car does not look straight it has been poorly repaired.
  • Stone chips at the front? – Normal if the car has racked up a 70,000+ mileage, but has it? Still standing back compare paint matches between panels. If they are different shades then once again this could be an accident-repaired car?
  • Look across the roof – The panel should be even with no signs of rough paintwork. Cars that have had major smashes often need a twisted roof disguised.
  • Paintwork – Does it look like an original, probably a slightly dull factory finish? Drips, an orange peel effect, lots of blemishes, pockmarks all indicate a re-spray. Look for more signs around window rubbers and under wheel arches. Excess paint gets on these areas when the car has been quickly re-sprayed.
  • Are the panel gaps even? – Look at doors, bonnet and boot – uneven gaps, mean they have been bolted back on after a crash.
  • Boot – Lift the carpet and take everything out including the spare wheel; look for crude repairs and fresh paint as the sign of a crash.
  • Bonnet – Check for fresh paint, new panels, any uneven panels, or signs that a repair has taken place.
  • Finally, does the car sit evenly on the road? – If not maybe the suspension is sagging because it is worn out?
  • Wheels and tyres – Look at the tyre tread, any uneven wear suggests that the steering is not adjusted properly, or perhaps the wheels have been repeatedly thumped by a driver parking carelessly. It is nice to see the same make and tread of tyre on each wheel, or at least matched pairs on front and rear, which shows that the previous owner cared.

Interior checks

  • Make sure that everything works – Sit in the driver’s seat and press every switch and twiddle every knob. From the windscreen wipers to the electric windows, it is essential to try everything.
  • Seat covers – They are fitted for a reason, usually to hide damage or serious wear. Take them off and see what lurks underneath.
  • Boot area – Expect wear and tear certainly, but it should not look like a builder’s van. If it does, the rest of the car may not have been treated so gently either.
  • Condition – Look at the trim and upholstery. Does it look fresh or rather worn? Decide whether the car looks as though it has covered as many miles as the sellers says it has.

Check under the bonnet (with the engine cold)

  • Dip stick – If the oil is black, dirty or burnt, then it has not been serviced properly. If the level is low then the car is either using lots of oil, or maintenance has been poor.
  • The oil filler cap should be clean – Any black treacle, or white sludge means not much in the way of servicing.
  • Radiator cap – If the water is brown, no anti-freeze has been fitted and the water seldom changed. Watch out for white deposits which suggests a problem.
  • Look underneath the engine – Is there any oil or water leaks?
  • Start the engine – A light metallic tinkle is fine, but a worn engine will crash, bang, click and clatter. Walk around to the exhaust and ask the seller or a friend to rev hard then back off suddenly. If there is lots of blue smoke, rather than a light haze, this means serious engine wear.

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