Used Car Consumer Checklist
Here are some general guidelines for avoiding the purchase of someone else's problem. When considering a used vehicle these are things that are, for the most part, universal for any automobile.
Written by John Colascione © 2017 Long Island Used Cars
- Check that all four tires are wearing evenly. By doing this, you will ensure that the vehicle rides evenly on the ground and that there is no frame damage. Cars that have been in serious accidents usually do not ride smoothly. Thus, you will see the effects in that the tread on the tires are worn more on one side than the other.
- Check the oil stick . Many people check a vehicle's oil stick (dipstick) when inspecting it, but they really don't know the reason for this. For the most part, you want to be sure that the oil is fairly clean (not black). The other reason for checking the oil stick is to make certain that there is no water mixing with the oil. Water mixed with oil will appear like there is white gunk in the oil. This would indicate that there is a leak in the head gasket, which is a major problem. To reiterate, be sure that the oil is fairly clean and that there is no white liquid mixing with the oil.
- Check the vehicle in the morning, before the owner has used it. At this point, the engine will be cold, and you will be able to open the radiator cap to make sure that the antifreeze is full and green. This tells you that the vehicle's cooling system is working properly. NEVER OPEN A RADIATOR CAP IF THE VEHICLE IS WARM!
- Start the vehicle. You want to make sure that the motor starts properly and that there are no ticking or knocking noises in the motor both at startup and while idling or driving. Check the transmission fluid. You must check the transmission fluid while the motor is warm, usually after ten to fifteen minutes of run time. You check the transmission fluid by removing the transmission dipstick. The fluid should be near "full" level, and the color of the fluid should be red. If the color of the fluid is brown or burnt looking, this indicates that the vehicle is overdue for a fluid change. This is not ideal when inspecting a used car for purchase, since it may indicate that the vehicle's general maintenance has been neglected. Further, you should check that there is no fine metal type dust in the transmission fluid. If there are tiny metal shavings in the fluid, this indicates that the transmission itself is worn and will most likely need to be replaced or rebuilt in the near future - a major expense.
- Check underneath the vehicle. By looking beneath the vehicle while the motor is running, you will be able to see if there are any fluids leaking. Also, check the ground underneath and around the vehicle, as well as the underside of the vehicle for fluids. While the vehicle may not actually be dripping as you watch, fluids may have stained the ground or may be streaming on the metal undercoating.
- Make sure you test drive the vehicle. It is important to drive the vehicle at least to the speed of 55 miles per hour to ensure that the front end handles well and remains tight at high speeds and that the transmission shifts into all gears. All too often, people test-drive a vehicle around the block, only to discover after the purchase, that the transmission does not shift into its highway gears. If you're a serious buyer the seller should not mind driving on a highway.
- Check the speedometer and odometer. While test driving the vehicle, make certain that the speedometer works correctly and that the odometer is registering the distance you are driving. Needless to say, it would not be pleasant to discover that the car you just bought with just 50,000 miles on it does not have a working odometer.
- If the vehicle is a four-wheel drive vehicle, put it in four-wheel drive!
- Make sure the vehicle's inspection sticker is current. If it has already expired, it is possible the vehicle is being sold because it will not pass the state inspection. Once you purchase the car, you also purchase the inspection problem.
- Check to make sure all the vehicles gauges are operating within their normal ranges.
Check the suspension. While test driving the vehicle, look for a bumpy road or an irregular section of pavement and see how the suspension handles.
- After the test drive, park the vehicle, turn it off and then restart it. You want to make sure this vehicle starts up correctly every time - especially when it's warm.
- Check all electrical controls (i.e., lights, heat, air, windows, locks, seats, etc.).
For those who do wish to take extra precautions, do both of the checks listed below:
- Run a CarFax report on a vehicle to ensure that the historical records on the car are clean. You do not want to purchase a stolen vehicle. Nor do you want to purchase a vehicle that had 80,000 miles on it two years ago, but now miraculously has just 45,000. This step is not foolproof, but for the most part, CarFax reports are as accurate as you can obtain.
- Go to your local dealer/manufacturer and ask them to tell you if there are any recalls on the make and model of the vehicle. Dealers keep records on the cars they service. Example: If a customer brings a Ford into a Ford dealer to be serviced, Ford keeps a record of this. You can actually see what the mileage was on the vehicle the last time it was serviced (provided that the vehicle was dealer serviced at one time). You can then ensure that the vehicle's mileage is not less than they have on record (someone turned the odometer back). This happens more frequently than you may think, so to be safe when purchasing a vehicle, you should check with your local dealer about its service history. There are no guarantees in life, but if a vehicle passes this checklist, then it's probably safe to assume that any future problems with the vehicle will be minor.
Disclaimer: Long Island Used Cars and its affiliates do not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for legal, accounting or merchantability advice for any sale or seller. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. You should consult your own legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any financial transaction. Please see our Terms of Service about information on this site.