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  • Writer's pictureEkene Uchenu

All You Need To Know About Used Car Inspections (Expert Advice On How To Inspect Used Cars)

Updated: Jul 2



How To Inspect Cars Before  Buying

Warning: Do not buy cars unseen hoping all would be good. You might end up with a car you do not want. Only do this if you are getting it at wrecker’s price. Most people want to get a bit more for their cars.



You do not have to be an expert in the car inspections you will learn as you grow but you need some basic knowledge of what could go wrong with cars and signs of problems to keep yourself in the business. We recommend you keep learning as you go. We have carefully drafted some guidelines for you to follow.

a. Before driving the car check the oil dipstick if the oil level is low, check for leaks in the engine watch for some hidden oil leaks use torch if possible.. Oil leaks could be a very big sign of a warm head gasket. This could be an expensive fix. Check the oil colour to see if is milky. Could be a head gasket issue oil is moving with the coolant or water. Watch out for   milky radiator cap or radiator coolant. Ask for the service log book to learn if the owner has well looked after the car or not. Oil stains on a driveway are real sign of the condition of the car check under the engine to see where the leaks are coming from. If the top and middle engine is dry then is most likely coming from a sump leak which is less expensive just replace the gasket. Better to ring your mechanic to get a quick quote for a gasket replacement. Oil leaks from the high up the engine is probably a bigger problem.


b. Go check the exhaust for blue smoke or too much smoke, any signs of this could be a warning sign of a blown head gasket. Usually an expensive fix.


c. Check water temperature and colour. While the engine is cold check the water colour if there is some milky stuff in it investigate further could be a sign of a blown head gasket. While test driving keep an eye on the temperature gauge of the car. Loosed or warn radiator cap could lead to an empty radiator which could lead to the car overheating. Bad Thermostat could lead to the radiator fan failing to kick in properly which could lead to an overheating. Bad radiator fan leads to an overheating as well. Watch for smokes from the  engine could be overheating. Sometimes smokes could be a sign of some oil leaks so check well. Once engine heats up check for leaks, sometimes burning oil on the engine bay could lead to car smoking.


d. Check the radiator. Open the radiator cap and give the engine a good rev. If the water fumes or bubbles is a sign of a bad head gasket. If the coolant looks dirty or rusty is a sign of some issues in the engine. A clean coolant or clear water is a good sign. Once the car heats up open the hood and check for leaks from the radiator..

e. Engine ticking, stuttering and noises. Engine should not be loud with ticking sound. Once you turn the engine on, in idle listen for loud ticking noises. Ticking depending on the source could be something you can fix but investigate well before purchase. If the engine stutters up and down, could be needing some spark plugs or coil changing. Broken engine mount could cause engine shaking or vibration. Is usually not too expensive to fix. We recommend you check with a mechanic before purchase. It might be something more could be a warn timing. Any car with a loud rattling noise should be carefully investigated or avoided except you wish to do an expensive repair. Any of these issues could help you drive down the purchase price.


We recommend buying an OBD scanner for scanning the engines for some pending issues or permanent issues.  This can save your hundreds of dollars if not thousands.


d. Check the transmission fluid. Check for any signs of burns from the transmission fluid. Better to smell the transmission fluid from the dipstick. Check for any burnt debris or if the colour is too dark, transmission oil should be clear dark red colour. While driving watch for any slipping in gears, moving from one to three jumping two. Check if there is a delay in changing gears. Check if the car jumps here and there on the road. Transmission problems could cost more to fix than expected. Always be cautious of transmission problems when inspecting a car.


e. Check steering fluid leaks. While driving check for some wobbling in the steering column. Feel the steering whether is  stiff or smooth. Check for clunking noise, vehicle pulling aside, vibrations during driving, these are signs of bad lower control arms. At idle, ask the sell to turn the steering to full lock to both left and right, watch the steering hose for leaks. Listen to the noises too. If the power steering is very stiff could be the power steering fluid is low.

Open the hood and have a look at the car’s power steering reservoir after test drive to see if is leaking. Run down the power steering hose for signs of leaks. Replacing the hose could be generally expensive depending on the car. 



f. Test the brakes pay special attention to the brake booster. Better caution than a big regret applies while checking the brakes. You don’t really know the car yet so apply the brakes gently especially if the road is a bit wet or rough. If you notice the car going a little sideways when you apply more pressure on the brakes could be worn pads or worn shock absorbers. Not a big job. Use this to drive down the price during negotiations. Source your parts from a junk yard very cheap especially when you built a relationship with them.

Bad brake booster is a very big job to most mechanics, it is expensive. Watch out for hard brake pedals, it takes longer to stop the car, whistling sounds as a result of a vacuum leaks get worse when you apply brakes. Bad brake booster could also lead to engine stalling, if there is a massive vacuum leak in the booster, it could draw more boost than normal when you apply the brakes. It takes away from the other components, and it can cause your engine to stumble, the RPMs to drop, and your engine could stall.


g. Checking the timing belt or chains.Timing belt drives the camshafts. Replacing timing chains or belt is a big job for the mechanics so it is very expensive. Most Japanese older  cars have timing belts most large American built cars have timing chains. Timing chains last longer than timing belt almost last the life of the engine. Timing belts on the other, hands do break. It is highly recommended to be replaced every 60,000 KM. If not replaced could cause a catastrophic damage to the engine. So ask for evidence from the seller timing belt has been changed. People who would buy your car sometimes ask for this evidence as well.

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