how to inspect a used car

It seems like every child, at some point, wants to become a detective when they grow up. The romanticized vision of gathering clues under a magnifying glass has given most of us an appetite for inspection. Of course, life goes on and most of us end up pursuing other professions. Fortunately, we can still satisfy our itch for inspection when we buy used cars. As a wise consumer, you’ll want to apply careful scrutiny to the car you’re about to buy in order to prevent unforeseen mechanical problems down the road. Even if you didn’t become a detective or a mechanic when you grew up, you’re still plenty capable of checking that used car using the following methods.

Identify Your Suspects

When working the case of your used car, the first step is to identify suspects carefully. In other words, pick a make and model known for its durability and reliability before you look at any specific vehicles. It makes sense to look into cars that hold up better over time because they make better candidates for dependable used cars. Consumer Reports and user reviews can help you to determine the types of cars you should be looking at.

CarFax Report

Just as doing a quick background check can help out a detective, it can help you search for your ideal used vehicle. Once you’ve found a specific car, be sure to run a CARFAX Report on the vehicle. These simple reports are populated with information on ownership, accident, and other vehicle history. This information is provided by insurance companies, collision repair centers, and even government DMVs. A CARFAX report can provide valuable information specific to the individual vehicle you’re thinking about buying.

Visual Inspection

Sometimes the best way to determine a vehicle’s condition is an old-fashioned search for clues. While you probably won’t need your magnifier, it’s a good idea to check the car in the following ways:

1. Exterior Inspection – Look for scratches, dents, rust, and any obvious signs of repair that might indicate previous damage.

2. Frame Inspection – Look for dents or signs of after-market welding on the frame of the car. These could indicate a history of major body damage.

3. Interior Inspection – Test all instruments, including indicator lights. Look for damaged upholstery and be suspicious of funny smells.

4. Under the Hood Inspection – Confirm that all hoses are soft and free of cracks and look for signs of wear on belts.

Buying a used car is a great opportunity to dust off that old detective hat and put your inspection skills to good use. Whether you’re buying from a used car dealership or a current owner, applying a little bit of extra scrutiny could prevent you from making a bad purchase and facing the consequences later on. Doing some quick research and performing a simple visual inspection can help you identify potential mechanical problems. All that extra work will also make you feel great when you finally crack the case on your next used car!


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