Buying a new car can be an exhilarating experience, and the feeling is only alleviated if it is your first ever car. It’s not all fun and games of course; it is likely that you are scared as well. A little bit Nervous that something might go wrong.Fearing that you might have overlooked something in your initial excitement. And there’s always the terrifying possibility that you might have just bought yourself a defected vehicle that’s about to fall apart as soon as you first shift it into gear.
When it comes to used cars, and to some extent even new cars, there are some things that just cannot be helped. Even new cars can sometimes ship defunct. But it is very likely that you’re buying a used car, and if that’s the case, then there are certain things you can be on the lookout for that will help ease your mind and possibly ensure that the car you just bought isn’t going to turn out to be a dud. So, let’s list the twelve things that you should be checking for in a car before putting down your money.
1: Check the Lines in the Car’s Chassis
This applies when buying a used car. Nobody wants to end up buying a car that has been in significantly damaging accidents; because then there may be hidden problems that might pop up later on down the line. It would also mean that the salesman is trying to hide something if they didn’t tell you about prior accidents in the car’s life. And if they’re trying to hide that, you can be sure that they’re hiding something else as well.
This is a simple tip to check a car for accidents. Follow all the gaps on the car’s chassis and look for irregularities. By gaps we mean the lines between the doors and the car’s frame, the lines between the hood and the car’s frame, the lines between the trunk and the car’s frame, and so on. These gaps should be equally spaced out all along the car. If you notice the gaps narrowing or widening anywhere on the car, then it is highly likely that this car has been in an accident before.
2: Check How the Car Handles Stressful and Strained Driving
This one is a must when buying used cars. Obviously, you probably took the car or are planning to take the car out for a test drive before committing to it. However, instead of the usual way you drive, drive much more rashly than you normally would. We don’t mean violating traffic laws of course, but if you could find an empty stretch of country road or a giant lot, that would be ideal.
What you want to do is stress test the car to see if there is something wrong that doesn’t show itself when driving calmly. Rev the engine loudly, speed across the land, turn sharply, brake suddenly, if manual then shift gears quickly, and so on and so forth. Doing these, listen for odd noises from the transmission or the engine. Also keep an eye on the engine’s temperature. Look out for steering wheel misalignment, drifting from a straight line, wobbly tires, pulsating braking, and other problems of this sort.
3: Check if the ‘Check Engine’ Light Works
Turn the key to its last click before it starts the engine, and pay attention to the dashboard lights that light up. If it is a push button start, then either start the car and keep an eye on how the dashboard behaves before the engine starts up, or just press the Start button without having the brake pedal pressed down which will result in the car not starting but its lights activating.
With the dashboard all lit up, look for the ‘Check Engine’ light. Is it lit up or is it completely absent? During this process, all lights on the dashboard light up so you can see if they work. This includes the ‘Check Engine’ light. If it’s off, it’s either burnt out, or has been removed because the owner is trying to hide a major flaw with the car. This step could be a lifesaver, don’t forget it.
4: Check Maintenance Records
Ask the previous owner or the car salesman if there are any existing records of maintenance done on the car. These records should include the basics that every car needs; like tire changes, engine oil changes, and other important events like battery replacements. This could also give you an idea of something else that might be wrong with the car and needs to be addressed every now and then.
5: Inspect the Underside of the Car
Sometimes an owner would try to make their not-so-great car look perfect on the outside. One way to look out for bad cars whose owners are trying to trick you is to check out the underside of the car. Chances are that they didn’t think to cover that up with fake cleanliness. If you find the underside rotten and full of rust, it is a strong indicator that the car has been sitting in places for long periods of time. Places that haven’t been kind to its materials.
6: Check all Doors, Windows, and Other Release Mechanisms
Before buying a car, be sure to check that every single release or locking mechanism works as it should. This means checking if each window rolls up and down as it should, if each door locks and can be opened with the key or buttons on the key, and if the hood and trunk pop open by a button press and whether the trunk can be accessed with the key. Furthermore, problems encountered with any of these can be an indicator of a past accident that was poorly covered up with a new door or trunk that didn’t conform with the car’s locking mechanism.
7: Check If that Model Has Ever Been Recalled
If you find a car that you really like and think might be a great deal, don’t forget to search the internet for that model first. Specifically, you need to be on the lookout for models that have a history of having been recalled for certain problems. It might just turn out that that model you were so happy to be getting at a discount is a failed one that was recalled for suspension problems. And that awesome low suspension the owner is touting? Masking the car’s faulty suspension on the other end.
8: Check If the Timing Belt Has Been Ever Changed
If you’re getting a car that has seen a lot of mileage – at least above 100,000 miles – then ask the owner if they have ever had the vehicle’s timing belt replaced. Not many cars today use timing belts, but if the one you’re thinking of buying does, then make sure it was changed at the 100,000th mile mark. Else, your car may have problems synchronizing the rotations of the crankshaft and the camshaft, resulting in the engine’s valves opening and closing at improper times.
9: Check If the Air Conditioner Works Under Stress
The air conditioner in a car might work okay on pleasant days, so if possible, try to check out its performance on a really hot day. Of course, this would mean waiting until Summer or a heatwave arrives, but might be worth the wait if you live in a hotter part of the world and air conditioning is a must-have. Air conditioners that might have performed well on a pleasant day may just end up failing to do anything when it actually gets hot outside, which can be a big no-no when buying a car.
10: Check How the Engine Behaves When Being Revved
This one is quite easy to do; simply stand outside with the hood of the car popped open and ask the owner of the car to rev the engine. When it’s being revved, see if the engine hops up and down. If it does, there is a chance that there’s something wrong with it. While you’re having the owner rev the engine, also check if any dense smoke comes out of the exhaust. Blue on colder days and whiter on hotter days, these smoke emissions could signal that the engine is burning oil.
11: Check Tire Wear
Checking the wear and tear on a car’s tires can also be worth your time. How tires are worn out can signal problems or lack of problems with the car. If the tires are evenly worn out, it tells you that the car is probably okay. But if the tires are unevenly worn out, or worn out mostly on their edges, then it could mean problems with the suspension, bad wheel alignment, or worn out wheel bearings. Scuffs, cracks, and marks on the sides could also mean that the tires have been scraped along sidewalks or walls before.
12: Check How the Car Responds to a Cold Start
Lastly, see if you can catch any problems with the car during a cold start. A cold start is when you start a car when its engine is below its normal operating temperature. Cold starts are also more effective for checking for problems if the engine hasn’t been started for a few hours. This way, a cold start tells you if a battery is good enough and if the engine rattles or shakes when stressed. For best results, come visit the owner or car dealership earlier than you told them you would, so they don’t get time to start the engine before your arrival.
With some of the things listed above you will ensure that, if not perfect, the car you’re eyeing isn’t at least a complete dud. If it passes the tests above, there’s a very good chance that it is an okay car for you to purchase. Just be on your toes and make sure the previous owner or the car salesman doesn’t get a jump on you. Even if you feel like you’re out of your league, pretend that you know what you’re looking for and what you’re doing. Exude confidence and you won’t be messed with. In the meantime, we’ve got other great guides for buying cars as well. Check out our post on detecting odometer fraud, or our guide to car dealerships to help you navigate your way around car salesmen.