The Columbia SC Auto Repair Pro knows that buying a car is a big deal…and buying a used car can be scary.  Private sellers do not have all of the same laws and regulations for buyer protection that a dealership may offer.  When you buy a car from a private seller, or any used car for that matter, you need to really check that vehicle out.  The last thing you want is a “new” used car needing auto repairs before you even get it home!  Our ASE Certified Master Mechanic wants to give you all of the information you need to properly inspect that auto before buying.  We may make a living by providing you with superior quality auto repairs and maintenance, but we don’t want to see you in the shop because you bought a lemon and got stuck!

Let’s talk tools! This is what you will need.

Before heading out to shop for a used auto, gather the items from the following list so you will be ready to inspect the vehicle on the spot if you think you have found the right one.

  • Notebook and pen 

Keep a notebook and pen ready for keeping track of important info like the asking price, VIN number, mileage and notes regarding your inspection.  When you go back over this info on the top of your list options, it will be easy to remember which car was which and aid in making sure that you know exactly what questions you may have come up with regarding a specific vehicle.

  • An auto history report if available

In cases where you can obtain an auto history report, you really should.  Reports like this can give info that the current owner may not even know if they are not the original owner.

  • Small flashlight

A small sized flashlight is enough to help you get a look at things under the hood.  You will have to look for signs of leaks or corrosion that a flashlight might be able to help uncover.

  • Paper towels

You will want to have some paper towels handy for things like checking the engine fluids.  Depending on the engine’s state, you may need them to clean yourself after even poking around in there some.

  • A CD (preferable NOT your favorite)

You buy the whole car, as is, so you want to check on things like the stereo too.  Having a test CD to pop in there can make that easier.  I do not recommend taking your favorite along, just in case it gets damaged or even stuck in a vehicle you are checking out.

  • A small magnet

A small magnet can be a big assist when it comes to detecting body work that may have been concealed.

  • Our Columbia SC Auto Repair Pro Used Car Checklist

Print out this checklist to make sure you inspect everything as thoroughly as possible before investing in any vehicle.

The Columbia SC Auto Repair Pro Used Car Checklist

Automobile Exterior Inspection

  1. Windshield – Check the windshield for cracks, scratches and small dings.
  2. Windshield wipers – Be sure to check the condition of the windshield wiper blades and that they are functioning properly.
  3. Lights – Inspect to verify that headlights work properly, as well as all other lights including the hazard blinkers.
  4. Body – Look closely for differences in color in the body panels as well as any signs of other damage, like scratches or dents.
  5. Body condition – Use the magnet to make sure that it sticks on all of the steel body panels as it should.
  6. Paint condition – Is the vehicle in need of a paint job?  Are there rusted areas? If it has a new paint job, ask why it was painted…unscrupulous sellers sometimes pain a vehicle to conceal rust issues.
  7. Aligned seams – You should make sure that the seams where the hood and the trunk close are properly aligned and seal as they should. You will also need to inspect seams where your doors close and where fenders meet.

Auto Tire Inspection

  1. Brand and type – Check that the vehicle has quality tires on it and make sure that they are all the same type and make of tire.
  2. Tire condition – Inspect to make sure tires do not have any bubbles, cracking or cut areas.  You also need to check that the tread is evenly worn.  If it is noticeably uneven it is usually an indication of either alignment or suspension troubles.
  3. Good spare and equipment – Check the spare tire to make sure it is actually usable if needed.  Check the jack and lug wrench as well to ensure that they work properly.

Engine Inspection

  1. Corrosion – Check the battery terminals for signs of corrosion.
  2. Oil – Make sure that the dipstick is not coated with black or very dark oil.  Also make sure that the oil filler neck does not have a coating of thick, black deposits and buildup.
  3. Look for signs of leaks – Use your flashlight to take a really good look at things.  Check all obvious leak spots under the vehicle on the ground, but also areas where hoses connect or areas where any type of engine fluids may be able to escape.
  4. Unusual odors – With the car running, check for any odors being emitted.
  5. Exhaust emissions – Again, with the auto running, make sure there is not blue or black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe.  Blue or black smoke is a sign that you already have another problem at hand.

Inspecting the Suspension

  1. Level – When on a flat surface, the vehicle should rests in a level position.
  2. Bounce test – You want to bounce the vehicle on all corners.  Make sure there are no creaking sounds when you bounce them and be sure that all corners feel and respond in the same way when bounced.

Frame Inspection

  1. Chassis – You need to check that the chassis is not bent or cracked.
  2. Trunk – There should be no signs of damage within the trunk. Look for any indication of crumpling or straightening within the trunk of the vehicle.
  3. Frame holes – The frame holes that are just inside the outer edge should be clean and free of scratches

Automatic Transmission Inspection

  1. Transmission fluid – The transmission fluid should looks clean.  Be sure that it is not dirty or in any way grainy or gritty.
  2. Operation – The transmission should not slip or experience any delays or hesitations when driving.

Manual or Standard Transmission Inspection

  1. Shifting – Each gear should be able to shift smoothly.
  2. Reverse – Listen for any grinding noises when the car is put in reverse.  Grinding is not good.

Brake Inspection

  1. Braking – Make sure that the vehicle steers straight and is not pulling to one side or the other when you apply the brakes.
  2. Parking brake – Be sure that the parking brake engages and disengages properly and with ease.
  3. Brake noises – Listen for any grinding noises while applying the brakes.
  4. Antilock brakes – If the auto has anti-lock brakes, check that the wheels do not lock when the antilock brakes are tested.

Steering Inspection

  1. Drifting – Make sure that the vehicle does not drift to one side while driving.
  2. Stability – Be sure that the auto feels stable with no unusual vibrations or shaking, at any speed, slower or highway speeds.
  3. Turning – There should not be any resistance in your steering wheel when turning.
  4. Noises – Listen for any clicking or clunking sounds, especially when turning the vehicle.

Interior Inspection

  1. Seats – The seats should be unworn and free of any damage or cracking.  Check that they are able to adjust as they should.  Also inspect that all seats have the proper seat belts and that the seat belts are working correctly.
  2. Gauges – Check that all of the vehicles gauges work properly.
  3. Dashboard lights – The dashboard lights should function properly and none should remain on after the car is running.
  4. A/C and Heat – It is important to make sure that both the air conditioning and heating system is working properly.
  5. Windshield wipers – You need to make sure that the windshield wipers come on and function properly at all speeds and test that the windshield washer fluid is able to be dispensed properly as well.
  6. Power windows and locks – Be sure that all power accessories function properly.  Be sure that all windows can go both up and down and that the locking and unlocking functions work on all doors.
  7. Doors – Make sure that all doors open and close easily, from inside or out.
  8. Keys – Make sure that the keys work in all door locks and the trunk.
  9. Trunk and Gas Tank Latches – Be sure that the trunk opens (and closes) as it should when using the interior latch.  Also check that the latch for opening the gas compartment opens the door to allow you to access the cap for filling.
  10. Stereo – Check that the car stereo works properly, including the CD player.
  11. Sniff test – If a car seems to have a very heavy scent of something, like air freshener or cleaners, it may be an indication of a problem that is being masked.

Other stuff to check

  1. Roof windows – If the vehicle has a sunroof or moon roof, be sure that it opens and closes properly.  Also make sure that the roof window seals properly when closed.  The last thing you want is a surprise leak right over your head!
  2. Car alarm – If the vehicle has an alarm, be sure that it works properly.  An alarm being installed isn’t a selling point if it isn’t doing its job right.
  3. Owner Manual – Look to make sure that the owner’s manual is in the glove compartment.  If it isn’t, make sure you can get a copy of this, either online or from a dealer.  You will need this for schematics or possible auto repair help in the future.  Be sure there are instructions for any of the accessories the vehicle has as well.
  4. Title check – Verify that the current owner does have the title to this vehicle and that it is in their name to sell.
  5. Service and Auto Repair Records – If service and auto repair records or receipts are not in the glove compartment, ask the owner for them.

If you would like the ASE Certified Master Mechanic at Sanford’s Automotive Service to check it out for you, bring your vehicle by the shop or contact us for more information.  We offer service and auto repairs for all cars – foreign and domestic.