Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspections
If you’re uncomfortable with the mechanical side of owning a vehicle, using a trusted mechanic is a good idea. When you buy a car, one of the most important considerations is its mechanical condition. In the absence of having a mechanic look at the car or truck on your behalf, there are some things that you can do for your peace-of-mind in checking its condition, yourself. Here is a list of inspection items you’ll want to check (or have your mechanic check) before buying a vehicle:
Tires and Suspension:
Check the tire wear for tread depth and alignment. The “penny test” gives a fair indicator for decent tires. If you place a penny into the tread and Lincoln’s head doesn’t touch the tread, you need new tires. And if you run you hand around the tire in the direction of the tread, the tire should feel smooth and not wavy. Wavy or cupped tire surfaces indicate bad alignment and uneven tire wear. For suspension, look for leaks on the struts, and if you push down on the vehicle (simulating a bump in the road), it should return to its original position, rather than bouncing up and down repeatedly.
Check the Brakes:
Brake Pads and Rotors should have sufficient thickness. When you test drive the car, there shouldn’t be a pulsating feel on the brake pedal. If the pedal pulsates, it’s an indicator that the rotors are warped and need to be replaced. You shouldn’t hear squealing, squeaking or screeching when applying the brakes lightly at low speeds. If you hear such sounds, the brake’s wear indicator might be letting you know the brakes need new pads.
Check the Fluids:
Ensure the fluids are topped off. They should be up to the “full” level. And they should look clean. Check the washer fluid, oil, transmission fluid, battery level, brake fluid, and coolant level. Be sure to follow all cautions and warnings on the engine components and the vehicle’s user manuals. Working on a hot engine can be hazardous. Working on batteries can be hazardous, too. So, take due precautions with gloves, safety glasses, etc. Check any available maintenance records. Determine whether engine service has been performed as prescribed. Ensure oil changes are up-to-date, and the right engine oil was used. If the oil is new, it should be golden brown and translucent. If it’s old and dirty, it will be darker and opaque. Be sure there aren’t any metal particles or visible sediment in the fluids.
Engine and Transmission:
Be sure the engine runs smoothly. Check the dashboard for any indicator warning lights. A check engine light or oil pressure light isn’t a good sign. When the engine is running, listen for any knocking, pinging, or tapping sounds. Such sounds could mean trouble with valves, cylinders, fuel grade, etc.
Exhaust, Body and Frame:
With the vehicle jacked up or on a lift, check for any rust or holes in the exhaust system, or underside of the frame or body. Rust becomes holes if left unchecked and untreated. Once there are holes, the physical deterioration compounds quickly. Rust and holes are more prevalent in northern climates where salt is used on the roads during winter months.
Check the Lights and Horn:
Make sure the headlights (high and low beams), turn signals, hazard lights, brake lights, fog lights, license plate light, and reverse lights all work properly. Likewise, the horn should work fine, too.
HVAC System and Defrosters:
Verify that your heat blows warm air. Make sure your air conditioner blows cold air. And be sure your defrosters work.
Check the Vehicle’s Computer for Error Codes:
Invest a few dollars in an OBD II tool, connect it to the vehicle’s OBD port (usually beneath the steering column), and see if there are any error codes stored in memory. Some errors can be intermittent, such as engine error codes, air bag codes, etc. Although the errors may not actively be displayed on the dashboard, if intermittent errors occurred in the past, their history will appear in the OBD tool (if they weren’t previously deleted).
After you’ve looked over the vehicle and given it a clean bill-of-health, you can move forward with your purchase with confidence. There’s no guarantee that mechanical problems won’t develop down the road. But you can minimize the likelihood of mechanical failure by instituting a good preventive maintenance program. Follow your manufacturer’s user manual for prescribed service intervals. But also use a tool like MyAMSOIL Garage to track your maintenance history, products, and maintenance schedule. With proper care and maintenance, your vehicle should last for years to come.