DIY Auto Inspection: What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car is something you should do carefully. The pre-owned status increases chances of you taking on someone’s old problems. With a little research and planning, you can find a reasonably priced car in like new condition. Follow these guidelines for your car buying experience to feel less like a gamble.

Learn How to Check Certain Vehicle Parts

Besides the financials, this is most critical for choosing the right used car. Under the hood, check the battery, hoses and belts, radiator and fluids.


This may be a little tricky, depending on the type of battery. The first thing you should notice is if corrosion covers the battery. You’ll see frosty gray color clusters around the metal under the cap. If the car has a maintenance free battery, it’ll be easier to make sure it has a full charge. For other battery types, a mechanic may be better able to help you.

Hoses and Belts

Check to make sure all the hoses are in good condition. They shouldn’t be old, dry rotted, or have any cracks. Hoses need to be flexible and not hard, but also not too soft or moist. See that the hoses aren’t ripped either.

This attachment is the coolant system for the car engine. The coolant in the container connected to the radiator has certain colors to indicate certain problems. If you find greenish stains on the outside of the radiator, that’s a problem. It could be a sign of leaks. The coolant should also never be rusty or thick and white.

Check fluids for the power-steering, brakes, engine, and transmission. Use the dip stick to find out if all the fluids are at safe levels. Check the colors for each fluid too.

The transmission fluid should have a light pink color. You should start the car before checking this. If the fluid is brown with a burnt smell, this indicates a problem. It’s okay for the engine oil to be dark brown or black as long as it’s smooth. If the oil color is lighter, it just means the oil is newer.

Don’t take it lightly if the oil is foamy or has water mixed with it. That could mean the engine has a crack or the car has a blown head gasket. Either are issues you don’t want to deal with.

Even with the best inspection tips, see an expert to make sure the used car is safe and reliable. You have a right to let a mechanic check the vehicle before investing hard earned money into it. It’s common practice for auto dealers to lend cars to prospective buyers to test them out. Use that time to get a diagnosis if you’re truly interested in keeping the vehicle.


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