Pre-purchase Used Car Inspection

A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Conduct a Pre-purchase Used Car Inspection

row cars front view rear view mirrors

Buying a used car is a savvy financial decision, but it’s important to thoroughly inspect a vehicle before you hand over your hard-earned cash. A pre-purchase inspection lets you understand the car’s true condition and potential problem areas, giving you information to negotiate a fair price or choose to walk away if needed.

Here’s how to approach a pre-purchase used car inspection:

1. Know What You're Looking For

  • Accident History: Use the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to run a vehicle history report. Services like CarFax or AutoCheck provide detailed insights into accidents, title problems and service records.
  • Common Issues: Research the specific make and model you’re interested in and note any recurring problems or model-specific quirks.

2. Gather Your Tools

You’ll need a few things to get a good look at the car:

  • Flashlight: To illuminate dark areas.
  • Magnet: A small magnet helps detect areas where body filler (Bondo) may be covering up repairs.
  • OBD-II Scanner: If available, an OBD-II scanner reads diagnostic codes.
  • Gloves and Paper Towels: Your inspection might get messy.

3. Exterior Inspection

  • Body: Look mismatched paint, rust, dents, gaps between panels and unevenness – signs of poor-quality repairs or hidden damage.
  • Glass: Check for cracks, chips or improper seals.
  • Tires: Observe tread depth, uneven wear, sidewall damage and check for mismatched tires or brands.
  • Lights: While the car is on, check all exterior lights, including turn signals and brake lights.

4. Interior Inspection

  • Condition: Note rips, tears, stains, fading and worn spots.
  • Odors: Pay attention to mustiness, mould or smoke smells.
  • Features: Test if everything works: climate control, power windows/locks, infotainment system, seats, lights, etc.

5. Under the Hood

  • Fluids: Look at levels and look for any leaks or abnormal colours in the engine oil, coolant, brake and transmission fluids.
  • Belts and Hoses: Look for cracking, fraying or looseness.
  • Battery: Check for a clean case, secure connections and no corrosion.
  • Signs of Issues: Notice unusual noises, strange smells or a rough running engine.

6. Test Drive

  • Brakes: Test at various speeds for even stopping, pulling or noises.
  • Acceleration: Feel if there is smooth, steady acceleration or hesitation.
  • Steering: Observe if there is looseness, vibration or if the car pulls to one side.
  • Transmission: Note smooth shifting or jerky/delayed gear changes.
  • Unusual Noises/Sensations: Feel for unusual vibrations or listen for sounds like knocks, squeaks or rattles.

7. Undercarriage

This is tricky without access to a lift, but if at all possible, look for:

  • Rust: Examine frame, suspension parts and exhaust for excessive rust.
  • Leaks: Check for fluid leaks dripping from car components.
  • Damage: Pay attention to recent welding, bent frame sections or fresh undercoating that may mask issues.

8. Consider a Mobile Vehicle Inspection

f you’re not comfortable tackling this yourself or feel a professional check is beneficial, mobile vehicle inspection services are excellent options.

  • Convenience: An inspector comes directly to the car’s location for a detailed evaluation.
  • Expertise: Trained mechanics provide an in-depth report to understand the car’s condition truly.

A detailed pre-purchase inspection empowers you to make an informed decision and protects your investment. If you found significant problems, use them as negotiation tools or move on to find a better, well-maintained used car.

Ready to inspect a used car in Melbourne? Contact Mobile Vehicle Inspections.

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