A used car inspection can save you a lot of grief down the road. Vehicle history reports are helpful, but investing some time and money in a trusted mechanic to check over a potential purchase can pay off big time. If you don’t have access to a mechanic, however, there are some things you can look for on your own before buying that will help you determine if the car or truck in question is worth your hard-earned dollars.

Rust Is an Enemy

Perhaps more than any other issue during a used car inspection, rust is a surefire signal that it’s time to walk away. On an older car, some surface rust might be considered normal, but on a recent model, rust may be indicative that the vehicle was driven in harsh winter weather and not properly cared for in terms of corrosion protection. It may also show that the vehicle was involved in an accident and repairs were not made properly.

Rust is expensive to fix, and it is a progressive concern—over time, it will definitely get worse—so it’s better to find the cleanest, corrosion-free car you can afford rather than accept rust while searching for a bargain.

Dents, Scratches, Missing Pieces

You can tell a lot about how a car was treated simply by how it looks—and, in this case, it’s fine to judge a book by its cover. An owner who didn’t care enough to avoid getting the car scratched or dented, or who never replaced missing trim pieces, side mirrors or interior parts, also likely avoided regular oil changes and other crucial maintenance.

We’re not saying a good-looking car guarantees a trouble-free purchase, but we’re confident that an automobile that looks like it has been through a lot will likely hit your wallet hard down the road, when it comes to repair costs and other hassles.

Smoke or Unusual Noises

Our quick and dirty used car inspection process instantly eliminates any vehicle that smokes from the tail pipe. White smoke may indicate a bad head gasket, which could leak coolant into the combustion chamber, while dark smoke can indicate the car is running rich (which could result from a bad oxygen sensor, spark plugs or wires) or that it’s burning oil. Very loud clicking or knocking is another indicator that something is amiss with the car, and if it’s leaking any fluids—to the point where you can see it in action on the pavement below—it’s time to walk away.

Get a Professional Check

You may have found a car that is apparently in mint condition. But you may consider an inspection made by a professional mechanic. Even if the car’s body is nice looking, the story may be different under the hood. Our icy and salty roads are tough on body components and a professional mechanic will also see what cannot be seen: next maintenance tasks, recommendations based on the age of the vehicle, or bigger problems.

This is a key element in your buying process and this could help you avoid turning your car purchase into a money pit. Is the timing belt due? Is the clutch reaching its limit? Is a major service due soon? These elements could lead to important maintenance bills soon. That is also an element you can bring into the discussion to get a better price.
Inspecting a used car thoroughly can save you money down the road. By following these tips, you’ll be in a better position when you’re ready to make your purchase.

For more information on used car inspection, chat with an expert at your local NAPA AUTOPRO service centre.