Do It Yourself: Inspecting A Used Car 2Do It Yourself: Inspecting A Used Car 2
On the previous blog, we showed you how to inspect the interior and exterior of the used vehicle you would like to buy so as to ensure that it is in good condition. Now let’s move on to the engine and under the vehicle. Here are some do it yourself inspection steps to ensure that all the parts under the hood and under the vehicle are of premium quality:
UNDER THE HOOD: ENGINE RELATED COMPONENTS
It’s best to make these checks with the engine cool. Look first at the general condition of the engine bay. Dirt and dust are normal, but be wary if you see oil splattered about or on the pavement under the engine compartment. Also watch for a battery covered with corrosion, or wires and hoses hanging loose.
Hoses and belts. Squeeze the various rubber hoses running to the radiator, air conditioner, and other parts. The rubber should be firm and supple, not rock-hard, cracked, or mushy. Feel the drive belts to determine whether they are frayed.
Fluids. The owner’s manual will point out where to look to check all fluid levels. Engine oil should be dark brown or black, but not gritty. If the oil is honey-colored, it was just changed. If the dipstick has water droplets on it or gray or foamy oil, it could indicate a cracked engine block or blown head gasket, two serious problems. Transmission fluid should be pinkish, not brown, and smell like oil, with no “burnt” odor. The dipstick shouldn’t leave visible metal particles on the rag, another sign of a serious problem.
Check the automatic-transmission fluid with the engine warmed up and running. On some, the dipstick has two sets of marks for checking when the engine is either cold or warm. Power-steering and brake-fluid levels should be within the safe zone.
Radiator. Look into the plastic reservoir that’s connected by a rubber hose to the radiator. The coolant should be greenish or orange, not a milky or rusty color. Greenish stains on the outside of the radiator are a sign of pinhole leaks.
Battery. Some “maintenance free” batteries have a built-in charge indicator. A green indicator usually means the battery is in good shape; yellow or black usually means it is dying or dead. These indicators reveal the condition of just one cell and may not give an accurate reading on the health of the whole battery. If the battery has filler caps, wipe off the top with a rag, then carefully pry off or unscrew the caps to look at the liquid electrolyte level. A low level may mean that the battery has been working too hard. A mechanic can check out the charging system and do a “load test” on the battery.
UNDER THE VEHICLE
Feel the tailpipe for residue. If it’s black and greasy, it means burnt oil. Tailpipe smudge should be dry and dark gray. While some rust is normal, heavy rust might be OK but could mean a new exhaust system might be needed.
If the vehicle is high enough to slide under, you may be able to do some basic checks underneath. (If not, make sure your mechanic checks it.) Spread an old blanket on the ground and look under the engine with a flashlight. If you see oil drips, oily leaks, or green or red fluid on the engine or the pavement beneath the car, it’s not a good sign.
On a front-wheel-drive car, examine the constant-velocity-joint boots inboard of the front wheels. They are round, black, rubber bellows at the ends of the axle shafts. If the boots are split and leaking grease, assume that the car has bad CV joints, another costly repair.
Structural components with kinks and large dents in the floor pan or fuel tank all indicate a past accident. Welding on the frame suggests a damaged section might have been replaced or cut out to perform repair work. Fresh undercoating may hide recent structural repairs.
- Go for a Test Drive
It’s always best to take the car on a test drive on both local roads and highways. In different environments, you can get a good feel for how the car responds and performs. On local roads, you can feel how the car shifts and responds to sharp turns. You’ll also get an idea on the condition of the brakes with stop-and-go driving conditions. With a trip on the highway, you can see if the engine runs smoothly or not. While on a test drive, keep your eyes and ears open. Make sure to note any unusual engine or brake noises, and whether or not all of the electronics in the car are working properly.
- Perform a Leak Test
Any car that is leaking fluids is generally a red flag for a needed repair. While you’re on a test drive, take a moment to park in a clean area on the road, and let the car run for at least 30 seconds. Then, move the car and do a visible inspection for any leaking substances. Black fluid might be an indicator of leaking oil, green fluid may indicate a leak in anti-freeze and pink fluid may indicate a leak in the transmission.