Car Shopping Guide

When hunting for a used car it is a good idea to bring along a car shopping guide or checklist so you can avoid purchasing a lemon. A good checklist will help you catch any problems that the vehicle has so you can determine if you really want to purchase it. If you do decide to purchase the vehicle having a list will help you get the best price possible. Here is a simple lexicon that will assist in finding a vehicle that’s right for you.

The first place to look before starting the vehicle is under the hood. You will want to check to make sure there is no oil on the engine. Oil on an engine indicates a leak somewhere. Pull the dipstick and make sure the engine oil is at a good level. A low oil level indicates that the vehicle may burn oil. Check the coolant reservoir. The ideal fluid level while the car is cold is in between the hot and cold lines marked on the reservoir. There may be a coolant leak if the level is too low. You should also check the engine compartment for any other stains or wet areas that indicate leaks for other systems such as power steering and brakes.

Once you have finished examining the engine and engine compartment you will want to start the vehicle. If you notice any blue smoke coming from the exhaust the engine burns oil. Lots of white smoke is a tell-tale sign that the engine’s head gasket is blown. Listen to the engine to make sure there are no weird noises. A good engine does not knock, sputter, bang, or pop, and squealing noise is a belt slipping. Make sure all of the lights work. These include headlights (low and high beams), brake lights, reverse lights, license plate lights, and turn signals. Press firmly on the brake and hold pressure. If you can put your foot to the floor this is a bad sign. Look at the gauges and make sure they all work. After this make sure the car is in park or neutral with the emergency brake engaged, its time to look under the car.

While under the car look for any leaks from the brake, gas, and transmission lines. A quick way to check is to look at the ground for any stains or wetness. Check the frame for rust holes or any alterations. Spotting a frame that has had damage repaired is easy. Just look to see if there are any unusually clean areas, or areas that have lots of extra scratches and scrapes. Once you are finished examining the undercarriage of the vehicle check the tires.

Measure the tire pressure to make sure the tires are inflated to the proper psi. Make sure all the tires are the same size and brand. Take a look at the tire’s tread wear. If it’s uneven this indicates that the vehicle’s alignment is off. If a tire is bald or metal is sticking out of it the tire will need to be replaced immediately. While in the front move the tires left and right with your hands. If the tires aren’t tight a tie-rod end is your most likely suspect. Once you’re done with the tires get back in the car and check the temperature gauge. You want to make sure the car isn’t overheating. If the temperature is low or within normal operating range, it’s time for a test drive.

Before you move the car test the transmission. This can be accomplished by switching the car between gears. You don’t want to hear any clunking noises. It should shift smoothly without making the car jolt. While driving you should pay attention to see if the transmission slips or shifts hard. If the vehicle has a standard transmission you can test the clutch by putting the car in 3rd gear, releasing the emergency brake, and letting the clutch out slowly. If the vehicle stalls rapidly that’s good, if not then your clutch is slipping. Throughout the drive listen for any grinding during shifting. Then you will want to test the brakes to see if you feel any vibrations, hear any sounds, and if the vehicle pulls to any one side. You will also want to do some hard braking to test the anti-lock brake systems. A rapidly pulsing brake pedal is good. If the car skids you may have problems. You should check to see if the car is in alignment. While driving allow the car to go where it wants to. If it veers to the left or right the car is out of alignment. Turn on the heat to make sure it works. If you smell coolant there is a heater core problem. Also, check the air conditioning to see if it needs to be recharged. During your trip keep an eye on your gauges to see if any of them are not at normal operating levels.