Purchasing a used car can be a good option when you’re looking for a quality vehicle without having to pay a high price tag. While a used car can be a sensible option, buyers still need to take one more important step before making the purchase – A pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

A PPI is a vehicle inspection performed by a professional mechanic who will examine the vehicle thoroughly to determine its cosmetic, mechanical, and safety condition. The mechanic will pinpoint any existing conditions and highlight potential issues that could arise in the future and will investigate to make sure any previous damage has been properly repaired.

This will help you to know what you are getting under the hood, thereby boosting your confidence that you’re making a great purchase, decide whether it’s the right ride for you, or uncover some details to consider in your price negotiations.

What should one look for during a pre-purchase inspection?

Although there isn’t an industry-wide accepted standard or schedule for a PPI, we have put together some important factors to be considered when getting a PPI done for a used vehicle.

  1. Homework:

You can start with identifying brands and models that are less prone to problems and breakdowns. If you have already zeroed in on a vehicle, best to get as much information as you can from the current owner and then do your own research. Running the VIN (vehicle identification number) through a paid service will tell you if the car has been in an accident or if there have been any recalls on the model. If the car you’re interested in is known to have certain trouble spots, you will know to pay special attention to those components during the inspection.

  1. Exterior:

Body: When checking the body condition of the vehicle, check for dents, scratches, and rust on every panel as well as the roof of the car. Thoroughly check for paint overspray on the inside of the hood, trunk, and doors and to be sure the color of the vehicle matches on all parts. Open and close every door, including boot and bonnet, to check the hinges. This will also indicate long or hard use on the car. If you think a dent may have been patched with body filler, put a small magnet on it as it won’t stick to an area with body filler.

Glass: Inspect the glass carefully to ensure there are no cracks or major scratch lines. As cracks in the windshield will worsen and lead to a costly repair job.

Lights: Check if all the lights and reflectors are functioning as expected and that no fittings have been changed or fogged from moisture.

Suspension: Walk around the car and look at its standing level. Bounce each corner up and down. The car will rebound just once if the shock absorbers are in good shape.

Tire and Alignment: Ensure that the tires are in a good condition with deep enough treads. Uneven tread or extra wear on a few of the tires often means poor alignment, which can be a symptom of steering, suspension, or frame issues. A poorly aligned car will pull to the right or left when driving. Examine the sidewalls for scuffing, cracks, or bulges, and look at the edge of each rim for dents or cracks.

  1. Interior:

Seats: Seats and interior fabric can take a beating in a vehicle with time. Watch out for tears, stains, and cracked leather on all the front and back seats — upholstery can be a pricey thing to repair. Try all the seat adjustments to make sure they work properly and that you can find a good driving position.

Pedals: The rubber on the brake, clutch, and gas pedals gives an indication of usage. A car that has not run a lot of miles should not show much wear.

Instruments and controls: Turn the ignition switch, but do not start the engine yet. Observe if all the warning lights—including the ‘Check engine’ light—are illuminating for a few seconds and go off when you start the engine. Make sure that the electrical equipment responds to every command. The indicators, external fold-able mirrors, music system, power windows, etc. should work properly. Switch on the air conditioning and make sure it quickly blows cold. Check if the sound system is functioning effectively. If the radio has a CD player or connectivity ports, test these to see if they work.

Check for Leakages: Examine the headliner and roof trim for stains or sags to see if water is leaking through the roof, ill-fitting doors, or windows. See if the carpeting feels wet or smells musty, and check the spare-tire well in the trunk for water or rust.

  1. Engine and Related Components – Under the Hood:

The engine is the most important part of any vehicle. Keep the car turned off, pop the hood and visually inspect the engine for fluid leaks, corrosion, and cracked hoses and belts. Check the oil and transmission dipsticks for discoloration — the oil should be light brown, and the transmission fluid should be pink or red. 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. Check around the battery terminal to make sure there’s no wear and tear.

  1. Test Drive the Vehicle:

The test drive is probably the most important part of purchasing a used car. Plan your route and step on the gas to test its maneuverability, acceleration, braking, and suspension. Take it on the highway, if possible, and try parallel parking to get a feel for any blind spots the car might have. Pay attention to any sound or noise coming from the car. It might suggest trouble with suspension or any other component. Test out the brakes aggressively. You want to make sure that they are in perfect working condition as your life depends on them.

Auto experts agree that used cars must be inspected by a qualified specialist before the final negotiation for purchase. The ordinary car buyer, even if mechanically savvy, really can’t do it justice. A thorough, professional inspection can tell you if you’re getting your money’s worth.

Additional Reads

How often should I replace Car’s Battery, Tires, Air filters, Oil and thermostat?

Why does the Mechanic always “find” something else that is wrong with your car when you go in for a simple oil change?

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