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Used Cars - How To Inspect Used Cars

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Be a Kid and Touch Everything
Used Cars - How To Inspect Used Cars

Indulge your inner child and check all of the heating and air conditioning controls, as well as playing with the stereo. Make sure it all works.

Photo © Keith Griffin

Channel your inner-child when inspecting the interior. Flip every switch and pore over every inch of the interior. Nothing is too mundane to check. Touch everything and look everywhere.

  • Does the dome light come on? If not, find out why. The problem could be as simple as a blown bulb or it could indicate more complex electrical troubles.
  • Look at the top left part of the windshield for the oil change sticker. See what the expiration date is. If it’s six months older or more, remember to closely inspect the oil on the dipstick when you’re checking out the engine later on.
  • Pretend you’re a four-year old. Test every switch inside the car, including the ignition. See how difficult it is to turn the car on and off. At this point you’re really not focusing on the engine so much, but see if the starter hesitates at all.
  • This tip from a reader: Check the "Check Engine Light" and the "Air Bags Light" and finally the "ABS Light." Do they come on when the key is in the accessory (or right before start) position? Do they all go out after?
  • Test the heat and AC. See how the vents work and if they give off any musty odors.
  • Play the stereo. Pop in a cassette, CD, or MP3 player to make sure they all work.
  • Put the emergency brake on – and click it off. It’s important it engages and disengages with equal ease. A sticky brake creates major headaches down the road.
  • Make sure the seat belts work. Also, look in the back seat and check that the belts and latches aren't buried.
  • Check the driver and passenger seats to make sure they work in all positions.
  • Run your hands over the seats. See how supple the leather is. Feel for cracks in the texture. Do the same with cloth seats.
  • Run your fingers along the sides of the headliner (the fabric on the passenger compartment’s ceiling). See if it’s separating or bulging.
  • Check the dashboard for cracks, too. Don’t believe a car was “always garaged” if there is extensive sun damage here.
  • Stick your head under the front seats. There shouldn’t be rust under here. It most likely indicates some type of water problem.

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