There are always plenty of used cars for sale, and if you are looking to buy a used car, one of the most important parts of the buying process is to visually inspect it yourself to determine it’s condition. Unless you are an auto mechanic, you probably won’t be able to get a thorough picture of the mechanical shape of the car, but you can still learn a lot by doing a proper visual examination.
Before you begin, it’s a good practice to have a checklist with you that allows you to make notes about what you see as you go. This can be important, especially if you are looking at more than car at a time. It’s easy to get confused and not be able to recall specific details about each car after you have seen several in a row, so being organized about the process can help out a lot.
The outside is a good place to start, so look over the car body very carefully. Look for any evidence that the car has been in an accident in the past. Does the paint match on all body parts? Do you see an obvious paint line from a previous repair? This doesn’t mean that it is not a good car, but you want to able to determine if the car has been in an accident and how extensive the damage was if you can. Look for dings and car damage that may need repair, and especially for signs of rust as this can be very hard to eradicate once it has begun on a vehicle.
Look over the tires. If they are pretty worn, plan on buying a new set of tires and factor that into the price you are willing to pay for the car. Also look for excessive wear patterns on the front tires. If it appears that they are wearing much faster on one side of the tire, that may be an indication that the front end may need work and you should also factor that into the car price.
Next go inside the car and continue your visual inspection by making notes about the condition of the interior. If you notice excessive wear on the seats and carpet, perhaps including stains, this is a good indication of the kind of care, or lack of it, that the former owner gave to the car. Keep in mind that even the best car can suffer from owner neglect and if that is the case here, it may be best to avoid this vehicle altogether.
Next try all of the power and climate controls on the dash. Make sure that all of the windows go up and down as they should, that the power seats work in all directions, that the wipers, directional signals, horn, and electronics work. Then start the car and check that the air conditioning blows cold, and the heat is hot. While it is running, listen for any noises that don’t sound right.
By making this kind of visual inspection of each car that you seriously consider, you can determine in advance whether you should now move to the next step where you have an independent mechanic thoroughly inspect it mechanically for final consideration.