Q. What should I look for when buying a used car?
A. When you shop for a used car, make sure you or your mechanic check for leaks, cracks, breaks, odd noises, and missing or inoperable parts in the systems of the car.
When you buy a used car, you may find the following checklist helpful. We’ve listed some of the key problems to look for:
Frame and body: Is the frame straight and solid?
Engine: Is there excessive oil leakage? Are the belts in place? Is the block or head cracked? Is the exhaust normal?
Transmission and drive shaft: Is the transmission fluid the right color and seepage normal? Is the transmission solid? Is the drive shaft in good shape?
Cooling system: Does the water pump function properly? Is there any leakage, including any from the radiator?
Electrical system: Does the battery leak? Do the alternator, generator, battery, and starter work properly?
Brake system: Do the warning lights work? Is the brake pedal firm under pressure? Does the vehicle stop in a straight line? Check the hoses, drum and lining for soundness. Are structural and mechanical parts solid?
Steering system: Is there too much free play in the steering? Are the front wheels aligned properly? Check the power unit belts for cracks or slippage and the unit fluid levels.
Fuel system: Is there any visible leakage?
Accessories: Do gauges and warning devices work? Do the air conditioner, heater, and defroster work?
Tires: Check the tread for depth of wear, unusual wear patterns, the tire sizes for matching, and for any other obvious damage.
Wheels: Look for any visible cracks, damage, or repairs. Check for loose or missing mounting bolts.
Exhaust system: Check for leakage and exhaust smoke when the engine is running.
Return to Frequently Asked Questions about Buying Cars.
Aug. 22, 2005.