How to Inspect your car befor purchase it

This is where you will weed out the cars that are a high probability of problems using the same criteria I used when I was at the auction and had to choose what to buy. This process has saved me and everyone I know from buying JUNK!

Our goal here is to eliminate as much of the unwanted vehicles as we can before spending valuable time, money and resources only to find that it could have been avoided altogether. Using these criteria would have saved my sons friend ALOT of MONEY and aggravation because the car he bought contained so many of the things I say to stay away from.

Here are some things to keep in mind. You are not buying a $2,500 or $5,000 or whatever the price of the car. You are buying a USED $40,000 or $50,000 or higher priced car. To clarify you are not buying a $3,500 cheap car, you are buying a USED $40,000 when it was a NEW Saab Convertible Loaded with Options. You can tell a lot about a car from the external and internal physical appearance and condition of the vehicle. This is where we will begin to explore the result of our finds to determine if we have a keeper.

We will begin the inspection by walking towards the car on the driver’s side then move around the car taking notice to some very specific things. The first thing I look for is aftermarket rims on a car if the car does not have the original rims on it that came with the car when it was purchased; I immediately abandon any further inspection of the car.

Aftermarket rims have shown to be another item that when added to the vehicle tend to verify that maintenance was not of the highest concern of the previous owner. When I was in the car business, I would watch as Buy Here Pay Here customers would come in to the office, make the down payment and while doing the paper work discuss all of the improvements they have planned for the car.

The first two things they would do is plan on buying an expensive radio and next, were rims and tires. In the first month of owning the car they would spend as much as $2,000 – $3,000 for these so called improvements and then not pay the next months payments and get the car reposed.

Another thing to think about with aftermarket rims is that they usually require a higher priced tire which is not something you want to deal with when you have to replace a tire. Spending a $1,000 for special low profile tires is a lot of money and I am sure given the choice you would opt for lower priced tires. Also specialty rim can be a problem if you have to replace one due to damage, you may not be able to find the exact match or there may be a 2 – 3 week wait while it is ordered which means you are out of commission or riding on a spare.

Look over the car starting at the driver’s side and notice the door and the key area does.

it look heavily scratched up at the key hole and is there allot of dings and scratches in the door. You can bet there is sure to be some scratches around the key area. However if there are a lot of them in and around the key lock then there was a probability of high volume usage with frequent in and out (City type of driving it is referred to) and we would generally like to avoid this type because the wear and tear tends to be higher when used this way.

How to Inspect your car befor purchase it

Approach the car and look at the driver’s seat and compare its wear to the passenger and rear seats to see if the looks similar in showing how much of wear they have. If the driver’s seat shows a lot of wear long the sides from getting in and out and the steering wheel hand positions show a lot of wear compared to the passenger seat then make a note although there is generally no one thing that you can use to establish the condition of the car these are some good indicators.

There is a mindset of the previous owner we are looking for a physiological factor that plays into the condition of a vehicle.

Did you ever see someone’s car that is always dirty and full of clutter and rubbish on the inside? They are also usually the ones that say when I get a new car I will defiantly keep it clean and clutter free but, when they do get a new one it is only a short period of time before they return to the old behavior of a dirty and cluttered car. The reason is they never developed the habit of taking care of the car, and what we are looking for is someone who was in the habit of maintaining and caring for their car. Back to the inspection!

While you are looking over the car on the driver’s side look at the pedals and if they have wear usually you will see the brake pedal with a corner or on an angle with more wear than the rest of it. Look at the carpet does it have floor mats or is there heavy wear on the floor. A car that has high miles and has been cared for can have 150,000 miles and be clean as a whistle, but a car that has 70,000 miles can have been used and abused with many problems. Again this will be a reflection of the owners care and maintenance of the vehicle and its use.

I usually would just let the car pass if I am under a time restric- tion for inspection to purchase and the driver’s area looks excessively worn, but if time will allow for a full inspection I continue on.

Returning to the seats the driver’s seat may have more wear than the passengers but it should not look like they are two halves of different cars put together. In other words if the driver’s seat looks like it has 200,000 miles on it and the passenger seat looks like it has 20,000 miles on it.

Just from looking at the driver’s seat there is a lot you could interpret from that and like I said we want to decrease the time we spend on iffy vehicles. Usually if the seat is heavily worn and the carpets are heavily worn in the driver’s area along with a bunch of dings and scratches on the driver’s side door and key lock area these are the vehicles I have found to start off with problems.

You have to picture in your mind the driver and his behavior. Was the driver always in a hurry to quickly unlock the door, no time to park and open and close the door without hitting something and in a rush with no time to keep the car floor cleaned and vacuumed then guess what, I bet maintenance was not a high the priority list either. The other option was he didn’t have the money to get it done.

If the driver’s seat passes inspection than let’s move on to the next two things I look for and immediately leave the car alone and move to the next one. The first is very visible and you can see it right away and it is are the wheels factory or are they aftermarket.

I only like to buy original factory equipment on cars no aftermarket. The next is to me a BIG factor and that is the radio, is it the original radio and sound system. I do not want any amplifiers in the trunk or changes in speakers. I know some people consider these to be upgrades to the car but they really are not in my opinion and I will tell you why.

When looking at any highline vehicles they tend to already have premium sound systems and alloy rims with sporty tires. Premium cars usually have premium equipment that’s why you pay more.

Usually the person that purchases a highline vehicle will pick and choose the options that the mfg. offers as upgrades and these are designed to fit the style and look of the vehicle. They also offer a premium sound system with optional upgrades and add-ons that compliment the original equipment. This also applies to aftermarket alarms, remote lock systems and remote starters that were not all original factory options or add-ons.

Radio and sound systems installed in vehicles after-market tend to be installed by either an untrained or un-certified tech- nician which can lead to electrical problems or unexplained quirks with the vehicle. There are sometimes several onboard computers on a car and a varying change in voltage or an accidentally spliced or cut wire can have numerous repercussions if done by an unqualified individual. Not to mention people tend to think that their vehicle is worth a whole lot more with these perceived upgrades and add-ons.

We pretty much are looking for a car to look the same in options the day it was bought. OK our subject car has factory rims, factory radio and looks good in the wear of the driver’s seat area. Let’s now focus our attention on the rest of the exterior body of the car.


You want to look over the outside and look for places that may show the car to have been painted or bondo and body work. I have no problem buying a car that may have been in a fender bender or repainted.

What I do want is to see a professional job was done. One of the clues to paint work is to look over the car and see if you visually see any variations or shading in the paint also look at any rubber seals or seams for over spray. Over spray is when they get paint on anything they weren’t supposed to like door plates, window seals, door and window trim, etc.

Stand at the corners of the vehicle away from it like 2-3 feet so you can look down two sides at one time like the front and the driver’s side. This will allow you to see things like rough dents that were filled in and inconsistencies in paint tapering. Do the same for all four corners of the car. Take notice to what you find.

During this inspection you also want to look at the seams of each area. Stand in front of the car and look down the hood and compare the gap between the fender and the hood on each side do they look the same or does one have a tighter space and the other a larger gap. If so this is a sign of an accident.

The same goes for the doors, the fenders, and the trunk. All of these body component gaps should be evenly spaced throughout the car, if not again that vehicle may have been in an accident.

I would not consider this a deal killer, but I would not pay the same for a car that has been in an accident as I would a car that never has. Carfax can sometimes show that there was an accident reported but it is not guaranteed to find everything.

I would buy a car that has been in a fender bender and put back together nicely before I bought a car that had aftermarket rims and radio. An accident is just that an accident, but rims and radio are an intended alteration to the vehicle and when looking thru an average of 6,000 vehicles 2-3 times a week you tend to notice similarities. Again we are looking for the car with the possibility of fewer problems.

If the hood and or the trunk reveal different gaps than our next step is to open them up and look around for anything that could show possible signs of frame damage. I didn’t like to buy anything with frame damage to it. I figure why buy a possible headache if I didn’t have to. The best problem is one you don’t have!

When looking under the hood the most obvious is the radiator support rail, it is the bar that the radiator is attached to and runs from each side of the vehicle. Does this bar show any signs of paint, repairs or bent crease mark? Look where it attaches to the sides how do they appear where they meet. If it doesn’t look right or normal chances are your right something could be wrong in that area.

Open the driver’s side and passenger side doors and look for paint and if there are plates attached to the door like vehicle mfg and vin see if the are painted over if so that is a sign of possible accident. Remember not every paint job is due to an accident, there could have been vandalism done to the vehicle and that’s why it was painted.


We covered some of this in the beginning of the inspection while we were looking over the car for rims and radio, but what we did not cover was the dashboard. This will require having the key and turning on the vehicle as to see if there are any lights that indicate a problem with the car. When I was at the auction I used to call it Christmas ready because the lights would be lit up and different colors like Christmas time, only this was not a present you would want.

When turning on the ignition you want to basically see the lights cycle through the testing stage and then power off. Today every car or truck has one if not many onboard computer systems and when they initialize they perform a test of many system components to ensure they are working properly.

Two of the most important lights that we want to see come on and go off are the SRS (air bags) and the ABS (anti-lock braking system). You MUST SEE these lights power on and then turn off if you do not see them do this than that could indicate there have been some sort of funny business here.

You DO NOT want to get a car that could have a problem with the SRS system, which could mean that the airbags will not deploy if in an accident. You DO NOT want to get a car that could have a problem with the ABS system, which could mean that the anti-lock brake system fails.

If the ABS is not working then when you press on the brakes in the rain the car will skid out of control. The ABS (anti-lock brake system) activates when you press the brakes hard, they pulsate the brakes to slow the car down quickly and not skid wildly out of control.

I have seen cases where the lights have been removed to avoid servicing the malfunction and people who do not know what to look for were later hit with a huge repair bill when the vehicle was later taken for service and revealed that the light was removed and the code scanner picked up the problem. I know I sound like a broken record but our goal here is to get a turn-key car, not a project car!

After the dash passes the inspection let’s look at the rest of the interior, by now we know the seats to be good so let’s look at the headliner and any other interior items like glove box, arm rest, compartments, CD changers in the arm rest etc..

You want to see the inside is visually pleasing and not torn up, seat covers can be a sign of problems with the interior seats such as rips, stains, and cigarette burns. It could also mean they had a dog and wanted to protect the seats from claws or hair. One of things you really want to pay attention to is the smell. If there is a lot of air fresheners or strong masking scents like cherry or pine beware because it could be covering a bad smell that you will not be able to get rid of.

Look around the foot area and in the seams of the dash for wires that are exposed or hanging down. We want NO AFTERMARKET ANYTHING!! (radio, alarm, amp). I will keep saying it you do not want a car that has been customized in any way unless it is factory done, like a BMW M3 or a Mercedes Sport Package.

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