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Things You Should Check Before Purchase Used Vehicle

There are 13 Major Things that should be taken a gander at first to figure out whether the auto merits purchasing. Obviously there are different things to consider, for example, Air Conditioning, Heater and Lights to give some examples.


When you are looking for a “GOOD” used vehicle, there are some quick tell tale signs to look for, to see if you are getting a “GOOD” used vehicle or a vehicle that is on its last legs. The main questions you have to ask yourself when inspecting this vehicle is, “How well maintained is it”? And “how well has it been taken care of”? Some people do their own maintenance; some take it to a professional. People that take their vehicle to a professional or shop/garage will have maintenance records. Chances are this vehicle was taken care of. People that do their own work on their vehicle won’t have maintenance records. Chances are this vehicle was not as well maintained. The following should help you determine the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY.

1) ENGINE OIL. OIL SHOULD BE CHANGED EVERY 3,000-MILES OR 3 MONTHS. Years ago when you took your car in for an oil change the mechanic would put a sticker in your door jam with information on when the next time you would need another oil change or service. Today, virtually everybody uses those clear static stickers you put in the upper left hand side of your windshield. Personally, I love them. Whoever thinks to check the sticker in the door when you’re stopped? I would always think about it going down the road, and then forget to check it when I got out of my vehicle. Now you just look up and can tell when you need an oil change. So you should check and see if there is a sticker in the windshield. This would tell you when the oil was changed last and when it should be changed again. If it is faded so bad you can’t see the writing on it, then it has been a while since it had an oil change. You should also check the oil level and how clean it is. This also tells a story. If it’s really black, maybe the oil wasn’t changed as often as it should have been or it’s been a long time since it was changed.

2) TRANSMISSION OIL. OIL SHOULD BE CHANGED EVERY 24,000 MILES. New transmission oil is a bright red color. The older it gets, the darker it will be. With today’s technologies, most shops now have a transmission flush machine that will basically give the transmission a “transfusion”. That will help prolong the life of the transmission. So if your prospective used vehicle has more than 24,000 miles on it, and has bright red transmission fluid, chances are the owner had a flush done, which tells you they are maintaining the vehicle. You can also smell the fluid, if it is dark and has a burnt smell, that transmission is ready to fail, very soon. Bright fluid should never smell burnt. If it does, the owner is trying to hide something.

3) POWER STEERING FLUID. Most people don’t even think about power steering until it doesn’t work, but it can cost a lot of money to fix, if it goes bad. If it’s low, you have a leak. Check the power steering hoses for oil seepage. Don’t see any leaks, then the steering rack seals could be the problem. Believe it or not, they can leak but you may not see it right away. You could leak up to a quart of fluid into the end boots, before the pressure breaks a boot, unless the boots are ripped or torn. When you check the fluid level, check the condition of the oil. If the fluid is light your fine. If it’s dark, it needs to be flushed. Most shops now have a power steering flush machine that replaces old dark fluid, with new light fluid. If an older vehicle has light fluid, the owner may have had it flushed, or a recent repair.


Anti-Freeze will break down over time, become rusty and cause different problems including water pump failure, leaking freeze plugs, engine overheating, head gasket and heater failure, to name a few. It is very important to keep fresh chemically balanced, (PH, Nitrite and Glycol), anti-freeze in your radiator. With all the different metals used in today’s vehicles, anti-freeze can break down and cause a lot of harm. The computer sensors can also get coated with rust and send the wrong signal to the computer. There are several different color anti-freezes in today’s vehicles. The most popular is green. Basically when you look at anti-freeze, you want to see if it’s been changed regularly. See if it looks “clean”. If you take the radiator cap off, the level should be right there below the cap, and clean. It should not have any rust or brown; build up in the neck or cap area. (Please make sure the vehicle is not hot when you take the cap off, the anti-freeze is under pressure and will explode and burn you if it is hot when you take the cap off). You should only take the cap off when the engine is cool. (NOTE: TOYOTA HAS A FACTORY INSTALLED DARK BROWN ANTI-FREEZE)

5) ANTI-FREEZE RECOVERY BOTTLE Recovery bottles can tell a story at a glance. Is the level where it is supposed to be? If not, there could be a leak, or nobody ever checks it. If the vehicle is getting regular maintenance, then that bottle should be checked at least every time it gets an oil change. Does it have a bunch of brown goo in the bottom of it? That’s an indication of rust in the cooling system. Chances are the radiator is just as bad. If this is a newer GM vehicle with Dex-cool, (Extended Life), then it is an indication of a leak, because Dex-cool coagulates when there is a leak in the system. By the way, Dex-cool is an orange color. GM also puts a sticker nearby, indicating that there is Dex-cool in the radiator.

6) BRAKE FLUID and LEVEL Check the brake fluid level. If it is low, there could be a leak somewhere or it may soon need a brake job. Normally brake fluid will be a little dark. Too dark could be a problem. If there is sludge on the bottom of the master cylinder, it could be on its way to need a new one soon. If the fluid is really clean, someone just put a new master cylinder on or flushed the system. Most shops will do brake system flushes.

7) BATTERY TERMINALS It is not good to see a lot of corrosion on the terminals. That means this vehicle was not taken care of. I think one of the best inventions were those little felt washers you put on the battery terminals. They work if you use the right ones. I have installed a lot of batteries and as a courtesy to my clients; I put those washers on. Now just any old washers won’t do, you need them to be impregnated with a special chemical. What causes corrosion is the vapors coming from the battery as the Alternator recharges it. Excessive corrosion will give you electrical problems, if it is not taken care of.

8) BELTS Not much to talk about here. If they are cracked, or frayed, they will need to be replaced.

9) TIRES Check for small cracks on the sidewall of the tire. That indicates old tires. Put a quarter on end, head down, in between the tire tread. If the tread does not come up to the top of the head, new tires are needed. If it goes beyond the top of the head, they should be good to go.

10) MAINTENANCE RECORDS If they have good maintenance records, that will tell the true story. You can see every repair that was done to the vehicle. Most people don’t do this.

11) SMOKE COMING OUT OF THE TAIL PIPE You will see some white smoke in the morning, or when it’s cold outside. This is normal. Rev the engine up a little and look at the tail pipe to see if smoke is coming out. You may see a little grey smoke which is normal.

There are 4 different types of smoke:

– Grey. You see this more on carbureted engines. It indicates a rich mixture of fuel when you rev the engine. It’s normal, but it should clear.

– White, which indicates water vapor, or a possible blown head gasket or cracked head.

– Blue smoke, indicating the engine is burning oil. Blue smoke is a little hard to see. It will look white, but you need to look through the smoke to see the blue most of the time. This sounds weird until you actually see the blue smoke, then you will understand what I am talking about.

– Black, indicating excessive fuel burning. Black smoke is actually unburned fuel, and indicates a problem with fuel delivery and should be addressed.

12) RUST This is an indicator that this vehicle came from the Snow Belt where salt is put on the road to melt ice for traction. You will find rust on the undercarriage, which will require you to get under the car. You can also find rust under the floor mat in the trunk, or under the hood of the car.

13) FLOODING DAMAGE This is something that is not real easy to detect, but is becoming a big problem with all the flooding occurring elsewhere. Expect to see vehicles coming from New Orleans and other Katrina and Rita flood zones. Silt and dirt get in the carpet and Upholstery, but worse it is in all the electronics. I have taken computers out of Vehicles and they are filled with silt or dirt. These vehicles are usually sold as the “Really Good deal”. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.