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The Ultimate Used Car Inspection Guide

Inspect a used vehicle like a Pro! Everything you need to know - All in one place.

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Locate the car’s VIN plate and compare to see if it is the same as recorded in the logbook. If the VIN plate number is not the same or blacked out, it might be signs of foul play in some form or another.
Remove the oil filler cap (with the engine off and cool) and look inside the engine and under the cap. (If necessary, unclip the plastic engine cover and look underneath for the engine oil cap) Note: This test can tell a lot about the engine.
Check under the cap for any foamy white residue which might be an indication of a damaged head gasket, in which case the car should be a ‘no go’. Also, see if there is a lot of black carbon deposits to the oil cap as well as the visible internal engine parts. Usually this is a sign of very poor engine maintenance.
Also, inspect the radiator fins to see if they are they damaged or if there is evidence of repairs especially on the side tanks and the inlet-outlet ports. Look if there are there any leaking hoses, cracks or non-original fittings to the radiator.
With the engine turned off, check the inside of the fan belts for cracks and obvious wear. The belts should look new and not have cracks or signs of drying. Note that the timing belt is the most important belt in the engine, and is also the most costly to replace.


Check whether the battery the correct size and if it is properly fastened. Have a look at the tray to determine the condition. In many instances, excess battery acid will cause deterioration to the tray. Make sure that the battery cables and terminals are not worn down and rust-free. Check that the battery itself is in good running condition.

Exhaust smoke

Have the owner start the car and study the exhaust smoke. A petrol vehicle should hardly emit any visible smoke, whilst many diesel vehicles might emit some dark smoke which is normal. Petrol vehicles with excessive exhaust smoke smelling like burning oil should be avoided. Exhaust pipe emissions should neither be grey/blue (indicates engine burns oil) or black (indicate excessive oil consumption).


To test the suspension, press down on the car at each corner above the wheels and release – the car should return smoothly to its original height, if it bounces up before settling to its normal height, the suspension could be worn or need work. When bouncing the vehicle’s corners study if all corners respond the same when bouncing and that no creaking noises are made. Also, make sure the vehicle rests levelly when parked on a level surface.
Continued on page 8…
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