Used Car Inspection
 

"Whether it's bought from an individual or a car lot, purchasing a used vehicle requires extra steps," explains Donna Wagner, Car Care Council's Director of Operations. "But closer scrutiny helps ensure a better investment. We offer the following guidelines."

First, know your budget and your needs. Until these are addressed every vehicle is a candidate. Because it's so easy to "fall in love" with a car, one must be objective.

If there's a trade-in, know approximately what it's worth. Most libraries and banks have a used car appraisal guide, a valuable negotiating tool. If you're not familiar with the business end of an auto-mobile, do your shopping with someone who is.

Assuming you'll be looking at a number of possibilities, begin with a chart with which you can list each vehicle's description, pros and cons, and owner's phone number.

An evaluation could include a number of items, but don't use one that's too cumbersome. Your first look-over should include the following:

Visual Examination - Open all doors including the hood and trunk. Check for rust, weld marks, or a bent frame. Examine the muffler, tail pipe and exhaust pipe.

Under The Hood - Check fluids. Examine hoses and belts for wear.

Electrical System - Start the engine and check all accessories such as gauges, radio, wipers, etc. one at a time. Check the horn and all lights.

Trunk - Is there a spare tire? Is it usable? Does it have a working jack?

Interior - Badly worn upholstery and carpeting indicate neglect and heavy usage.

Engine - Does it idle smoothly? Is its highway performance OK? Are there any unusual noises?

Drive Train - During road test check smoothness of shifting or unusual noises.

Suspension - Push down on the car's corners, front and back. If it continues to bounce more than one and a half times the shocks may be worn. View the car from a distance; an unlevel car may indicate weak suspension.

Steering - On a straight, level stretch be sure the steering wheel pulls neither to the left nor right. When rounding a corner it should return straight ahead smoothly.

Tires - Examine tread and general condition. On the road test, listen for thumping or whining of faulty tires.

Brakes - Driving between 30-40 mph, with no one behind you, apply the brakes. If they pull in either direction, there's a problem. Apply slight pressure on the brake pedal at a speed of about 5 mph; check for an
intermittent surge indicating drums or rotors that may be out of round.

Another factor is odometer mileage, says the Council. Just because a car has high mileage doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered. It may be in better condition than one with fewer miles. Owner's manuals emphasize that low mileage cars which have been victims of "stop and go driving" (several trips in one day of 10 miles or less) may fall into the "severe service" category. Not only is this type of driving tough on a vehicle, it requires special servicing the owner may have overlooked.

Ask for service records. Many private owners proudly display their maintenance history books as a selling point. A new car dealer may provide this information if the vehicle originally was purchased and serviced there.

Don't Show 'Em the Money Yet...

When you've narrowed the field and made your final choice, invest in a comprehensive inspection by a qualified technician. If everything is A-OK, you have peace of mind. If there's a problem and you still want the vehicle, you may be able to negotiate repairs and/or a discounted price.

"Finally," says Wagner, "involve your young driver in the entire procedure. Teenagers, especially girls, tend to get left out. They may be included in the looking stage, but when it comes to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses, having the car inspected, studying the warranty, arranging for credit, buying insurance, and signing all the papers, the parents tend to take over."

For helpful tips on vehicle checks send a stamped, self addressed envelope to Car Care Council, Department SPE98-XI, 42 Park Drive, Port Clinton, OH 43452.