Copyright 1996 by Frank Gasperik, all rights reserved.
To really check a car over there are a few things you want. A small magnet is a MUST (like the kind they use to put on the bottoms of the black and white Scottie Dogs)! A straight edge about 1 M in length (Like a walking stick) is a good Idea but not really necessary. A small but good flashlight is another must. Also add a package of pocket tissues and a "steno" book for ostentatiously writing things in.
1. When you open the door (do this with all doors and the trunk) Check to see that the paint on the jam matches the Exterior color. If it doesn't,the car has been externally repainted. there is much damage that can be cosmetically covered this way. Check if the internal lights work. If they don't... tell the salesman that you suspect electrical damage and you want to see something else. He'll feel foolish losing a sale over a $.25 item.
2. Remember that magnet? You should wrap it with 1 layer of scotch tape (so you don't scratch the finish) and gently run it down the side of the car. It should "stick" all the way from Nose to Tail. If it doesn't, you've run into the PATCH DAMAGE by BONDO method of hiding collision damage.
3. Put your hand on the left front fender and LEAN on it then straighten up quickly. The corner should rise, then fall back to the original level. If it doesn't it indicates bad shocks. Do this on all 4 corners.
4. Check out the pedals. if they have a lot of wear, especially on the brake. It means it's been driven hard A lot of wear on both means a hot-rodder. NEW rubber on both means forget it It's probably been thrashed!
5. While you're down there check the floor pads if they pull up, pull them up. look for excessive wear.
6. On most models they will show a white line on the odometer numbers it it's been turned back. or a black line if the numbers are white.
7. Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) against the one on the Vehicle. They should match.
8. Check out the seat with your hand. If it feels saggy or uneven it means a LOT of time has been spent in it.
9. Under the hood, FIRST THING is to check that the engine number matches the one on the DOCS.
10. Next pull the Dip Stick (hopefully with the engine cold). Before you do anything else look the stick over for water beads. When you wipe the stick with YOUR (white) tissue, look for Dirt, Off color oil ( Brown indicates dirt and Water mix.) Smell it if it smells STRONGLY of "EXHAUST" or if it has a STRONG burned or scorched smell close the hood and walk away..... don't come back....
10a. If it's an automatic, check That Dipstick. If it smells slightly burnt, it might be Clutch Pack problems. Slightly Sweet or Sour, Sealant has been added.
11. Remember the walking stick? drop it so you can take a quick look at the underside. (Flashlight!) look for breaks in the undercoat or SALT Damage.
12. Now, bring the walking stick against the underside of the body. there should be no gaps If you've got a gradually opening then closing gap it means a upwardly bent frame. BYE BYE.
13. Now do it against the side of the body at the same place. look for the same thing.
14. Stand back and look for excessive gaps where things like FENDER and BODY panels meet, also where and How the DOORS meet the JAMS. Any gaps or if narrower at one end and wider at the other is frame damage again!
15. There is an SAE number on the Left Rear Break light lens. It should match the year. You are now ready to drive it.
16. Going down a street feel if it "CRABS" to the left or right.
17. Check the brakes. A Panic stop from 25 mph might shake up the salesman but will tell you much about the alignment, body and brakes themselves also excessive nose dip when it stops... If you can find a quiet stretch of road do it from forty. If he gives you an argument go back to the lot and Leave!
18. You need to check the mirrors. Are they frozen in one position? if it is that usually means a one owner car or one person has driven it for a long time. (Higher mileage cars.)
19. Feel how the shifter works... if it Slips too easily out of the Gear Notch (like DRIVE) That means a LOT of wear.
20. You will obviously want to check the Acceleration and handling. OK do it! The response should be even all the way up. Any Hesitation and it's goodbye.
21. You are now back at the lot. Repeat steps 10 and 10a. the oil should smell slightly of exhaust but not as if you're sniffing the exhaust pipe.
22. Get the sales person to work all signals and lights. if they don't work write it in your book and ask him to have it fixed. If it passes everything else, make sure that what didn't light get's fixed while you are watching.
23. Check the Spare and the jack and tools in the trunk. If the Jack and tools aren't there They should be. Technically it's illegal to sell a car without them.
24. NEVER KICK THE TIRES unless you make it step 24. Doing these things will probably get you a slight reduction in price. You just have to look like you know what your are doing. You can reprint this and pass it around, in fact please do so.