Three parts you MUST check before buying a used car

Thinking of buying a second hand car? Find out the three parts you need to check first, and questions you should ask the seller.

The cost of used cars rose significantly during the pandemic, when there were disruptions to the manufacturing of new cars; prices are beginning to stabilize now, and recent figures show that approximately 80% of car sales in the US are used cars.

But when buying a used car, there are some essential checks you should carry out to make sure you’re not only getting a fair price, but also that the car is safe to drive. 

According to Google trend data, searches for “what to check on used car” have risen by 350% in the last month, so the Luke Bishop, Parts Manager at GM Parts Direct, explains the most crucial things you need to check are in working order before buying a used car, plus important questions you should ask the seller. 

1) The engine

Pop the hood and inspect the engine thoroughly. Remember that everything looking clean and shiny doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no issues – it could just mean that the seller has cleaned everything to make it more appealing to potential buyers. 

Check the oil level using a dipstick; the oil should be clean, and at the recommended level that is indicated on the dipstick. If the oil is dirty or at the wrong level, it could be a sign of poor maintenance or potential problems with the engine. 

Inspect the engine block for any sign of drips of leaks, and pay attention to any burnt oil smells – fresh oil leaks will be wet and shiny, whereas older leaks might appear dirty or dusty. Leaks could be a sign of serious problems that can cost you a lot of money later down the road. 

A healthy engine will produce little to no smoke, so it’s important to pay attention to any smoke coming from the exhaust. Blue or gray smoke can indicate that the engine is burning oil, which may be caused by worn valve seals or piston rings. If the smoke is black, it could suggest a problem with the fuel mixture, possibly due to a dirty air filer or faulty fuel injectors.

Coolant burning in the engine is a serious problem that can lead to engine failure – this produces white smoke. Don’t even consider buying the car without having a mechanic check it out first if you notice any color of smoke coming from the exhaust! 

2) The brakes  

Brakes are essential in keeping you and your passengers safe on the road, so a thorough check is vital. Pay close attention to how the brakes feel when you apply pressure during your test drive; a firm pedal with a quick response is ideal, but if the pedal feels softer or ‘spongey’, it could be an indication of worn brake pads or air in the brake lines. 

Worn brake pads can also cause uneven braking and make the car pull to one side when you apply the brakes – this could also indicate issues with the suspension or steering system so should certainly not be ignored!

If you hear any grinding noises when you apply the brakes, it can be a sign that the brakes or rotors are worn, even if the pedal feels normal, so make sure you do a test drive on a quiet road where you can hear how the vehicle sounds. 

3) The tires

Worn or damaged tires can be extremely dangerous so it’s essential that you inspect them thoroughly for any sign of issues, beyond just checking the tread depth.  Uneven wear could be a sign that there are alignment issues with the vehicle, which can not only decrease handling and the life of the tires, but also affect your gas mileage.

Correct tire inflation is important for safety as fuel efficiency, as driving with low pressure can cause you to burn through more gas. Make sure the pressure matches the manufacturers recommendations. 

Don’t forget to check the spare tyre – ensure that it’s inflated and in good condition, so you don’t find yourself with a flat tire and a useless spare. 

Questions you should ask the seller before buying a used car

Before you part with your money for a used car, make sure you ask the seller these questions.

“What is the vehicle’s history?” 

Ask for details of the history of the car, including previous ownership and maintenance records, to help you understand how well the car has been looked after and if there could be any potential issues down the road. 

“Has the car had any recent repairs?” 

This information will give you an idea of what parts of the car are new, and what might need attention or repairs in the immediate future. It can also give you a clue into any recurring issued with the car. 

“Are there any performance modifications?” 

If done right, modifications will increase the performance of the vehicle. However, if they were done poorly, not by professionals, the engine mods can result in several issues, especially if original parts are no longer available. 

“Are there any mechanical issues?” 

Don’t hesitate to ask the seller directly about any known problems with the car. Be specific about things like warning lights, leaks, or strange noises or smells. Even small issues can be expensive, so it’s important to factor these potential costs into your decision before agreeing to buy.