How To Inspect A Used Car

We have all seen the adverts before – “Great Deal! Spotless! Single Owner! Only used once a week by a little old lady!”, or worse, “Good Runner in Daily Use! Rebuilt Engine! Test Drive It Now, You’ll Love It!” Well, perhaps, but don’t believe a word of it. Some used-car salespersons make a decent living out of selling lemons, and if something, say a low-mileage “rebuilt” engine in a car with worn seats and carpets sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.


Selling a lemon flavoured used car is the easiest thing in the world – all it takes is some spit, polish, and engine cleaner, a lot of fast talking, a rushed test drive around the block to hide the fact that the engine smokes when it reaches operating temperature, the offer of a reduced price with a mostly useless, but expensive, maintenance plan or extended warranty (“You’ll be covered just in case something does go wrong”) thrown in, and Bob’s your Uncle!

Don’t let it happen to you – if you are in the market for a good, reliable used car, take enough time to properly inspect the car on offer, and if you are not all that knowledgeable about cars take along someone who is, or use this article as the basis for a proper inspection, and most importantly, a proper test drive.

Listed below are some of the more important things to look out for when shopping for a used car, so take your time, be careful, make sure the car is right for you, and never grab the first offer that comes along, because these days, ending up owning someone else’s problem is easier than you might think.

The logical place to start an inspection is of course with the bodywork, since there are many clues as to the condition of a car, or the truth or otherwise of the claims made by the seller that you might miss if you do not look closely enough, so let us start there:

Is it one body, or two?

Do not be talked into inspecting a used car at night or in bad light. Bad light can hide a multitude of faults and defects, such as the fact that the “bargain” you are invited to inspect might actually consist of parts of two accident-damaged cars that were joined together.

Almost any competent body shop can join two halves of separate cars in such a way that the joint is almost invisible in bad light, but if you know what to look for in bright sunlight, you will almost certainly detect the joint. So what do you look for? There are several unmistakeable clues, so let us take a closer look at the bodywork by asking the following questions:

Is the car clean?

It may appear to be a silly question, but the truth is that even a thin layer of dust on the body panels can hide the ripples and bumps that are sure signs of either accident damage, or worse, the proof that the car consists of two separate halves. If the car is dusty, ask to have it washed, then, inspect the roof and side panels at an oblique angle.

The more oblique the viewing angle the better, since this will highlight the differences in the angles at which sunlight reflects off different parts of a single panel. This is usually most visible on the roof, although side panels may also reveal the presence of welded joints. Welding causes the base metal to expand, a fact that is almost impossible disguise, because the resulting “bumps”, and “lumps” along the joint line have to be knocked down, and the resulting “dips” filled with body filler. Skilled panel beaters may be able to mask the visible signs of this, but to double check, run a small magnet wrapped in a thin cloth over the entire outside surface of the car. Continue reading