Buying a car: More than giving tires a kick

By Kijiji Autos
Buying a car - engine

It‘s also a good idea to suggest the person clean out the car before you get there. Once you arrive, chat for a while to see if anything about the transaction raises alarm bells and whether you feel at ease. Ask politely for a bit of time to look at the vehicle more closely. If the seller refuses, give the car a pass. You don’t want to spend money on what the seller has to offer if they don’t want to spend time on the transaction. You can create a checklist if you wish.

Here’s how we recommend you proceed with the vehicle inspection:

The exterior

Start by walking around the car and checking the general condition of the exterior. If the body has scratches or a small amount of damage that you’d want to repair, make a note to include it in the price negotiations later.Check the spacing between the doors, hood, trunk, and other body panels. On most cars, they should be relatively uniform. If not, it could be a sign the vehicle has been in one or more collisions.

Also check that the paint colour is uniform on the various panels of the bodywork. If you detect even a slight difference, a part may have been replaced because of an accident. Use the opportunity to ask the seller: “Why is the bumper a slightly different colour from the rest of the car?” If the answer is about the effect of the sun on paint or some other lame excuse, think about moving on. A person who lies about minor repairs could be concealing something much worse. That’s assuming, of course, that your seller is the original owner of the car.

Next, open all the doors, including the trunk. They should open and close easily. A slight creaking usually only requires a little lubricant, but if the latching mechanism is a problem, it could mean the frame is damaged, which is a big deal. Also, make sure the studs and the inside of the doors are free from rust or moisture.

The tires

The condition of the tires can reveal other potential problems with the car. Turn the wheels fully to one side to check the treads of the front tires. Uneven wear of the treads may be a sign of a suspension problem, which puts more pressure on one part of the tire than the rest. In addition, very worn or insufficiently inflated tires could flag a seller who cares more about their wallet than their car.

Under the hood

First, remove the oil dipstick, wipe it, and slide it back in. Remove it again and check that the oil level is within the specified safety zone. It’s a bad sign if there’s no oil or not enough. It’s okay if the oil is dark brown or even slightly black, as long as there are no impurities you can see on the gauge. Next, open the oil filler cap. If you see a whitish residue, the engine is dirty. Make your escape now!

Look at the brake fluid reservoir and check the colour. If it’s black, it must be changed. Old fluid can corrode brake lines and offer poor performance.

Open the radiator cap when the engine is cold. If it’s dirty or has residue, once again it’s time to make your escape. Just trying to find out the cause of the problem would cost far too much. Check the coolant reservoir as well. It’s okay if the level is a bit low, but if it’s completely empty, the cooling system may have been damaged by the lack of fluid.Finally, check the fluid level of the power steering reservoir and whether the pump is leakproof. A really low level of fluid could damage the pump, which is both costly and dangerous.


Open and close all the windows and make sure the mechanism (if electric) works smoothly. If not, a repair might be needed. Check the windshield for damage. Minor chips are usually not a problem, but a crack could mean the windshield needs to be replaced.Ask the seller or a friend to operate all headlights and lights: brake lights, back-up lights, hazard warning lights, low and high beams, and parking lights. If one or both headlights are burned out, their replacement could be part of the negotiation, especially in the case of expensive HID or Xenon bulbs. Ask the person to spray the windshield washer to check the operation of the pump and wipers.

Go back inside the car to make sure all electronic devices are working. Check the interior lighting. If the car has a touch screen navigation unit that plays movies and does your taxes, make sure it works.

Now that you’ve passed the “kick the tires” stage, it’s time for the road test.

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