The first thing to do is to look at the vehicle body because there are some things that can give you a heads up to potential problems. First of all, look for spots where the paint might be bubbling up, which is a sign that rust has formed on the panel. Before long, that bubble will be a rust hole.
Also look across the hood and roof from the side to check for hail damage. You need to get down low and look across the panels to see it. You certainly don’t want to buy a vehicle only to find out later that it was peppered with hail.
Next you want to open the hood and take a look. Don’t be too intimidated to look under there because there are some things that you can check out pretty easily.
Look at fluid levels and check the overall condition under the hood. There might be things like cut wires or loose bolts that will let you know that the vehicle has had some problems and they weren’t repaired properly.
Also, take a flashlight to look under the engine. You can definitely tell if there have been fluids leaking because there will be drips on the bottom of the engine. Leaks will not only stain your driveway, but they will probably lead to some hefty repair bill in the future as well.
Next, check the tires. You can see if there is very much tread left by using a quarter. Put the quarter upside down between the tread and if you can see the top of Washington’s head, the tires are close to needing to be replaced. Also look at the tread to see if it is wearing evenly across the tire. If it isn’t, there could be some serious alignment or suspension problems with the vehicle.
Now you are ready for the test drive, but before you take off, try the power accessories like the windows. Make sure they all work because each window motor can cost hundreds of dollars to replace.
Next, shut the radio off because you could mistake the thumping beat on the radio with the thumping beat of one of the wheels coming off during the test drive.
When you are driving, listen for rattles and clunks, watch the gauges and see how the vehicle handles on the road. If you see or hear anything that is out of the ordinary, you need to start asking some questions.
If it turns out that you are still pretty comfortable with the vehicle after all of your preliminary checks, then you should spend the money to have your mechanic give it a good, thorough inspection. Good luck!