Used Car Inspection Checklist - check the parking space and undercarriage

Here is a used car inspection checklist to help you spot potential problems by simply looking at the pavement where the vehicle was parked overnight, and by inspecting the undercarriage. These aren't things that used car buyers usually do, but they can be important to help ensure that the used car you buy is in good shape.

The idea behind examining the parking space and undercarriage is to detect telltale signs of potential trouble. Here is what you ought to be looking for.

In the Parking Space

Look under the engine, and look for fluid leaks. These could include:

____oil (usually a very dark amber, charcoal or black in color)

____coolant (lime green, iridescent yellow/green or rosy pink in color)

____power steering (rosy pink when transmission fluid is called for, or brown tinged fluid that is somewhat oily)

____windshield wiper fluid (nearly clear with a light blue hue)

Examine under the transmission and rear end to look for fluid leaks:

___automatic transmission fluid (usually rosy pink in color)

___transfer case fluid for 4WD and AWD (dark amber oil or rosy pink in color)

___rear differential for rear wheel drive and 4WD (dark amber or rosy pink oil)

Use a rag, paper towel or tissue to soak up some of the fluid you see, and that will help determine what it is. Also, compare that with what you see in the radiator and on the dipsticks to confirm your suspicions.

Another technique is to rub the fluid between your fingers. Oil will feel oily, coolant and power steering fluid will feel slippery, and windshield washer fluid will feel a little slippery, but more like plain water.

To prepare for using this used car inspection checklist, you might also get a snoot full of what some of these fluids smell like before you go take a look at a used car to buy.

The Undercarriage

Examine the undercarriage to note anything that looks bent, broken, damaged or loose.

Then, check for signs of leakage or seepage. Both can be found simply by looking for where road dirt and dust collects. For larger leaks you might even see a drop of fluid hanging down from the oil pan, transmission housing, or rear end.

Since this is a used car inspection checklist and not a means of diagnosing problems, let me offer just a few suggestions about what a leak here or there might indicate. You'll want to investigate further to determine whether what you find is a potential reliability problem or just a nuisance.

  • Engine oil leaks are likely from gaskets, seals, or plugs. Occasionally, it's a cracked oil pan or oil line external to the engine.
  • Transmission oil leaks are likely from gaskets, seals, or plugs, but can occasionally come from a cracked oil pan, housing, oil line or sending unit external to the transmission.
  • Oil leaks from transfer cases and differentials are likely from gaskets or plugs, but occasionally are caused by a cracked housing.
  • Power steering leaks are likely from hoses and hose connections. Occasionally, they are from seals and cracked power steering units.
  • Engine coolant leaks are most likely from a radiator or heater hose or connection, but can also come from a corroded or cracked radiator.
  • Windshield washer fluid is likely from cracked or loose hoses, and sometimes from a cracked fluid reservoir.

Whatever you find, let the telltale signs from this inspection help lead you to determine the nature of the problem. Cracked or loose hoses are easy to repair. Cracked housings are generally expensive to replace, and the failure of some seals can be very expensive to repair.

When in doubt, get a qualified and disinterested mechanic to take a look for you, so you have confidence in the reliability of the vehicle before you make a purchase.

I hope this used car inspection checklist has been helpful as you search for a good quality used vehicle to meet your needs for transportation.

Done with Used Car Inspection Checklist, back to Buying Used Cars

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