I thought I'd put together my own personal checklist of things to look for when buying a vehicle. I hope this helps some of the future dubbers out there!
1. Body lines.
The thing most people don't pay much attention to... Carfax is worth getting because its $20 and if there was an older crash, it'll be on there... but it's really useless because it can take up to a year for an accident to be reported to Carfax. Also, if a mechanic or ''gear head'' owned the car and crashed it, they can simply repair it themself, and nobody would need to report to Carfax about it.
Heres what to do: You know the creases/openings (body lines)that seperate the doors and the fenders? The hood and the fenders? The bumpers and the fenders? The trunk and the upper body pannels? Simply use your finger to slide over them. If the pannels are on uneven plains, or, for example, the two spaces on either side of the trunk/upper body pannels are of different sizes, the car has been in a collision. Maybe with another car, maybe with an object... but it's been hit in some way or another. Basically, you want all the ''body lines'' to feel flush and be of the same size accordingly. It's a bit hard to explain, but if you have a question about it, PM me or I'll try to clarify, but it's a pretty simple concept. This should be the first thing you do, because personally, I would never buy a car that's been smashed lol.
2. Acceleration and braking.
Just because you're on a test drive and the fat guy sitting next to you pretends to know what he's talking about, doesn't mean you can't REALLY test the car. Floor it, see if it gives you any droaning/sluggishness, bucking, or clutch slippage. At some point, slam on the brakes... See if it stops properly/quickly, pulls to one side, or or makes any grinding noises/vibrations in the brake pedal.
3. Testing CV joints... Expensive little guys.
Find a nice empty parking lot. Crank the wheel all the way to one side and drive in circles. Speed doesn't matter. Any popping noises indicates bad CV (constant velocity) joints. Do this again with the wheel turned the other way as well.
4. Testing/looking for problems with strut mounts and bearings.
Again, in a parking lot, drive in reverse (speed doesn't matter, but slow is preferable) and after moving, turn the wheel in one direction all the way till it stops. Do it again in the other direction. Popping or creeking (a spring-like creek) indicates bad strut mounts/bearings. Sometimes CV's will also pop in reverse, so see if you can pinpoint whether the sound is coming from above or below. In addition, strut mounts/bearings can make the springy/creeking noise while not moving at all... Just turn the wheel while the car is running at a stop. Make sure the radio is off and listen carefully...
(Note this is best done with load on the front wheels)
Find a nice straight piece of road... Start cruising, and let go of the wheel. If it pulls to one side or the other, it needs an allignment. The Stealership can do this at very little cost to them...
(Note you need to be in a center lane for this test. Roads are ''crowned'' for water drainage, and it's not uncommon to have to hold the steering wheel slightly towards the centerline on a two lane road).
6. Engine check.
Open up the hood... It's going to be clean because they steam clean every engine before selling, but make sure everything is stock... Buying a car that's been modified can be bad news... You don't know whats been done to it, and even if it's got a cold air intake, chances are, some kid beat the living piss out of it. Anything shiny is probably aftermarket. You want to see stock intakes, stock exhaust, stock everything.
7. Checking shocks/struts.
Very simple... take two hands, and on the rear two corners of the car, push down using your body weight. Do it a few times in a row. It shouldn't be TOO soft, and definitly should not bounce. If it bounces at all, the shocks are shot. To test the front, place your hands on the outside of the hood, so you're actually on the fender. You want to be about over the wheel of the car. Again, push down a few times using your body weight, and push it down a few times, then let go. Again, you don't want to see bouncing, and you don't want it to feel soft.
8. Check the tires.
Nobody wants tires that are ''legal'' and will wear out in a month. Use the ol' penny trick...
9. Making sure accessories work!
When you test drive, alot of peoples reactions are to simply drive it around, make sure you like the ride, acceleration, and feel. But it's easy for the seller to get away with other problems.
Turn on the radio... Make sure it works. Play with the bass, treble, etc. USE THE CRUISE CONTROL! Make sure the defroster works, as well as power windows, the sunroof (if equipped), the parking brake, power door locks, the trunk and fuel door, heated seats (who cares if its 100 degrees out, you want these suckers working in the winter!), and so on.
And finally, turn the lights on and make sure the interior lights work. Outside lights WILL work because it's illegal for a certified dealer to sell a car that cannot be properly inspected. But a while back, I purchased a '99 Saab 9-3. Ofcourse it was daytime... I never thought to turn the interior lights on. After I purchased the car, I drove it for the first time at night and found that half the spedometer wasn't lit, and the display on the center console wasn't lit.
10. Paint check, if you're anal about that kinda thing.
Run your finger across the paint. It should be smooth... But after time, vehicles left outside will aquire ''fallout''. This happens when dust/dirt particles work themselves into the paint... It'll feel almost like sand paper. This can be removed using certain waxes/clay bars, but if left untended, can come loose while hand washing and get stuck in your sponge, leaving swirl marks on the paint.
Also, make sure no clearcoat is pealing anywhere.
11. Wheel condition.
Hubcaps, alloys, bare steelies... Doesn't matter. Check the rim of the wheel and make sure it's not bent!
12. Brake rotor check (with alloy wheels only).
Reach through the spokes and drag your finger across the rotor (best to do before you test drive so you don't burn your hand lol). If there's a big lip on the rotor, insist that they be changed. Very cheap for the Stealership. If you can reach the back side of the rotor, check there as well for not only a lip, but uneven wear.
For those of you who know their suspension parts!
- Reach through the wheel wells (if you can) and grab a hold of the ball joint. Have a buddy rock the car back and forth... Any popping noises or if it FEELS like its popping/grinding (anything but smooth) indicates a ball joint going bad. You do not want these going bad.... trust me lol. Your wheel is elegable to fold away from, or underneath your car without warning. I've seen it many times.
- Again, reach through the wheel well and grab the lower sway bar end link joint... Rock the car. Same dealio... You can do this with the tie rods as well.
And there ya go! My personal checklist of what I look for when buying a car or helping a buddy of mine purchase one.