Buying a Used Car: Checklist

There are several advantages of buying a used car. However, such a decision comes not without some risks. The good thing is that most of the risks related to buying a used car can be pre-empted or reduced by going through a thorough check up of not just the car’s mechanical and aesthetic condition but also some background checks, history, the kind of people who drove the car and of course legal verifications.

Checklist for buying a Used Car

The following are the categorized list of checks that you may perform on your car, its documents and ownership before making a buying decision.

1. Preliminary check

Before even thinking of buying a particular car, you have to quickly go through the following questions and checklist:

  • Research first: Go through car owners forums, review sites and complaint forums to make sure that the particular make, year and model of your car is having a good overall ownership feedback
  • Check if you are going to buy a discontinued model. Buying a discontinued car model is no advisable unless it still has strong brand and market value and good service network with spare parts still available
  • Check the real worth of the car by going through sites such as KBB. However, you may want to crosscheck the prices at different online used car sales sites as well as with your friends. Obviously you don’t want to pay the price quoted by your seller or price suggested by blue book evaluations. You may be settling between the sell and buy price as suggested by official blue book pricing sites
  • As much as possible buy from someone you know or someone your friends know. It may be worth doing a bit of background check of the current owner in terms of his activities and usage pattern of the car. Obviously you don’t want to buy a car from a complex personality who is into illegal activities, terrorism or other bad things. Moreover, he needs to be a nice person to deal with – a good used car sale should result in the satisfaction of the buyer and seller
  • Finally make up your mind on the particular car model that you want. Instead of picking any car that’s readily available at a good price, wait for the model and make that you always wanted to own. After all, you are going to drive it and you should love it!

2. Document & History verification

Once you are done with the first category of check points, you are ready to do a little bit more verification into the legality of the car, its ownership, history etc.

  • First and foremost thing is to make sure that the car is registered and has all documents up to date. Match the VIN number of the vehicle and the one in the title to be double sure
  • Next, make sure that the car is insured. Usually, an insured car cannot be a stolen or illegally imported/refurbished car
  • Do a car history check with sites such as Carfax which is operational in North America and Europe. Carfax provides the complete vehicle history including ownership changes, accidents, service history, theft etc
  • Finally, make sure that you can get finance for the car if you are not going for a cash deal. Based on your credit history and the car’s age, there may be cases when you are not eligible for a car loan. Moreover, let your financing agency know the current ownership, loan and lien details of the car so that the legal ownership transfer possibility is verified once again

3. Car body, mechanical & interior checklist

Now that the legality and ownership of the car is verified, it is time to go for a thorough check of the car.

  • Hail damage: Check for any hail damage on your vehicle which may be visible on the roof, boot lid and the hood. Sometimes, it may be difficult to insure hail damaged cars and your current owner should fix it before handing it over to you
  • Door closing: Properly closing (with a neat ‘thud’) doors are your first proof against any major accident in the past. Open and close all four doors to make sure that they close firmly and without any gap or rub. The same is applicable for the boot lid as well
  • Check for accident damage: Further to the door check, open the boot and the hood and see if you can see any deformation from inside or even abruptly ending paint job. If you can spot any, that may be the indication of previous accidents. Further, check the dashboard panel and door panels for any lose/creaking parts which may be due to accidents as well
  • Paint check: Look for any color changes, abruptly ending paint areas, level difference on door surfaces etc. Further, you may lightly move your fingers over all four doors and other panels to see if one panel is smoother than others. It may have been repainted!
  • Open the hood and look for engine and chassis numbers which should match the title document
  • Start the car and make sure that the mounted parts under the hood are not rattling or grumbling on idle. Also, make sure that there is no fumes and bad smell coming out of the hood
  • Recent service check: If the car is recently serviced, the under-the-hood area look cleaner without any major dust or black particles. Now, switch of the engine and check the oil level and its color. You don’t want to see thick and black (tar like) oil there which indicates poor service history or engine problem
  • Now check for any corrosion near the radiator fins, battery mount etc
  • Radiator coolant color is the next check. It should be bright and clear, if not it may be the indication of an engine problem such as cracked cylinder head or leaking gasket. You may want to take expert opinion in that particular case
  • Now start the car and move it a car length. See if there’s any oil drops on the ground. Bend down and inspect further (while the engine is on) and see if there is any leak, oil wet areas or even exhaust fume leaks. If there’s any evidence of any of these symptoms, you may have to take the car for an expert inspection before making a buying decision
  • While the engine is still on, inspect from inside. You don’t want to see/feel a shivering gear stick or steering when the car is idling. That may be the indication of previous accidents, rough used car or even odometer rollback
  • Finally check the switch levers, lights, wiper mechanism, air conditioning, heater, power windows for their good condition followed by a quick check on breakdown accessories (toolkit, spare tire, jack etc)

4. Road test

We are ready to take the baby for a road test now. When you are on a road test, always make sure to take someone who knows driving and cars. What you won’t notice will be noticed by him or her during your road test for sure.

  • Steering problem is the first thing you have to check out for while on the road test. You don’t want to feel excessive jerk or wobbling on the steering while driving. This may be the indication poor suspension or badly aligned steering
  • Further any tire wobbling or tendency to go either side may be caused by poor tire alignment, balancing or even steering issues
  • Next the engine – the acceleration, slowdown or gear shift should be responsive and the engine should do these jobs smoothly. There shouldn’t be any knocking or rattling sound from an engine that is in good condition. Remember, the engine and the transmission are the key points in our checklist
  • Transmission: The gear changes should me smooth and without any jerky move or trapping in between. The gear stick should not move around in your hand or vibrate
  • Suspension and brakes: Brake test should be pretty straight forward – it should do the job as expected without any other noise than tire screeching. If the car is ABS equipped, make sure that it works properly by braking firmly (no pumping of brakes) in a sandy area. Your foot should feel the ABS kicks or thuds if it’s working properly. As for the suspension, it shouldn’t feel too stiff or too smooth for a rear seat passenger. Also, listen to any rattles coming from the front sides or rear sides of the vehicle which may be an indication of poor suspension

That’s pretty much our checklist. Please note that if you are not fully satisfied with your own inspection and test drive, you may take it for a used car or vehicle inspection service. For 50 to 100 dollars there may be vehicle inspection services available and obviously the cost has to borne by you as buyer.

Hope this checklist was very useful to you. Let me know if you find any other used car checklist pointers that I might have missed out.

Preparing your Car for a Long Road Trip: Checklist

Road trips – especially the ones with the family – are often a concern for most drivers primarily due to the fear of a possible breakdown en route. However, in reality long trips are often much easier to manage and pleasurable than your day to day drive to work or within the city commute.

The following would be the categorized long road trip checklist for your car in order to prepare the same before the travel day.

1. Fluids

Coolant: Engine coolant (or antifreeze mixture) is usually changed every 25 thousand miles or once in two or three years. However, if your last coolant change was a year or more back (or 15K miles) you might want to consider changing the coolant before a long trip to increase its effectiveness in keeping the engine under control.

Engine Oil: Check your vehicle’s engine oil level and its color to make sure that it is good enough for a few more thousand miles. If the oil is already very dark or has blackish sediments within, it is advisable to change oil before your long drive.

Wiper fluid: A lot of people don’t care about the wiper fluid. Well, if you run out of wiper fluid you could actually fill it with distilled water but it’s always good to have the viscous fluid mix as purchased from auto shops. Smoothly running wiper blades are needed for highway driving.

2. Check vital parts

Battery: Ensure that your battery is in good conditions and your vehicle cold starts in the first quick attempt itself. In addition, you might want to clean up the battery terminals with a brush and Vaseline applied on them to prevent corrosion.

Air filter: If your air filter has run 10,000 miles since last change or even close to it, consider changing your air filter before a long road trip.

Tires: Make sure that your tires have good enough grip and tread depth. A minimum tread depth for a long drive (that might include wet driving) would be 1/8th of an inch. If any of the tires doesn’t have that much depth remaining, it is time to change it. Make sure that you check your spare tire as well for good tread quality.

For long drives, you need to over inflate the tires a little more than the specified PSI rating. For example, if the recommended tire pressure is 30PSI you may consider increasing it to 32 for a long drive. Increased tire pressure would make sure that your tires don’t heat up much during long drives.

3. Spares

Spare bulbs and fuses are those additional things you need to carry depending on your vehicle model. I had the ill fate of having a blown fuse during one of my road trips that wouldn’t let me lower the power windows. Of course, this is not a high probability scenario and you may be able to fix such problems a little later.

4. Documents & Contacts

Make sure that your glove compartment contains all your valid vehicle documents or copies of the same. In addition, do not forget to carry the driving licenses of all those drivers who will be rotating during your trip.

It is also good to carry your road side assistance numbers, insurance agents contact number etc though it is far easier these days to search and find it using your smart phone.

Additional documents include a road atlas just in case you don’t have a GPS (consider one) fitted on to your vehicle.

Additional Tip: Consider becoming a AAA member, if roadside assistance is not part of your insurance plan. It can save really save you from a lot of headache in the middle of the road

5. Repair kit and Quick fixes

The following would be the typical road trip check list on top of the points mentioned above:

  • Jack and basic toolkit
  • Breakdown triangle or reflector
  • Jumper cables for jump-starting
  • Tire sealants (Use only if you can’t change the tire)
  • A flash light
  • A Swiss knife
  • Warm clothes
  • Couple of gallons of water
  • Anti-nausea pills

6. Final check up and cleanup

Finally, make sure that any major issues such as braking problem or sound from drive shaft etc are fixed before your long journey. Check your windshield wipers for proper functioning, check the tire pressures once again and you are good to go.

On the previous evening, you might want to vacuum the cabin and trunk, give it a good wash and have the gasoline tank filled.

Now you can sleep peacefully and be ready for an enjoyable drive the next day!

Preparation & Checklist for a Hurricane

Looks like the frequency at which hurricanes occurs has been increasing in the recent times. The devastation caused by them across many US states – especially the south-eastern costal states – has been quite alarming with a lot of damage done to lives, businesses and the environment.

Though nobody can prevent the damage caused by hurricanes completely, there are ways to be prepared for a hurricane so that the damage and impact can be minimized. It is very important to prepare your home and your life after the hurricane much before the worst hits.

Save your documents & valuables

It’s important that your hurricane preparedness checklist include the preservation of several documents that prove your identity. The following are the hurricane checklist with respect to documents and valuables.

  1. Take a couple of photo copies of your important documents such as social security card, driving license, property title deeds, family photographs and graduation certificates and store them in strong see-through zip-locker. You have to safely keep them in a place at your home that deems strongest and immovable
  2. Take a few time-stamped photographs and videos of your home from various angles covering all of the interiors and exteriors and store them in DVDs. You will need these documents as proof for any insurance claim in the future. If you do not have a proper insurance coverage, you are running big risk in a hurricane prone area
  3. Take a bank locker facility and store all those documents originals and your valuables such as jewelry in your locker
  4. Install and/or arm your home security system. There are many systems available that can serve as your eyes when you’re not home. Just make sure to price out the system so you understand what comprises your monthly ADT payment.

Prepare your Home

Once the documents are safe, you need to prepare your home for a hurricane depending on the predicted impact of the same.

    1. Stock up non-perishable food and water: Bad storms and hurricanes can cause damage that can affect food supplies and availability of good water along with delayed rescue operations and shelter facilities. You need to stock up enough non-perishable food, water and other essentials to survive for at least a week to 10 days if the hurricane’s arrival is imminent
    2. Emergency kit: Next, you need to have your emergency survival kits ready. This includes flashlights, batteries, emergency lanterns, candles, lighters, battery operated radio, ropes, gloves, inflatable floating devices, windcheaters, sleeping bags and enough cash. You may also consider storing some band aids and essential OTC pills. Bad hurricanes usually affect the power supply and hence you need to get prepared for a hurricane hit life without electricity, water and natural gas supply
    3. Prepare your shelter at home: Once you have your supplies ready, prepare a room in the home that you consider the safest. This has to be typically a windowless room in the ground level floor. If there happens to be a window, reinforce it with plywood and long nails from outside. All outer doors may be reinforced further to prevent any loosening of the same and become dangerous flying objects in the wind. The damage caused by flying objects is even worse. If you have hurricane shutters for your home, the better
    4. Chop of feeble trees and branches: Outside your house, if there are hanging tree branches or low rooted heavy trees, it is a good idea to chop them off and dispose in a distant place much before the hurricane hits
    5. Car gas levels: Make sure that your car has at least half tank gas because it may be hard to find an operational gas station in the event of a hurricane. Even if there is one, there may be long queues in emergency. Also, never park your cars under trees
    6. Plan for your pets: Pets are not allowed in shelter homes and hence you need to plan to keep them in a relative’s place or with a pet caretaker home
    7. Books, crayons, paper and pencils for kids: In the event of a power failure, kids may not have any entertainment mechanisms like TV, DVD players or games and it may be a good time to play with some crayons, puzzles and even some family indoor games. Be sure to stock up them, especially if you have stubborn kids

Monitor and weather the situation

Even before the hurricane hits it’s important to keep track of the predictions and related news to get to know what measures to take before and during the hurricane. In certain cases, evacuation may be advised in which case you must not take any risk and move your family a few hundred miles away in a relative’s home, shelter or even in a hotel. National Hurricane Center keeps issuing warnings and safety measures for any forthcoming hurricane situation and it’s important for you to listen to them via radio or any public announcements.

And finally, if your decision is to stay indoors, respect that decision at any cost. It may be tempting to videograph or take pictures of the roars and chaos outside but please be warned that many people lose their lives that way. Needless to say, you may not open any doors or windows if at all you have to shoot some pictures from inside but use any glass paneled windows or possible eyelets.