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Inspection tips

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Updated: 3/28/2003 12:53 pm Published: 3/28/2003 12:53 pm

If you're thinking about buying a pre-owned car, there are some common-sense rules that will help you choose a good one. Always inspect the vehicle in daylight and preferably when it isn't raining. Check the vehicle systematically, starting with the vehicle's title and registration, comparing these with the vehicle identification numbers found on the dash and the door. Examine the mileage on the title and compare this with the odometer reading. Walk around the car looking for evidence of bodywork or repainting, such as uneven or rippled surfaces, which may indicate that the vehicle was damaged in an accident. Look for damaged paintwork, dents or dings on fenders and doors. In older vehicles, closely examine the rubber seals around the lights, doors, and windows. The car's underside can often tell you a great deal about how it's been maintained and its general condition. Pay attention to any dented or damaged areas. Start the car, rev the engine, and then let it idle while you check the exhaust. Black smoke may indicate valve problems; blue smoke means the engine's burning oil and may need new piston rings; white smoke may indicate that the engine's burning coolant, which may mean serious damage to the gaskets or to the engine itself. Test-drive the car for at least 20 minutes, paying close attention to any vibration or unusual noises. As soon as you've finished your test drive, place a sheet of cardboard on the ground under the engine and check possible leaks. Make sure all electrical devices are working properly, as these can be difficult and costly to repair. If you're unsure of how to inspect the car yourself, have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy.

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