Under the hood

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

When you look under the hood of a pre-owned vehicle, your first impression will probably tell you a great deal about the way the vehicle was looked after. Check for any loose wires, broken lines, or obvious leaks. If the car has previously overheated, there may be evidence in the form of blistered paintwork close to the engine block. Use a flashlight to check the condition of all the fluids, such as brake fluid, clutch fluid, and coolant. Check all rubber components, including water hoses and other lines, for wear, cracking, or evidence of patching. Before starting the vehicle, open the radiator cap and run your finger around the inside to check for oil, which could mean serious gasket or engine block problems. Check for any looseness in the crankshaft pulley system and make sure that the belts aren't frayed or damaged. Make sure the fuse box has all fuses intact and that there's no evidence of unusual wiring. Look at the emissions control components. Are they original components, or do they look as though they've been switched? Finally, start the engine. If possible, have a friend rev the engine while you watch under the hood. Look for any emissions or leaks, particularly around hose joints. Let the engine idle while you listen for knocking sounds and watch for vibration. When you've taken the car for a test drive, which should be at least 20 to 30 minutes in duration, leave the engine running and put a clean piece of cardboard on the ground under the motor. This is a good way to reveal any suspicious fluid leaks. Finally, be sure to check that the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN (vin), on the vehicle is the same as the number on the title documentation.

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