Always do a thorough inspection of the exterior of the vehicle to check if it was repainted.

Click here for the Before Starting Checklist

The last tire you need to check is the Spare Tire. This is a commonly un-inspected item which buyers forget to check before purchasing or test driving a vehicle. Consult with the seller for the exact location of the spare tire, but typically it is located in the trunk or hatchback area. When you locate the tire, be sure there is a jack as well as a lug wrench that fits the vehicle's current lugs. If the car is equipped with locking lug nuts, ask the seller where the Key is located, which will be needed to remove the tires. (Figure 3-1).

Figure 3-1

Standard locking lug nuts with removing key.
Figure 3-2

Don't forget to check the spare tire.

Here is where you will log the tire information.

The exhaust system can be an expensive item to repair. Use the mirror to peek under the vehicle and inspect the system for holes, rust, or any 'rigs' to hold up the exhaust. I.E., coat hangers or copper wire (Figure 3-3). Another item to look for is the Catalytic Converter, which is an essential part of the exhaust system (Figure 3-4). Most counties require emissions testing, so it would also be a good idea to ask the seller if they have records of the most recent test and if the vehicle had any problems passing. Since the converter is different on every vehicle, you should check with a qualified mechanic for the exact location and relative size of the converter.

Figure 3-3

Note the rigged exhaust system.
Figure 3-4

Here is a Catalytic Converter

Next, you should check the license plates. Are they valid? If not, you should inquire with the seller why they didn't renew the tags and consider not driving the vehicle for a test drive. If you are pulled over, or worse off get into an accident, you might be held liable so be careful.

After you check the plates, look below and see whether or not a trailer hitch has been added. Trailer hitches are added for only one reason: to tow something. Small items, such as a jet ski usually doesn't drag too much on the engine; however, anything heavier can often 'over work' the car, causing it to wear much faster. Engines are designed to pull the vehicle and its passengers and many smaller engines cannot handle the excess weight. This item should not heavily influence your decision, however, it would be a good idea to ask the seller if they had the hitch added and what it was used for.

Next, you will want to see if the emergency brake is working properly. For this, you will want the seller to engage the emergency brake because in the event the system is malfunctioning, you don't want to be held responsible. If you purchase the vehicle however, you need to know before hand that it does work properly. Emergency brakes are separate from the power braking system so the Test Drive form will not have this step. Figures 3-5 and 3-6 are examples of an emergency brake.

Figure 3-5
Figure 3-6

How to check if the vehicle has been repainted.

One of the trickiest things to look for on a used vehicle is whether or not it has been repainted. Most top appraisers will run their fingers along the seams where the hood meets the fenders. Another good place to look is to open the doors and run your finger down the edge. What you are inspecting for are the tape marks left from when the vehicle was repainted. A factory paint job will be smooth while a repaint will feel a bit coarse. Although repainting is not a major issue in itself, the reason why it was repainted might be. If only one fender and the hood were repainted, then there is a possibility that the vehicle had a collision and needed repair. NOT all collisions will show up on a vehicle history report, so if you detect a repaint it would be a good idea to get a second opinion from a mechanic to make sure there is/was no frame damage. *Hint: Sometimes if you wear a pair of sunglass and look at the vehicle from the side, you will be able to see the different shades if the vehicle was repainted.

Figure 3-7

Run your finger along the top of the front fender seam to feel for any rough edges.
Figure 3-8

Open the trunk and inspect the rear panels as well as the trunk lid itself.

Figure 3-9
Figure 3-10

Open each door and inspect the door jam from top to bottom. Sometimes, you can visually see an inconsistency within the paint itself. Be sure and check to doors themselves also.

Now, it's time to check for a V.I.N.. The Vehicle Identification Number is located on the driver's side dashboard visible looking in the windshield. This will be a 17 digit code you should write down for 2 reasons. The first is if you are interested in purchasing the vehicle, it is always a good idea to get an on-line car report to check for any known accidents. Secondly, you will want to verify that this number is the same exact one which will be on the title if you purchase.

We are not affiliated with any other automotive web site, company, or lending institution. We give our customers the tools they need to make an educated purchasing decision for themselves. We offer no opinions in regards to which manufacturer, make, or model a customer should purchase. This system has been designed around actual car buyers who experienced problems, some severe, and is beneficial to use whether you are going by yourself, or bringing someone to help you look at the vehicle. The program is 'dealership friendly' and has been developed with cooperation from Auto Mechanics, Sales Consultants, and Sales Managers. The Auto Evaluator is a guide, not a guarantee and always consult a qualified mechanic. The Auto Evaluator and all it contains is a TradeMark of Mistar Enterprises, LLC.