The Checks - Exterior

Inspect all around the body, under front and rear wings, door bottoms, under carpets and the boot floor, even in the wheel arches, for corrosion. Pay particular attention to the sills, a common rust spot, if the paint or underseal  is fresh, beware.  

Are there any variations in paint colour and texture between adjoining panels. Visually check all the body panels and the doors are straight not rippled. Don't ignore the roof, if the car has been crash repaired after extensive damage it will always be visible on the roof which is the most expensive panel to replace or repair.

Is the body sound and rust free ? Check all of the lower half of the body and door bottoms, under the carpets and in the boot with a small pocket magnet

this will show the presence of lots of body filler which will mean the car has been damaged and poorly repaired after sustaining some crash damage. If you find signs of a big shunt and poor repair, do yourself a favour and walk away.
any areas of filler used to hide rust or repair accident damage.

Does the car sit square on the road without leaning in any direction excessively, if so, could be sign of suspension problems or crash damage, expensive. 

Check carefully at the underside of doors for rust, a common spot.

Look for paint overspray on and under window rubbers where masking has been poor. Ease up any of the window rubbers to see if there's a different paint colour underneath.

Under the bonnet check suspension mounting points and the bodywork around the engine for rust, could be expensive.

Look for stone chip spots on the front of the car, considerable chipping could imply a high mileage.

Check that lights and indicators lenses are clean and uncracked and that pairs of lights -  for example brake lights - are of equal brightness.

Ensure that the wipers are not split or perished, are clean  and able to clear the screen. Mirrors must be clean and clearly visible as must be number plates. 

Time to crawl under the car, but never do so if only a jack is holding it up, try to get the car up on props or stands for your own safety.  Carefully check the exhaust system from front to back, there should be no leaks or excessive corrosion.
While under the car inspect, with a torch and screwdriver, for  rust on the floor or chassis members, that all pipes appear to be sound and that shock absorbers are not leaking fluid.

If a front wheel drive car take a look at the drive shafts, ensure the rubber "boots" are intact and in good order.  

Are the tyres - all five of them - in good condition with at least the legal minimum 1.6 mm of tread across 3/4 of the entire tread width, 2 mm is preferable and will give you a month or two of use.  Check that the tread wear is even across the tyre, uneven wear can indicate over/underinflation or more serious steering misalignment.

Look carefully at the wheels, they're a good indicator of how well the car has been looked after, loads of scrapes indicate regular kerbing and careless parking often resulting in steering and suspension damage.

A simple steering check can be carried out by by standing outside the car, reaching through the window and turning the steering wheel from side to side and watching the front wheels for any delay in their response which may indicate a problem. If the road wheels respond immediately all should be O.K, if the steering wheel moves over 30 mm before the wheels start to turn there's some expensive work needed.

Grip the road wheels at top and bottom and try to rock them if there is little play the bearings should be in order.

Bounce each corner of the car to see if the shock absorbers settle promptly, if not they may be worn.

Sit in the car and see if you can depress the brake pedal, if it gradually sinks there may be a fluid leak from a defective pipe.

Is there more than approx 25 mm free play in either the brake or clutch pedal.
Do all of the electrics work as they should, wipers, lights, indicators and stop lights should all be tested for correct operation. 


Abstracted from the book “Buying a Used Car” © G Benge 1997-2007

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