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Buying a used car from private dealer, need advice

I’m going to look at a car on saturday and would like some tips on what to look for under the hood. Basically what are the things that you would check if buying a used car from a private dealer?

I’m already getting an autocheck report on the vin.
I’m also going to take my pocketscan code reader to check for any codes.

The car is a 2000 mitsubishi eclipse rs 4 cyl 2.4L 148k miles if that matters at all.

My advice is take the vehicle to a shop and have a pre-purchase inspection performed.

Too many people don’t do this, and end up spending $$$$$$$$$ after the vehicle has been purchased.


+1 and take the mechanic some muffins!

I hope the OP realizes that this Mitsu utilizes a timing belt, and that if it was not already changed, it is seriously overdue for that vital service. The timing belt, the balance shaft belt, the water pump, a few seals, and all belt tensioners were due for replacement at 90k miles or 7.5 years, so unless the OP can verify through hard copies of maintenance invoices that this service has already been done, the engine is essentially a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in his wallet.

And, unfortunately, a visual inspection will not help very much. A visual inspection can verify that a belt is badly-worn, but on the other hand, a belt that looks good could snap–with no warning whatsoever–a few minutes later.

So, finding out whether the belts have already been replaced is extremely important. Do NOT take anyone’s word for this having been done. Only accept hard copies of invoices as proof.

While it is possible that you could have it done for less, I would begin with the assumption that this work will cost ~$700-$800.

How much should I pay for a pre-purchase inspection?

Yes! My mechanic does these all the time, as does the AAA, who will send you to one of their approved shops.

My guy charges $95 for a complete inspection. I’ve seen some of his reports and they were instrumental in having some clients not buy the vehicle in question because of serious problems.

It’s cheap insurance!

My mechanic does it for $25, but then I spend a lot of money there.

The going rate for my area of the country is $100. It’s money well spent.

It is absolutely imperative that the car be inspected by a mechanic of your choosing before money changes hands. If the dealer brings us the car we change 120 dollars. If we have to send a man to inspect it at the dealers lot it is 300 dollars.

Not that you asked, but I don’t like Mitsubitchies. They burn oil so that’s a catalytic converter every two years. They leak oil so there goes your driveway. They smell like burning oil so there goes your dreams of pleasant driving. Cough.

“Not that you asked, but I don’t like Mitsubitchies”

And with good reason!

With the possible exception of the EVO, people don’t normally buy Mitsubishis because they actually want a Mitsubishi. Instead, they buy them because they are almost always a bit cheaper than the competition.

Why are they cheaper?
Because they are not as well-built as the competition, and are not worth as much as their competitors.

“a visual inspection will not help very much.”

I only half agree with that statement

A visual inspection will certainly not give you any insight as to the car’s maintenance history

Every car I consider buying gets a very thorough visual inspection. I crawl under the car, and look inside all of the fender wells, looking for anything suspicious. It’s quite difficult to make an accident invisible to the trained eye, even if the paint is fresh and the panels fit. Newer undercoating, plastic fender liners, slight overspray, etc. often give it away

Of course, let’s not forget the obvious . . . orange peel paint, sanding marks, etc. that show through the paint, misaligned panels, etc.

I’m a mechanic, not a body man . . . but I’ve seen hundreds of cars come from various body shops, that I’d like to think I know a few things to look for by now

By the way, I am by no means implying that all body shops are bad

I realize it is a highly skilled job, and that the guys work hard

I know I don’t have the skills to be a body man, but I think I can recognize a few examples of “not so good” body work

Running a compression test on an engine can be a dicey thing to do on a car you don’t own yet and most car owners would probably object to going that deep into an inspection.

What I would do first is insist upon connecting a vacuum gauge and see what the needle does with the engine running. Vacuum gauges are cheap, easy to use, and can reveal a lot about an engine.

That would lead to a thorough inspection of everything else. At 15 years old with a148k miles on the clock odds are decently high that this car needs something.
As to the timing belt, if records can’t be produced verifying it then it should always be assumed that the job has not been done and it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Speaking of compression tests . . .

Years ago, I was inspecting a car that I was considering buying

I asked the seller if I could do a compression test, and he agreed

Afterwards, he said he won’t sell me the car at any price . . . because doing the compression test demonstrated that I didn’t trust him


By the way, I monitored craigslist, and it took him several months to sell the car . . .

The best advice is to get and independent mechanic to check it out. I love the dip test, run your finger up the muffler if it is heavy black, walk away, look at the trans fluid, if it is not red, be thoughtful, if it is black walk away, look at the oil on the dipstick, and see if there is any evidence of burning, ie toasted dipstick and black sludge, if so walk away, look at the coolant, should look nice and clean, oil contamination etc. walk away. look for any drips of anything anywhere. I once saw the car I was looking for and he put bondo on to fix a trans leak, it was still leaking, I’ll fix it he said, walk away!

@db4590, that seller’s line of thinking about your not trusting him is pretty screwed up.

I agree the best advice is to use a mechanic. If you want to try a pre-mechanic quick test to rule out major engine or exhaust problems, after it warms up, use the back of your hand to feel the exhaust stream. It should be a steady beat of equal bursts of pressure. Try this on a car that is working, so you know what it is supposed to feel like. If in doubt, hold a dollar bill in the exhaust stream. It should flutter steadily away from the exhaust pipe, like a flag in the wind, and shouldn’t periodically move toward the exhaust pipe.

I wasn’t expecting so much advice after work! I’m going to take it to a mitsubishi dealership to have it inspected, but I have to disagree with Mitsubishis’ being crap. I had one for 6 years and loved it, regular maintenance goes a long way.

I will definitely do all the things listed that i can do myself though, thanks everyone!