Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Checking out a used car

It is certainly good advice to have a mechanic “check out” a
used car before you buy it. But what should he actually do? He can
take the wheels off and look at the brakes, he can inspect the
shocks, tires and muffler, but if there were serious problems with
the engine or transmission, could he tell? Would he do a compression
test? Emissions test? Run trouble codes, even if the “check engine” light isn’t on?
What should a good mechanic be able to find in a pre-purchase
check, and what might slip past him? What should I be sure to ask him to do?

If the car passes your look/listen and test drive, then take it to the mechanic. He will usually put in on jacks and inspect it in and out. This could show the brakes, suspension, frame condition. Then a computer scan and compression test, also checking the fluids. At the end of the day, any engine/transmission could give out on any given day and sometimes the mechanic and the previous owner don’t see it coming. So some gamble is involved.

Important point: “Previous Owner” can also equal “Dealer”.

It’s always a gamble, to some degree. Your best defense is a car that has been well maintained, and they normally will come with some sort of documentation to prove it. In the event that the current owner (like me) does all his/her own services, I normally list everything I did, and the parts that were replaced. Re this thread. Makes it simple for me to check back, and take care of silly things I may have missed (like tightening the body to frame nuts on my 4Runner…which reminds me…).


You might ask for previous service records.