7 – View

Going to See the Vehicle

Step 7, Viewing the vehicle, is broken into 3 activity sets: Walk-around, Interior, and Before test drive.  It would be useful to have your guide printed and clipped on your clipboard so that you can quickly conduct your assessment on your potential new ride.

Some features and systems span multiple locations and require assessment in multiple positions.   For example, Exhaust starts under the hood, runs underneath the length of the car, and emerges at the tail.  Electrical runs throughout the vehicle.

Helpful diagnostic or assessment items to take with you on your viewing:

  • Proof of liability insurance
  • ODBII Scanner (if just a module, then also take a smartphone with an app).
  • Laser thermometer
  • Audio recorder (or smartphone)
  • Camera (or smartphone)
  • Flashlight (or smartphone)

In regards to your own safety, don’t carry any cash on you, take care of this after you have seen the car, and have come to an agreement, you wouldn’t be the first one to be robbed at the place where you have agreed to meet by someone or multiple individuals that lured you to a place to show you their “car” for sale. Choosing to conduct your purchase transaction at a bank is your best bet. That way you have the security of video cameras, witnesses, and maybe even a guard or police officer.  (Be sure to read “Step 6 – Schedule” and “Step 11 – Transact” for related tips).

7.a The Walk-around

Now you are getting ready to go into “inspector” mode.  There are quite a few items to observe and examine.  Don’t worry about being possibly overwhelmed by tons of problems, because you won’t be.  Any vehicle which fails in even 10% of these points would either be already sitting in a junk yard, or would be so painfully unattractive to you that you would quickly say “thanks, I must be going.”

Instead, you are going to be looking keenly to find the not-so-obvious issues which the untrained eye often overlooks (as well as seeking to promptly identify the obvious warning signs).



Inspect the car exterior for scratches, dents, paint ripples and rust.


Inspect the windshield for cracks and pits.  Pits might not be noticeable at first, but can be very annoying when refracting light or preventing wipers from clearing water away.


  • Close and seal properly?
    • Any wind or road noises when at speed?
    • Any sign of water leaks on door panels, seats, or floor?
  • Roll up and down easily?


Doors open and close OK from both inside and out? (Be sure to open from inside to validate rear door child locks).

Door seals

Are the rubber seals around the inside of the car’s doors in good condition?  Damage to them could indicate a theft or break in, and would likely leak as well allow excess road noise at speed.

Interior door panels

  • Check the doors, open and close them, do they close correctly without slamming the door?
  • Check for uneven seams as this indicates parts have been replaced due to previous damage caused by an accident.
  • Roll the windows up and down, do they work? Do they stay open halfway?


Open and close without problems?  Hood release work OK? Any signs of fire or fluid leaks on underside?


  • Open and close OK?  Any signs of water leaks?
  • Remote trunk release work OK?
  • Internal cable release OK?
  • Key work OK?
  • Clean, or is there signs of stains?
  • Jack and tire tool there?
  • Spare tire good and aired up and ready if needed?
  • Lug nut key if locking lug nuts?

Front end

Is there anything broken/damaged? Such as the headlights, grill, bumpers, cowlings.


Do you see different color shades of paint or trim, which would be in most cases an indication of previous damage.


Any gaps or misfits between body parts?  (between hood and fenders or hood and front clip).  Body parts align correctly?

Body rust

Check the wheel wells for rust, this is one of the most common places where rust starts to form so be sure to check this out.


Does the car sag on a particular side, is it leveled? If it’s not leveled most likely a spring is bad.

Shock absorbers (or struts)

  • Go to each corner of the car and push it up and down until you have a rhythmic motion happening and then stop abruptly. The movement you had induced should stop immediately. If it does not stop immediately, then the shocks or struts may need to be replaced.
  • Listen for any creaking or clanking sounds.

Convertible top

In case of a convertible, raise and lower the top to find out if it works properly.  Look for cuts and rips.  Make sure the locks work.  Look for water damage or signs that the top has been left down for the car to be filled with dirt and leaves.


Are all the mirrors present and adjustable?


  • How does it sound?
  • Play CD’s?
  • Radio Station reception?
  • Input for AUX?
  • Bluetooth work? (if so equipped).
  • Lights work OK?
  • Steering wheel controls work properly?
  • Interior Door Panels:


  • Check the tread condition on all the tires of the car including the spare. Uneven tire wear may indicate potential problems with the steering, alignment or suspension.
  • Turn the steering wheel to the far right and left to check the insides of the tires so you can see if there is any damage, this is something you cannot see when the tires are aligned in a straight manor
  • Is there enough tread on the tires at all? The tread on the tires is important for road grip and is important for your own safety, if there isn’t enough tread on the tires you need to replace them and it will bring you additional costs. Most states’ laws, indicate tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32″ of remaining tread depth.

Engine Compartment

What is your first impression: Very Clean?  Very Dirty?  Somewhere in between?

Once again as with checking under the dashboard, check the wiring, do you see any burned wires or botched repairs?


  •  Do you see any clear indication of rust?
  • Welding reparations? Welding operations are an indication of serious repairs or even putting together two half’s of two separate cars depending on the welding seams.
  • Older cars always have some sort of rust, but what is important is the severity of the rust and how far it is eating away the material?  Light rust can be easily fixed, but serious rust is a problem, a problem you don’t want to be part of.
  • Freshly applied Tectyl (A heavy black substance, leaves a strong smell as well.) is a sign of covering things up at last notice and that is not a good sign at all.
  • Exhaust:
    • Check the bottom of the car and look at the exhaust system, do you see rusty and brittle areas, faulty brackets? Use of putty? If so this depending what you exactly see may result in additional needed repairs.


  • Check for leaks in the exhaust pipe, use a rag to put on your hand and place your hand on the end of the exhaust with the engine running. Pressure should be building up and blow your hand away from the exhaust; if you have no problems keeping your hands in place without much trouble, then somewhere in the exhaust system there is a leak.  This could be very dangerous, as escaping exhaust gasses can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.  Also, a white rag will better show if any residue, such as oil, is in the exhaust.
  • What kind of continues color smoke comes out of the exhaust? (Not puffs of smoke).
    • Blue: If it is blue, it means the engine is worn and consumes tot much oil. Shake owners hand and say “Have a good one Sir/M’am, but I’m not interested” this car would be hopeless and exactly the type of car you don’t want to have anything to do with.
    • Black: If it is black it would indicate excessive fuel consumption. Valves might be bad or not adjusted right; timing or slipped timing belt; carburetor not adjusted correctly.
    • White:
      • If it is constantly white then engine coolant or antifreeze is being processed in the combustion chambers of the engine. Could be a bad head gasket or warped or cracked engine block.
      • On a cold day the smoke you see coming out of the exhaust may also display as white smoke, but this is a normal reaction as this is part of the condensation process. Once the engine is warmer it will clear up.
  • Check above the end of the exhaust outlet/tailpipe opening, if there is a black tarnish on the bumper, undercarriage and possibly taillights, this would also indicate a above normal oil consumption and this would signify that the car’s engine is unhealthy.

Axles and CV Joints

Check the rubber boots on the CV joints and the rack-and-pinion steering components for rotting or tears.  Broken boots allow unwanted exposure to the elements which cause corrosion, as well as to loss of lubrication which leads to quicker component failure.

Brake dust

Check the outside of the wheels for rust and metallic dust which can result from excessive brake wear.  This could indicate a brake problem that needs to be addressed.

7.b Vehicle Interior


Do you see any signs of tampering with the cover in front of the meter? Scratches?  If analog numbers, do the digits line up correctly?  Are they crooked or straight?  Does the mileage align with the wear on the pedal pads, steering wheel and upholstery?   Does the speedometer work: if the speedometer cable were disconnected, which is easy to do, then the odometer will stop working as well in most cases.


Sagging seats, worn driver’s seat cover, worn carpets on the driver’s side?   Worn arm rests?  Most wear occurs with getting in and getting out.  Lots of wear would also accompany many short trips which indicate lots of starts and stops.  These are called “city” miles.


  • Do the seats adjust easily?  (driver’s, passenger; all adjustments and settings?  Memory settings if installed?).
  • Do seat heaters work?
  • How do they feel; comfortable?  Will you enjoy them every day and on long trips?

Floor mats

Are there floor mats?  How worn are they?  Are they original, or aftermarket? (the latter could indicate problems such as spills or excessive wear).  Check for moisture under them; moisture indicates a faulty heater core, leaky window seal, or some other hidden problem.


Test each and every window to make sure it rolls up and down.  Many SUVs have window troubles later in life, requiring new solenoids, motors, or mechanics.

Door locks

Test the electric door looks for each and every door and rear hatch.  Many times the door lock solenoids will need replacing in older vehicles, and it can be fairly expensive.  This can be a negotiating point in your favor.


Dashboard in good condition?  Cracks, or dryness, or oiliness?


Do the seatbelts work? Give them a quick pull and check if they lock.  Are they in good shape, or worn?  Clean, or dirty?


  • How does the wiring look under the dash?   Does it look good or do you see a lot of do-it-yourself wiring hacks that look like spaghetti and electrical tape?
  • Do the heater, defroster, air conditioning and fans work?
  • Do the wind shield wipers and washers work?
  • Do the headlights work?
  • Do the signal lights work?
  • Do the brake lights work?
  • All the light lenses and covers in good condition?

7.c Before Test Drive

Item Seller’s Info My Notes Guidance
Suspension Corrosive rust on mounts or arms?
Leaks Do you see any leakage in the engine compartment or on the ground where the car is parked?
• If you see puddles of oil or a clear indication of leakage you know you’re probably buying yourself a car with lots of repair costs and not the type of car you hoped to get.
If your answer Yes to the above questions, then move on to another car you have on your list.
If your answer No, then we can move forward
Oil Take a look on the vehicle’s windshield to see if there is an oil change service sticker which tells the date/mileage of the most recent oil change as well as the next scheduled date (this indicates good car care if it is current). Start with checking the oil by pulling out the dipstick and taking a look at the oil on it. Ideally it would be clear with an amber tint (this indicates the best/desired care). If it needs changing, it is probably thick and black (raises the question of how long it has been neglected). Note, if it is a diesel vehicle, even a fresh oil change can show black because of soot that makes its way into the crankcase. If the oil is low, it indicates a problem of neglect, leakage, or consumption. if you see a brownish slurry or bubbly foam, thus not oil of course, close the hood and don’t bother anymore; strike the car of your list and move on as the engine block is compromised (cracked or bad head gasket, meaning expensive repairs).


Engine hoses There are several engine cooling hoses –
(At least an upper/in and lower/out hoses which are the largest ones. At least two heater hoses (into the passenger compartment/heater core, and one returning to the engine). Check the hoses for cracks, dryness, bulges, rotting, wear, rusting clamps, etc… Also check connections and where they meet the engine/radiator/fittings, etc. • Is the engine already warm? Possible a bad starter that’s been prepared for you. • If the engine is very dirty it’s pretty much a dead giveaway on vehicle negligence, if it’s very clean then it’s recently cleaned and maybe done to hide any potential defects. • Notice any damage to the hoses, messed up wiring or burned wiring? Grass and leaves on the engine may be signs of rats nesting, which also can bring severe wiring damage. • Leaks around the carburetor and fuel lines? · Check the oil level. If at proper level, it indicates proper care. If too low, then neglect. · Color of oil. Clear gold: good. Dark black: neglect and potential engine damage.
Radiator What is the quality of the water inside the radiator? Important: Check this when the engine is cool! Verify that the engine is cool before removing the radiator cap. Now remove the cap of the radiator, because with a defective head gasket or cracked engine block you see the same type of oil/water slurry in the radiator as well as might be in the crankcase when you remove the oil cap. Oil looking good? • Is it rusty or does it contain a oily substance? • Be suspicious if you see perfectly clear radiator water, it’s probably refreshed especially for your visit and to remove the dirty water that give indications of potential problems with the car. • If it looks good, and it shows regular oil and radiator fluid, then continue with checking out the other stuff. • Are there any leaks from the radiator? Do you see water or rust stains? • Is the hose free from leaks?


Oil check With the engine running remove the oil filler cap, if you see large amount of escaping gas, especially blue it means the engine is badly worn. Have the engine running idle for a few minutes and have a friend to help you out by watching what type of smoke comes from the exhaust when accelerating. A single puff of blue smoke would indicate a worn engine, but a continues flow of blue smoke would indicate a really badly worn engine with bad valve seals or bad piston rings. This will result in reduced performance from fouled spark plugs, loss of combustion compression, failure to pass emissions tests, and hateful honking by environmentalists . (Note that Diesel vehicles are expected to put out some black smoke and soot upon start up, under acceleration, and upon shifting).
Belts How are the engine belts? Loose or frayed? Any squeaking when the engine is running, turning the steering wheel, engaging the air conditioning?
Fluids check In addition to oil level, how are brake fluid, power steering, clutch (for manual transmission) and automatic transmission fluid levels and colors? Unlikely you will crawl underneath to check manual transmission gearbox fluid and rear differential fluids.
Exhaust system How is the condition of the exhaust system? Is it in a state of utter rustification or is it minor? Most exhaust pipes show some signs of rust which is pretty normal. But flaking rust is a sign of advanced decay which will soon be costing money. Check all exhaust components. Exhaust manifold (or headers) Exhaust pipes. Resonators. Catalytic converters. Tail pipes. Exhaust hangers. Clamps. EGR. O2 sensors & wires Check for evidence of problems. Visible rust, cracks, broken welds. With car running, exhaust smells, or symptoms such as nausea, burning eyes, dizziness, etc. Under hood Inside car Visible smoke Sounds – ticking or hissing. Use your ODB Scanner to check for 02 sensor faults (Pending, and Historical, as well as Current)
ODBII Scan Any existing fault codes? (usually there will be a corresponding warning light in the instrument panel). Any pending fault codes? (if so, if may be that the seller cleared a code before showing the car, and the instrument panel warning light will come on within 60 miles or so. Anyway if it is an 02-related error, it could indicate a very expensive problem with the catalytic converters. Any historical fault codes? If so, ask the seller about any past problems.