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Buying a Used Car

Grab a rag, flashlight and this list.

Have someone start the vehicle while you stand behind it. What color is the smoke?

  • Barely visible or just a little white is normal
  • Blue smoke indicates burning oil
  • Black smoke indicates too much fuel in the engine
  • Heavy, white smoke indicates a blown head gasket or cracked head

Test drive:

  • On your first test drive, drive over some rough pavement. Go over bumps and listen for rattles, squeaks and loose suspension (We recommend driving to a local bakery and grabbing some goodies for your pals at Members Community Credit Union)
  • See if it pulls to one side or the other (alignment)
  • Front wheel drive only – find a parking lot and turn sharply both directions and listen for knocking sounds (may need CV joints)
  • Brakes should stop smoothly and quietly without pulling
  • Brake pedal should feel firm – not spongy
  • Engine should run smoothly and quietly. Listen for pings, rattles, knocks, grinds, vibrations, squeals, engine hesitation or stumbles on acceleration.
  • An automatic transmission should shift smoothly without jerking, slipping or hesitation on upshift. When coming to a stop, it should not bang on downshifts.
  • A manual transmission should operate easily with one-inch toe play on clutch pedal. Shift gears and listen for grinding sound. If you hear noise, it may need a clutch plate or internal repairs.

Under the hood, check:

  • For leaks
  • Fluid levels
    • Oil (should be light brown)
    • Antifreeze (should be green)
    • Power Steering (should be clear)
    • Transmission (should be red)
  • Belts (check for cracks)
  • Hoses (should be firm, not soft or hard)
  • Battery and connections
  • Electrical connections and wiring
  • Old oil buildup or sludge inside valve cover where the oil filler cap is (sign of neglect)
  • Is there a fuel smell?

Under the vehicle check:

  • For leaks
  • The undercarriage for damage
  • Tires for uneven wear
  • Loose parts hanging from body
  • Rear suspension for leaks
  • Rust on body

On the body check:

  • Operations of hood, doors, door glass, all latches and keys
  • Exterior body paint
  • Vehicle’s body for waviness or irregularities
  • Mismatched colors or uneven textures
  • Poorly fitted panels that suggest body repairs
  • All lights: headlights, taillights, turn signals, brake lights, reverse lights and license plate tag lights
  • Spare tire, jack and tools
  • Water or water damage in trunk

Check the interior:

  • Seats, door panels, headliner, rugs and mats
  • All seat belts
  • Door locks, power windows and power seats
  • Radio, compact disc player, DVD player and audio/USB jacks
  • Horn and steering column
  • Windshield wipers and fluid sprayers
  • Dash lights and interior lights

Have a professional take a look:

Some people also like to take used cars to a trusted mechanic- this is always a good idea. Be sure to pass on any concerns or observations to him/her when you take it in.

Paying for it:

  • Don’t be afraid to haggle on the price, especially if there are any concerns or repairs that will need to be made.
  • Make sure you check the NADA Book value on it to avoid paying to much for it here.
  • And, of course, get your financing with Members Community Credit Union. You can go here to see how much vehicle you can afford or to apply for a loan on a vehicle you already know you want.


Thanks to CUNA for letting us share this great list!