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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 (May we suggest 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, such as mismatched colors or uneven textures
  • Vehicle’s body for waviness or irregularities
  • 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!