What To Look For When Buying A Used Vehicle

Buying a used vehicles comes with certain risks. Sometimes you get lucky and get a vehicles with no issues whatsoever. However most other times, you end up with a used vehicle that requires some costly maintenance. But there are certain things that you can look for when buying a used vehicle to ensure that you are getting a good car and not a lemon.


Check The Tailpipe

One of the easiest things to check for is what colour smoke (if any) comes from the tailpipe. During a cold startup, it is common for vehicles to blow steam out of the exhaust. But once the engine warms up, the exhaust coming out of the tailpipe should be clear.

What you should be on the lookout for is black, blue, or white smoke. If it’s thick black smoke, it means that the engine is running rich, as in, it’s using way too much fuel.

If white smoke comes out of the tailpipe when the engine is warmed up, it means that coolant is getting into the combustion chamber. That could be due to a cracked cylinder head, a blown head gasket, or a cracked cylinder block.

And finally if blue smoke comes out the tailpipe when the engine is warmed up, it means that oil is getting into the combustion chamber. This can be caused by blown piston rings or unproper valve seating in the cylinder head... both expensive jobs to repair.


Look For Oil Leaks In The Engine Bay

Oil leaks, or other fluid leaks, from the engine is always a bad sign. When looking under the hood of the vehicle you’re planning to purchase, check a few areas of the engine compartment for fluid leaks. Check around the valve cover, exhaust manifold, intake manifold, intake tubes, and around the radiator for fluid leaks. If it’s an older vehicle, check around the power steering pump and the lines that lead to it for leaks as it can be a big job to replace it.

If the seller cleaned the engine bay before you had a chance to examine it, take the vehicle for a long test drive. Then afterwards, pop the hood and look for any leaks.

Cloudy/Sludgy Oil

When looking under the hood of the vehicle, pull out the oil dipstick and check to see if there’s a murky white film on it. If there is, it’s a good indication that coolant is mixing in with the oil. Most likely from a blown head gasket. The oil dipstick can also reveal if the oil has been changed regularly. If there’s thick black sludge on the dipstick, it’s a good indication that oil changes have not been done at regular intervals.

Another way to check for this murky white film or sludge is to pop open the oil fill cap and look inside the engine. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight with you.

Excessive Rust

Rust is like cancer for vehicles. Here in Vancouver the winters are a lot milder than they are in the rest of Canada so less road salt is used on the streets. But rust always finds a way to start eating away at a vehicle’s metal bodywork and chassis.

Check under the fenders for rust that may have formed when salt or other contaminants get flicked up from the tires. Also check around suspension components underneath the vehicle. If it’s difficult to see, record a short video with your cell phone and play it back. If you do see a bit of rust on the exhaust components, it’s not the end of the world. It’s fairly common for decade old vehicles to have some rust on exhaust parts but not common on newer vehicles that are only 2 or 3 years old.

These are some steps that you can take when researching for your next vehicle. However if you’re not mechanically inclined, ask the owner if they’d be willing to take the vehicle to an auto shop for an inspection. It takes no more than 30 to 45 minutes and they do multiple checks to determine what condition the vehicle is in.

Eagle Ridge GM – Coquitlam, British Columbia

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