Firstly – spare at least an hour for this check (yes it takes that long to check a car out! new or used!!)
Check to see if the owner has maintained a chart or a service history with bills – all good responsible car owners maintain a chart and keep a track of their service record, it will give you an idea of how much care the car has got and also how much it costs to maintain it.
Check out the car – take a good walk around it; look for any scratches visible to the naked eye, any signs of a dent, any part out of place. Easiest things to spot – windshield, scratches, dents, corrosion spots, broken lenses, faded mirrors, worn wipers, missing wheel covers (hubcaps).
Closer inspection – bend down, take a good look at the undercarriage – if needed take an expert along to gauge the quality of the suspension (right down to the bushes and bolts) and or anything which could give a sign of the car having been driven rashly or by a novice. The lines of the car should be perfectly straight – what I do is position myself behind the car on either side of the back fenders and bend down to my knees to see the lineage of the car right down to the front head lamps (gives a fair idea of the care having been involved in a side on accident.) Check the paint quality – it should be even parts of it too faded, or too new, are dead giveaways of having been readied after an accident.
Much closer inspection – open the bonnet – look on the insides for any kind of unevenness ( again for crashes and accidents, or rash driving ) the car should have a perfectly crafted skeleton if driven responsibly. Try to check for any kind of leakages, rusting, paint chips, or funny smells. Open the Boot, check the linings again for unevenness (again for crashes and accidents and rash driving) l removes everything from the boot including the spare wheel and sits inside if you have to and get a good look.
The Tyres- check for tread – uneven, extra worn, over used, chipped rubber missing hubcaps, brand, size etc (check for the company size brand and spec and carry it along with you if possible depending on the car you are looking at) take an even closer look at the rim, get those knees down, run your fingers around the rim from the inside, it will grease and dirty the fingers but will tell you a lot about what the car has been through.
The inside – open all the doors and sit in the drivers seat and get a feel of the vehicle, check the seat lining, bend down again and look at the amount of wear and tear, remove the floor mats and check for any kind of damage, check the pedals ( clutch brake and accelerator for any kind of looseness ), try changing a few gears, try the seat adjustor, inspect the steering closely, start the car – it should start easily no matter how old or cold, check out every electrical equipment provided from indicators to the Aircon, Wipers, Music System ( if fitted ), keep a ear out for engine noise ( remember your doors are open and you should get a good sound of the engine.
Switch off and get in the back seat, inspect thoroughly again for any signs of excess wear and tear, seat quality, door handles, windows ( especially if power windows ) leg room.
You are now ready to take the test drive! get back in the drivers seat and start the car, take a test drive – preferably in a deserted place at first and then onto a crowded road – get some good speed – see how the car handles – check for excessive roll, take it into a couple of potholes (It shouldn’t be too hard to find on our roads! and see how the suspension is, the drive quality should extremely good if the car has been well maintained. Check the Pick up, with and without the Aircon, check the sound quality of the music system (speakers etc) if one is fitted. Test the brakes by jamming them just a little hard at good speed (55-60 km/h should be good) (make sure the road is adequately wide and deserted and drive safe.) If you’re not sure about how to gauge the alignment then take an expert along with you. The wheels should be well aligned and the machine should not have any kind of wobble, neither should the suspension be too soft and squishy (which is the case with most used cars I have driven, sad but we don’t maintain our cars very well!).
Testing the Gears – while on the test drive Try to drive the vehicle in each gear. All gears should shift smoothly and easily without any noises, jerks or shudder. While driving at the second or third gear, try to accelerate suddenly. The clutch should not slip. If you feel slipping (the engine rpm increases but the vehicle speed remains the same), the clutch may need to be replaced. Try to drive with acceleration and deceleration – there should be no whining or humming noise under any condition. All the gears should shift easily and noiselessly. Try to shift into reverse; there should be no grinding noise.
Under the Bonnet – I would recommend you take an expert with you as it is difficult to check the oil levels, engine quality, noises, coolant, funny odours ( for ex burnt rubber or oil ), the caps, leakages and excessive rusting and corrosion, moreover, the engine should be clean.
Under the car – apart from the undercarriage – take a close look at the exhaust pipe, check for noises, rattling, leakages, rusting, and physical damage. Also it should not emit smoke while turned on.