Five Things To Check Before Buying A Used Car

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Follow these simple guidelines for peace of mind.

Buying a used car can save you a whole heap of cash over going the new vehicle route, but get it wrong and it may end up costing you a lot more than you bargained for. Jason Fenske, the man behind the informative Engineering Explained YouTube channel, has highlighted five things to look out for when opting for the used car route.

Using his trusty Honda S2000, Fenske demonstrates each area that needs attention. The tips are relevant to just about any car, from a 10-year-old Acura to a barely used BMW. Following Fenske's video, we've also highlighted his five tips.

Smoking Exhausts

The type and color of the smoke emanating from your tailpipes can provide you with a lot of information on what is going on inside the engine. Steam coming out while the car is warming up is totally normal and isn't a cause for concern unless it persists once the car is up to temperature. If you notice billowy white smoke, then coolant is entering the combustion chamber which means either a cracked cylinder head or blown head gasket. Either way big bills are imminent.

Blue smoke means that oil is passing through the engine unburnt. This is most commonly due to worn piston rings or valve stem seals, which is not ideal but less expensive to rectify than a cracked cylinder head. Older cars with high mileages tend to exhibit this issue but if a newer car does it, it may have had a rather hard life.

Black smoke could be down to a fuel mixture that is too rich or worn out spark plugs or blocked air filter. A bit of smoke under hard acceleration is normal, however, persistent black smoke should be investigated further and oily residue on the rear bumper is a sure sign that excessive oil is being burned.

Fluid Leaks

Check under the engine bay for any sign of oil or fluid leaks. A dirty engine bay may indicate negligence, but it will allow you to see if there are any potential issues as well.

A clean engine bay is a good sign but may hide any leaks, so you should take the car for an extended test drive and check if any fluids have seeped out during the drive. Check the belly pan for pooling oil and also inspect the inside of the hood for any oil splatters.

Inspect the exhaust manifold for cracks. This is best done with the engine on so that you can see any smoke escaping, and check that all the hoses, belts and electrical connectors are in good condition.

Oil Condition

If the car has just had an oil change it will be hard to ascertain whether anything is amiss but check the dipstick and under the oil filler cap for signs of a creamy substance. This will indicate whether coolant has mixed with the oil. If it has then the block may be cracked, or the head gasket has failed.

Thick or sludgy oil indicates that the oil has not been changed regularly which will have detrimentally affected the engine components.

Excessive Rust

Check under the car for signs of excessive rust. You don't need a jack as a quick video with your phone can be enough. Check the frame, suspension components and around the wheel arches. Exhaust rust is not too uncommon depending on the age of the car.

Be sure to check the panel gaps of the body panels as well as inconsistent paint quality as these can both indicate accident damage.


Wireless OBDII plugs are relatively cheap and can quickly identify any ongoing issues with a car. A lot of fault codes can be a warning sign that the vehicle has been troublesome or has not received regular servicing.

Most parts stores will do a scan for free if you do not have an OBDII device. Be aware that fault codes can be erased so even if no issues come up, recheck the car after your test drive.

Do Your Homework

While these are all important points there are plenty of other things that you can check while going through your potential purchase as well. The condition and wear pattern of the tires can highlight bad alignment or worn shock absorbers and be sure to check the wear and tear of the pedals and driver's seat relative to the mileage.

If you are looking for a cheap banger then you may not be too fussed about certain points but it is still worth having a thorough look around just to make sure that the vehicle is roadworthy and not a few miles away from imminent failure.

A verifiable service history can also provide further peace of mind. Follow these pointers and your second-hand purchase could be a pleasurable experience instead of a ticking time bomb.

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