Inspecting A Used Car For The Non-Mechanic You want to buy a used car that looks real good to you and the price seems to be right. But is it really in good condition? Well, you don't know for sure because, like most car buyers, you're not a mechanic. Well, your initial options at this point aren't ideal. You can trek the car to your mechanic, you can arrange to have a mechanic come to the car, or you can just buy the car with your fingers crossed. But there is something you can do, as a "non-mechanic car dummy", to help insure that you're considering a vehicle in good condition or one that you shouldn't waste your time or the cost of an inspection on. And this is to put the vehicle through a mechanical inspection that you can indeed do yourself, no experience required, and finish in about ten minutes. By following the steps below, you will be able to eliminate about 90% of the vehicles with potentially serious problems... All by yourself. There's no reason for you to spend the time and money for a number of car inspections that you could have eliminated on your own. You can then arrange a professional inspection once a vehicle has passed the following: Start the engine and listen for any unusual sounds or knocking. Make sure the exhaust is clean. Check the air conditioning, heat and all the power options (windows, seats, sunroof, etc.). Then, with your foot on the brake, put the car in drive and reverse several times. Make sure the car doesn't lunge at all or make a clunking sound when you shift into another gear. Check under the seats, floor mats and rugs to look for dampness (do this in the trunk as well). Pull out the oil stick. Check the oil for white bubbles (water present) and feel for grainy fragments. Also pass on a car where the oil is thick to the point of pasty. Sometimes I pass on a vehicle simply if the oil is very, very dirty (unless everything else is super great) because it is likely an indication that the owner didn't maintain it. Do the same for the transmission fluid. It should not be dark brown or have a rancid smell. Check for leaking spots and stains under the car. Check the tailpipe for a gummy soot. Check the exterior for rust, paint bubbles (possibly future rust), welding marks (particularly in the door frames, trunk and engine area), paint that doesn't quite match, gritty surfaces, paint overspray on bumpers and lights, and body panels out of alignment. Also, check the engine compartment for new bolts or bolts which don't match in color. And check the lights and turn signals.