Used Car Checklist

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by steeltoe, Sep 27, 2019.

  1. steeltoe

    steeltoe Member

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    Sep 27, 2019
    I'm looking for a mid-2000s Expedition and doing a lot of research for what to check for on different model years. Sometimes I see what looks like suspiciously good deals on old trucks at shady looking corner lot used car dealers and I wonder what the catch is.

    I made a big big checklist of stuff to go over after making a few trips to dealers now, hearing stories about my friend's lemon, reading stuff online, and that one time I bought a 06 Taurus and the transmission exploded a week later. Idk if this helps people who are also looking or if anyone here who buys a lot of used cars has stuff to add.

    Stuff to bring
    - Flashlight
    - Bottled Water
    - Bar Rag
    - Tape Measure
    - Aux / USB cord


    - Body panels are the same color, and fit & align correctly.
    - Check paint for dings, scratches, corrosion and peeling, especially the hood. Make sure to check the roof too.
    - Test suspension by pushing down on the hood or bumpers. Car should stabilize quickly and not bounce.
    - Check that the tires are inflated properly, and all the same brand and worn evenly.
    - Check tires for wear patterns. Tread wear should be even across the top of the tire, and extra wear on the sidewalls or in the middle of the tread means it was driven hard or not maintained properly.
    - Tug on the wheels to make sure they don't move sideways.
    - Check the rims for dents, chips, or other signs of impact or scraping.
    - Check lights for cracks, fogging, corrosion, or moisture trapped inside.


    - Check for rust in the wheel wells, under the doors, and under the vehicle, especially the frame.
    - Check tail pipe for residue. It should be dry and not greasy, which is a sign of burning oil.
    - Check muffler and exhaust. Excessive rust could mean leaks, or that the exhaust system will need to be replaced.
    - Check CV joint boots for rot or leaks.
    - Check for dented, misaligned, loose or brand new parts under the car.
    - Do a quick sight check from a low angle to check for obvious signs that the frame of the car isn't straight.


    - Check under the car for any stains, dripping or leaks.
    - The engine should be relatively clean. No big stains or discoloring.
    - Check the oil. Oil should be brown. Amber colored oil means it might have been changed to cover something up. Oil shouldn't be grey, foamy or have moisture in it.
    - Check transmission fluid is pink, doesn't smell burnt and doesn't leave metal bits on the rag.
    - Testing if break fluid needs to be changed requires a kit from an auto parts store, or ask a mechanic to do it.
    - Check that electrical terminals are clean, and wires are not twisted, discolored, loose or melted.
    - Check that any rubber belts or seals are not rotted, dried out or frayed.
    - Check radiator for stains, cracks, leaks or dry rot. Fluid should be bright green and clear.


    - Doors, hood, and tailgate all open smoothly.
    - Check inside doors & hood for signs of re-painting.
    - Check door and window seals for rot or cracks. Pour water on the roof to test the sun roof for leaks.
    - Smells ok, especially no musty or mildew smells.
    - No significant wear on the seats. No rips or separation.
    - Check all the seats for comfort, and that the adjustments work. Especially power seats.
    - Seatbelts extend, click in and retract properly, and don't show signs of fraying.
    - Seats fold flat, lock open, and adjust, ratchet and recline properly.
    - Lift floor mats and check the carpet isn't stained or scuffed up.
    - Ceiling is unmarked and doesn't sag.
    - No broken, missing or loose interior body panels.
    - Check space inside the storage panels is clean, and that the spare tire & jack are there.


    - Turn the car on in accessory mode first. Dash warning lights should all turn on then turn off.
    - Turn all the lights on. Test high beams, directionals, stop lights and reverse lights.
    - Test every button on the dash, console & steering wheel.
    - Throw water on the windshield to test the wipers.
    - Run AC on high and check for hot air or damp smells.
    - Radio tunes correctly.
    - Test iPhone connectivity: line-in jack, bluetooth or whatever is available.
    - Speakers capable of high output without knocking or clipping.

    Test Drive

    - Starts right away the first time without noise.
    - No knocking, tapping, clicking or rough engine noises after starting cold.
    - No heavy vibrations, smoke or bad smells while idle.
    - Accelerator and break pedal pressure should be responsive.
    - Test the breaks for stopping power and grinding noises.
    - Test acceleration and that the car shifts smoothly.
    - Try to drive up a hill, a highway on ramp or parking structure to test power and torque remains constant.
    - Check that alignment is good, the car should drive straight and not pull to the side.
    - Drive slowly on an uneven road surface to test suspension for heavy creaking noises, soft suspension, or too much travel.
    - While driving, switch from AWD to 4H. Listen for grinding noises or abrupt changes in ride quality. Try to test cornering on a sandy road if possible.
    - While stopped, switch from 4H to 4L. Drive the vehicle at slow speeds while listening for noise and getting a feel for the torque. If possible try ascending or descending a steep hill.
    - Test the parking break. It should set, release and hold without struggle or noise.


    - Do they have a Carfax report?
    - Ask if they have a pre-purchase inspection checklist to go over with you.
    - Use a [VIN Decoder]( to make sure the number matches the car.
    - Does the car come with 2 key fobs and a manual?
    - Check BBB ratings for the dealership.
    - Vehicles over 100,000 miles are not subject to lemon law, however... just ask if they would be willing to offer a 30 Day / 1,000 mi warranty for this vehicle? Even if they don't say yes, gauge their initial reaction to the question.


    - No accidents, salvage or branded titles.
    - Oil changes every 6000 miles? (Should be ~20 listed for a 125k car)
    - Look up recalls, major repairs, or [complaints]( for this vehicle.

    Mechanic Inspection

    - Before making any offers, look up a local AAA certified mechanic to do an inspection.
    - You'll probably need to call the mechanic ahead of time and clear this with the dealer.
    - It's fine if the dealer comes with, but don't buy from a dealer who won't let you do this.

    I've been looking at a lot of 2005 & 2006s. I'm going to check out a 2006 this weekend and added this to the list...but I probably need more info an a mechanic for most of this.

    2006 Specific

    - Check for corrosion, bubbling or peeling paint.
    - Check for throttle body replacement issues.
    - Check for spark plug issues.
    - Check for timing chain issues.

    Am I right about 2005-06 issues? Or that it'd be really weird if a dealer wouldn't let me take the car to a mechanic? Before I call a mechanic does it make any sense at all to go to like an AutoZone and pretend its mine and get an error code scan as a free option? What am I forgetting?
    Trainmaster likes this.
  2. igneous

    igneous Full Access Members

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    Jan 13, 2013
    Definitely pay the 99$ for 6 carfax's if you're seriously looking and run all the ones you're looking at first, before setting up appt. to see/drive. THis way you can weed out wrecked ones or suspicious 'coincidences'.
    Trainmaster likes this.
  3. TobyU

    TobyU Full Access Members

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    Apr 5, 2013
    That's a pretty extensive list for a mid 2000s.

    Many will not have but one key and or keyfob. No big deal there.

    A mechanic inspection is notoriously a waste of money unless you have a better than just being a customer relationship with a garage or mechanic.
    You will find lots of info on garages condemning every car that comes in. Long story there but you have to just get good at it yourself or get a friend to go with you.
    AAA certified means NOTHING

    Carfax is not that accurate but nice to look at. Most dealers will print one up for you.
    They get everything from auction anyway except for the occasional trade in. The lots like you mentioned do.
    An accident showing is not a deal breaker. Some accidents reported can be a bumper cover that was not even needed to be replaced and could have been done when car was new.
    The description of accident and when it occurred is more important.

    You can bet on having no records of maintenance. Maybe less than 15% on time but not normally.

    Don't know why you would need aux/usb cord. Not worthy of decision basing on it.

    Always BRIGHT flashlight.
    Code reader. Many cars will tell you when last reset was or at least you can see readiness monitors not reasy if the lot reset the light.
    Pad or something to lay on to get underneath. Jack if a car so you can get under it.

    There are also factory stickers on many cars body panels like fenders under hood. This lets you know if original ones too.
    Trans fluid should be pink as mentioned and not dark brown but you will never see metal bits on a rag or dipstick.
    Brake fluid is irrelevant at this point. Do not pay any money to test it. Check level. You can flush it later if you are OCD but it's a waste of time. When you have to put pads on it is the time to either flush or bleed a good amount through. Despite what you have read, lines do not rust from the inside out. Not in NY or many states. Lol

    Level of oil is important too. Low is a sign they don't take very great care of it. Even if it does not leak or use any abnormal amount, if it is way overdue on change it will probably be 1/4 to 1/2 qt low minimum.
    Means they don't check and top off fluids.

    Radiator fluid (coolant) is not always green. Most are yellowish now. Some (if not fords) can be pink (evil crap).
    But is should not look like Samuel Adams Dark beer.

    You probably won't have nearly enough water to get a sunroof or door seal to leak. Best to look for signs of staining on headliner and front pillar upholstery.

    Don't go putting a 4wd in 4wd ESP 4 Low and turning the wheel over a slight little bit (like less that 2 inches) on dry pavement. They will bind and feel funny and make noises and it is bad on parts.
    Take it on gravel or grass if you must.

    You can't readily check for spark plug issues. It's just that 05-08 had certain ones.
    Certainly listen for timing chain and cam phaser issues. I went down south and bought a really clean 03 to stay away from cam issues and VVT. I had to have 03 or 04 since 05 had VVT 3 valve and 06 had 6 sp ZF trans. (Navigator) So I got a super clean absolutely rust free 03 with 117 on it.

    These type of lots are not going to give you any warranty unless they offer to sell you one.
    Many lots are now "including" on in price but they will often reduce price if you don't want the warranty.
    I saved 200 this way...after we had went back and forth over lowest price.

    You should have your own scan tool as they are very cheap now.
    Don't put so much emphasis on the stereo and sound system. That stuff is dirt cheap now as long as you buy it yourself and install or get a buddy to help you.
    A Pioneer or Kenwood big screen with bluetooth and hands free phone/pandora etc is $118 at Walmart.

    Make sure ac and heat both work and all vents switch from cold to hot esp rear ones since blend door actuators esp rear love to mess up.
    Rear is easy cheap fix but another bargaining tool.

    If you know what you are looking for you can get under front and have someone rock the steering wheel left to right 3-4 inches while you look at pitman arm, idler arm (conventional) and tie rod ends to see any play in parts.
    You can also listen for noises when driving and clanks and rattles like sway bar end links etc.

    BBB ratings mean little today.
    Google places listing will give you more current accurate feel for how many people they have pissed off in the last couple of years.
    ANY place will have some so you have to read them all and go from there.
    Also see if they have a FB page you can find and scroll around.

    I live in Ohio and have bought all kinds of vehicle from almost all over the country for myself and gone with friends.
    I mean all kinds of vehicles too.
    Limos in Cleveland OH, Irmo SC, Hollywood and Miami FL, Phoenix AZ, Bismarck ND, West Seneca NY, Knoxville TN, 79 Corvette in Indianapolis IN, Hovercraft somewhere in IN at 11PM, Navigator in Louisville KY, VW Baja Bug in Kansas, 47 Mack Firetruck in Denver, 40 foot MCI bus in New Bern NC, bus in Chicago, ZX11 cycle in Kalamazoo MI, Buick GNX in Fort Wayne IN.

    As Johnny Cash said, "I've been everywhere man"
    Been to NJ once to look at bus and motorcycle and wasted the trip. I have decided most stuff is junk there or at least the definition of clean or in good shape is NOT what it is other places.
    Been to Stillwater OK to look at bus I did not buy, Orlando FL for limo I passed on.

    Only has one vehicle break down on me on way back. That was a Town Car limo and just an alternator bearing lock up failure that smoked the belt off.
    Had to spend the night in the car at a truck stop until the morning when Advance auto was open.

    Bought more and in more places than most people.
    You have to know your strengths and weaknesses. I am a mechanic. I can fix it if I can get it home. How much determines how much I will pay for it.
    I AM NOT a body many. I will buy with mechanical issues but not body or paint.

    I spent 3 hours checking out and test driving the Navigator I bought in Aug of 18. All it really needed was tires. It was at one of the "could be shady" lots. I have only purchased from a lot or dealer 3 times in my life! Sometimes they will deal. If not I walk.
    I can't believe a place like that would not have a source to throw on a cheap set of new tires on a nice truck they were asking 6999 for. They have the high interest everyone accepted financing companies they send people through so they usually get their price or really close to it. I would think new (even cheap and crappy) tires would be SOP.
    All I had to pick at it was an O2 code, old worn tires, rear blend door clicking and bad.
    I got it for 300 under KBB so I didn't do too badly but could have done better from private party but I had looked at about 8-9 Navigators and Trailblazers and was sick of lousy, dirty, rusty ones with issues. This was like a 6 month old vehicle underneath and nothing major. My new set of Michelin LTX M/S tires were 405 total.

    Now I'm thinking I will probably sell it and get another Town Car. I just love those Town Cars even though I love the 3rd row I almost never use.

    Good luck with your shopping!
    Trainmaster likes this.
  4. Trainmaster

    Trainmaster Old School Member

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    Jun 17, 2017
    Rockaway Beach, NY
    Lot of real junk in Brooklyn. Seems every Irakistanian and Russian immigrant has a shady used car lot. The road salt and roads suck and beat the crap out of cars. Lots of the dealer cars are mechanical fix ups that they buy at insurance auctions with blown trannies and fix with junkyard parts in their one-car garages while smoking pot. I'm in your market and I've spent months looking on Craigslist and Facebook for privately owned cars. Most listings are non-English-speaking amateur dealers with ten cars at the curb in front of their apartments. The car lot salesman's markup around here is about $1500 - $2000/car for a cheap one. A $10,000 car is marked up about $3000.

    It's amazing how good a crappy car can look in a photo. Also amazing how an owner can tell you he put new tires on a car when it was done five years ago.

    Don't give in to garbage. Keep looking for a good car and you'll find one. When something is shade or junky, just walk. Unfortunately, in this Internet age, everyone knows what they are worth and your best luck will be if you have a bit more cash than the average Joe when you do find something nice.

    I just finished seeking out two $2500 Jeeps for my daughters. I must have looked at 50 cars, but I finally found two privately owned very nice ones.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2019
    steeltoe likes this.
  5. steeltoe

    steeltoe Member

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    Sep 27, 2019
    Yeah man, it's tough for me to get out to places in NJ or PA to look at stuff so I've only managed a couple trips. Seen a lot of stuff around the city at shady corner lot used dealers and they're all beat to shit. I don't need a daily driver so I'm not in a rush, just trying to find a deal on something cheap with the right things wrong with it that I'd know how to fix.
  6. steeltoe

    steeltoe Member

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    Sep 27, 2019
    A lot to digest here but appreciate the detailed response.

    This list definitely isn't a 100% checklist, just a scorecard and stuff to point out to the dealer. (I have seen plenty of mid 2000s with 2 keys and a DVD remote though.)

    I don't have a car in NYC now so I don't have a mechanic I trust, but even my friends who drop $$$ on their off-road projects say that everyone they deal with is super shady. Feel like I know enough to catch obvious stuff but was hoping to find a mechanic to tell me when something's been rigged together just to get it to dive off the lot in one piece. Feel like I'm doing ok so far though cuz the dealers I've dealt with seemed annoyed at stuff I've complained about.

    I'm not scared of an accident report but a lot of Carfax reports are missing details. Checking for stuff like factory body panels is a good tip.

    Sounds like I need to buy a code reader.

    I know not to drive around and corner with it, but there's basically zero places to drive on grass or dirt here legally. Even though its dry pavement, feel like the best I could find here is driving straight up or down a steep parking ramp. Is that really gonna mess it up?

    The warranty thing I don't expect to get. Law here says they don't need to offer one after 100k, but if they tell me flat out no instead of pretending to consider it, feel like that'd be weird? Used dealers are gonna lie about everything else, but not pretend they'd think about extending a warranty for a car with 120k miles? Maybe not though.

    Electrical stuff I just want to work. Even if I'm gonna replace it all, I wanna make sure it comes out of the lot working. Had a lot of intermittent wiring issues in a 2006 Taurus where stuff kept blinking out. One Expedition I just looked at had a dead center console and the dealer said it was a fuse. Came back a week later and they couldn't figure out how to fix it, so I'm pretty sure it was water damage.

    Good advice.

    I don't have a way to get too far outside the city to check deals, which is tough cuz everything I've seen here looks like it got zero maintenance / super rusty / cabin is super beat up & scuffed / etc.

    Whatever I buy, I know its gonna need a lot of work, but I have access to a garage & tools here, plus friends who know more than I do. Important thing is I'm in no rush and don't need a car for daily driving, so I'm just sitting on my hands checking craigslist until I see something I feel confident I could keep running.

    Thanks for your feedback though, haven't bought a car in almost 10 years.
  7. TobyU

    TobyU Full Access Members

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    Apr 5, 2013
    You want necessarily have to put a lot of work into something. Like I said I just bought a 2003 with 117000 Miles that is near mint condition and performed flawlessly on a four hour drive home. Only thing I had to do is put a battery in it as after it sat for 4-5 days the battery would be dead.
    I always choose to buy one in better shape body and paint than anything else since I can do the mechanical work but not the body and paint. I also don't like ones that have been pre-painted or had paint work done.
    Nothing worse than buying a car that had a door or a fender repainted for 5 years ago and it starts to fade out in the future. Factory paint may not be show quality but is the most durable paint job your car will ever have.
    I could always go buy seats and swap them out if the interior isn't perfect but the body and paint and the rust is a deal-breaker for me.

    You can test the four-wheel drive to make sure it works as a matter of fact that's how you can tell. If the four-wheel drive is functioning and engaged, when you go to turn it on pavement you will feel the clunk clunk and the stiffness of the front end binding. Just Don't Force It or give it too much gas. If you have a four-wheel drive like I have with a Trailblazer that the four-wheel drive Electronics work fine but the front axle disconnect is damaged so it really has no four wheel drive. All indicators and everything else tell you that it full drive is working but if you put it in 4-wheel drive and drive it you will not feel the extra vibration and feeling in the steering wheel and when you go to turn at slow speed and get a little bit of gas it is just as smooth as being a two-wheel drive. This is how you know the four-wheel drive is not working. Just no hard turns like pulling into a parking spot. Soft slow sweeping curves only.
  8. Aspen03

    Aspen03 Full Access Members

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    Apr 24, 2019
    Seems like a pretty thorough list to me, I don't thinkyou'll have the patience to do this more than once or twice. The 2003 I bought back in the spring woth 205k I did basically what you've listed here and that was after reviewing almost 150k in maintenance records from the owner. I spent a solid hour and a half driving and poking around. I'm fairly handy as well and can likely fix anything that's not inside the motor however I dont want anymore work than I have to, plenty busy as it is unless it's just a remarkable deal.

    In the 6 months we've had it I've put in a couple hundred of gallons of fuel and changed the oil...nothing else as the PO did all required and upcoming maintenance in the few months prior to selling. I'm quite happy with the purchase despite the sky high miles, it runs like a champ and was well taken care of. I test drove a 2011 with half the mileage that was considerably worse in almost all aspects, including cosmetics and was $8k more.

    Just be patient and buy the right vehicle. Never be in a rush or you'll regret it, even when buying new. Theres always something you'll overlook or hadn't considered.
  9. barongan

    barongan Member

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    Jul 31, 2018
    Loving this thread, I think this is a very interesting discussion[​IMG]
  10. jeff kushner

    jeff kushner Full Access Members

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    Nov 30, 2014
    Absolutely take a Code reader...even the 3 dollar from China will work...

    The same Eastern Europeans that sell cars in Trains neighborhood migrated to VA! LOL I bought my '03EB from them, paid 5K cash on a 8200 sticker and the truck was perfect 'cept for the Pour & Go I used for the blown head gasket.....I ran it 100K and bought my '17 the moment it broke. Not a bad deal for 5K.

    Important thing was that I saw the code for a #3 misfire so I had a good idea what the deal was going in.

    My suggestion is always the same to someone who doesn't "know cars", pay someone who does. The more the vehicle, the more the survey is worth. My friend spent 12 GRAND for a boat to be surveyed prior to him buying it.

    The list will never include the subtle things a mechanic will see and pick up on.....

    poorboy1964 likes this.

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