A Mechanic-Approved Checklist for Buying a New Car

When we were looking for a new Ziggy, I located one in New York. Considering we’re in Philadelphia, we were going to have to send a family representative to check things out. Frank put together the following list of things to look over when buying a used car. It’s a pretty comprehensive list that I though might be useful, even if you’re not buying a BMW 318ti.

Items to Bring

  • Flashlight
  • Paper towels
  • Camera (to take photos of things that are questionable so you can review with your mechanic or trusted car-guru)

How to Check the Potential Ziggy (step by step)

Perform Walk Around

Note dents, dings, faded paint, and evidence of shitty parallel parking. Specifically, on our Ziggy, observe front bumper – on the bottom is a lip that sticks out – check to see if that’s cracked.

Check to make sure all lights are not cracked.

Get into car

Note the instrument panel. As you are turning ignition, check engine light should go on momentarily. Then it should go off after a few seconds. Please note any lights that stay on.

Let car idle. Listen for rattling. Idle should be stable (a nice purr). When you close the doors they should have a nice thump. Look around and note any issues with the interior, like seats or dashboard. Are the side view mirrors adjustable? Windows go up and down? Hazards working? Try back windows. Try all the seat positions.

Try out windshield wipers. Turn all lights on. Beep horn. Operate all things. Is the tint in good condition? Cracks in windshield? Saggy headliner? Open and close sunroof.

Ziggy, our first BMW 318ti.
Ziggy I

Into the Engine Area

While the engine is running. Go out and open the hood to inspect engine. There should be no shaking or smoke. No screeching noises or odd clicking noises. Only purring. Let car run for five minutes at idle. Exhaust should be relatively quiet. Note any extra noises.

Turn car off. Let sit for one minute, check oil. On the 318ti, the dipstick is red and located towards the back on the drivers side. Observe oil level, note hashmarks. Oil should not be below last hashmark. Also note anything that looks gunky. Now that the car is hot, there will be vapors. Does it smell like gas, coolant, oil, or cooked animals?

Take flashlight and peek about the engine. On the passenger side of the engine follow the side of the motor and look for anything leaking or gunky.

Locate the intake runner. Coming out of the engine, is something that looks like a big silver octopus, with four arms. That’s the intake runner. Using the flashlight, get really close and try to look under the intake. You should see the side of the engine. Try to see if there is any coolant or oil puddling in that area. Ask the previous owner when the coolant hoses were last changed.

Continue Walk Around

Check the rims for evidence of bad parking, dings, chunks. Please note if the tires are meaty or bald. Also look at the rotors and brakes, and see if they look particularly nasty. Using the flashlight, look in the wheel wells to see if there is any rust back there.

Check along the bottom of the side of the car, from behind the front wheels to the back, and see if there is any suspicious rust.

Try out all doors and hatches. Look for rust along the edges of the doors.

Examine the Trunk

Open the trunk, lift up the carpet/lining, and inspect the spare tire area. There should be tools. Look for any rust or puddles or evidence of neglect. Look or feel under the back of the car to see if the spare tire is there.

Time to drive the car!

Go over some potholes (gently). Note any banging noises. Note rattles/location of rattles (left front, right front, etc.).

Turn right, turn left, note moaning noises.

Note shitty response – should be peppy. Shift through all gears – should be nice and smooth – no manhandling needed.

Put car into reverse – no clunking noise.

When driving at highway speed (60 mph) RPMs should be around 3500ish. No vibrations above 50 miles an hour. Steering wheel should be straight. Car should not pull to left or right on the highway. When you accelerate, there should be no vibrations.

Please note if you feel vibrations in the middle of the car. (possible bad drive shaft).


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