Updated: January 12, 2014
When shopping for a used car, the condition of the engine, transmission and the car body are the most important. The fact that the car looks 'clean' and drives well doesn't mean much if its engine has a hidden problem or was poorly maintained by previous owners. Engine repairs are very expensive. Of course, it's difficult to evaluate the mechanical condition of the engine during a quick test drive, that is why we strongly recommend to have a used car properly inspected by a qualified mechanic before signing the contract. To help you be more informed, here are a few tips how to spot signs of engine problems or lack of maintenance when checking a used car.
Check used car service records
The service records are not always available, but it helps if the dealer can produce some proof that the vehicle was
maintained regularly. If you can get access to the service records, look for oil changes and mileage records. It helps if you can verify that oil changes were done regularly. Depending on a manufacturer, the recommended oil change interval varies from 3,750 to 10,000 miles. If the vehicle was driven between oil changes for much longer intervals than recommended, the engine might be worn inside.
Have a look under the hood
When you are checking a used car at a dealer's lot, have a quick look under the hood before the test drive. It helps if you have a small flashlight. Make sure, the engine is off, the transmission is in "Park" and the parking brake is on. What you are looking for are the leaks, smell of burnt oil or antifreeze, signs poor quality repairs or lack of regular maintenance and 'racing' modifications.
Signs of poor maintenance