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April 28, 2016

How to Inspect a Used Car When Buying from a Private Seller

When buying a used car from a private party, you really have to make sure you inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.

Dallas used cars

You simply must have a used car inspected before purchasing it.

People are people and some are more trustworthy than others and some sellers will lie about a car’s condition, its mileage, its accident history, and so on.

So if you’ve decided to buy a private party’s used car, you need to get its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) so that you can get what is called its vehicle history. This report tells you how many owners it’s had (and if at least one of those owners was a car rental company), how many accidents – if any – it’s been in and if it’s ever been stolen. You can purchase a vehicle history report at sites such as,,, and so on.

No matter what’s in the car’s report, you need to get it inspected so that you’ will know what mechanical issues it has.

While many used auto dealerships, such as the PAACO Automotive Group, will inspect and repair the car before placing it on their lot, private party sellers usually don’t offer this benefit. You therefore will first want to ask the seller for the vehicle’s maintenance records. Many people won’t keep these themselves, so you may have to ask for the name of their auto mechanic and get the records yourself.

You’ll want to do a visual inspection of the car yourself. You should:


  • Test drive the vehicle..
  • Check the car’s body for obvious signs of damage (and check for unobvious indications)
  • Look for signs of water damage (discoloration, water stains inside the car, mineral deposits, strong mildew-like odors, etc.)
  • Look for rust.
  • Check the odometer.
  • Check the tires (especially the front tires) for wear.
  • Take a look at the car’s battery. A corroded battery needn’t be a deal breaker – batteries are comparatively inexpensive to replace. But don’t test drive the car if the battery is corroded: a spark could start a fire.
  • Check the car’s air filter and air intake. There should be no oil and if there is, that could be an indication of engine damage, including blown pistons. (You may need a professional mechanic to check this for you.)
  • Take a look at the car’s coolant and oil levels while the engine is cool. They shouldn’t be brown or sludgy.
  • Turn the car on and check its transmission fluid. The fluid should smell sweet and should not be brown or burnt orange in color (if it is, that’s an indication the fluid hasn’t been changed in a long while).
  • Run the AC and heat.

You then need to make arrangements to get the car to a mechanic you choose. You want to take it to someone with an objective opinion, not the shop where the seller takes the car.

Yes, you’ll need to pay for the inspection yourself, at a cost of about $100. Consider this money well spent if your mechanic finds something expensive to repair or even unfixable: the $100 could end up saving you thousands of dollars!

Always, always, always take the car for a test drive. If the seller refuses, walk away from the car and don’t come back.

As mentioned above, used car dealerships almost always inspect and repair any car that comes to their lot before selling it. We not only inspect and repair the cars on our lots here at the PAACO Automotive Group, we also offer a limited warranty on all of our used cars.

Visit one of our Dallas-area locations soon. Or give us a call at 877-810-4555 to learn more.

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