How to check a used SUV or pickup truck
You decided to buy a used pickup truck or an SUV? We have written this guide to help you avoid trucks with hidden problems and make more informed decision. Of course, as with any used vehicle, we strongly recommend to have a used truck properly inspected by a knowledgeable mechanic before buying it. What you will need when checking a used pickup truck: a small magnet, flashlight, paper towel and a paper and a pen, so you can write down anything you find. Take a knowledgeable friend with you for a test drive; what one person misses another one can catch. Your friend can also help you to negotiate the price.• Minor problems and problems to avoid in a used truck
• Research common problems
• Check used car history records
• Best way to test the vehicle is to start it cold
• How to inspect
• Check the trailer hitch
• Watch out for signs of body repair
• Check the frame
• Check the tires
• Check the Vehicle Certification Label
• Check the windshield
• What to check under the hood
• What to look for during a test drive
Minor problems and problems to avoid in a used truck
When checking a used pickup truck or any other used vehicle, you are looking for two types of issues. If you found a major issue with a truck, such as a previous major accident, badly rusted frame, engine knock, blue smoke from exhaust, transmission problem, 4WD issue or anything else that will be too expensive to repair, pass on the truck.
If the vehicle has minor problems, such as a noisy drive belt, broken lens, dead battery, scratches, dents, corrosion spots, minor fender-bender repairs and anything else that you can live with or that can be repaired, write down all the issues you find. You can use these records when weighing pros and cons of this particular truck, and when negotiating the price. Before we get to an inspection, here are few tips:
Research common problems
Different trucks and SUVs have different common problems. It helps a lot if you research those problems ahead of time. This way you will know what to look for. For example, if you would do a little research on the 2004 Ford F150, you'd notice a lot of complaints about the power windows, so you know what to check. A quick research on the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder would tell you to watch out for engine coolant leaking into the automatic transmission from a cracked transmission cooler inside the radiator. For the 2006 Ford Explorer, transmission issues and leaking radiators were fairly common, and so on.
To research common problems, check on-line forums dedicated to the vehicle you are looking for, check the complaints at the NHTSA website, research Reliability Rating at MSN Autos, search the internet for 'make, model, common problems', read owner reviews, check Carcomplaints.com
Check used car history records
Check used car VIN history report before buying a used vehicle. The history records may show previous accidents, rolled back odometer, fleet use and other issues. Check this image, it's a portion of a history report for a truck that was sold at one of the used car lots. The truck looked clean in the ad and there was not a word about a previous accident. A quick VIN history check revealed that the truck was written off after a frontal accident. or other sources you find. A 30-miuntes research will help you to be much better prepared.
Best way to test the vehicle is to start it cold
If the truck is started after it was sitting for a while, with the engine cold, you have a better chance to catch some problems, such as smoke, engine noises (e.g. piston slap, lifters), exhaust leaks and transmission wear. One way to do it is to come earlier for your test drive appointment.
How to inspect
Start with the walk-around, see if the truck sits level. See if the wheels appear to be aligned straight; some older Ford trucks, for example, have the issue with front wheel alignment and sometimes you can actually see that the front wheels are tilted inward toward the top.
Check for the signs or company logos or what's left of them on the doors, sides or the tailgate; you don't want a heavily used fleet truck.
Check the trailer hitch
Watch out for signs of body repair
Watch for signs of body repairs: mismatched paint colors on different panels, paint overspray, the difference in the paint's texture, sanding marks under the paint, etc. The rear fender of this black truck looks not as smooth as the original paint. Look at the reflection, it looks curvy on the edges. If you suspect a body repair, try to stick the small magnet in the various spots of the suspected area. If the magnet won't stick, there is too much filler under the paint, so you know there was some damage or corrosion repaired in this area.
Here you can see the white paint got oversprayed on the black rubber stop and the tailgate striker. This tells you that the rear left fender of this truck has been repainted. Check the other side to compare. If you find some body repair, be more careful: it's OK if it was some minor fender-bender, but what if it was a major accident?
Check the condition of the tailgate; if there is a lot of wear, a truck might have been used heavily. Check for rust under the bed liner.
Check the frame
Check the condition of the frame. If it appears badly rusted, or if there are signs of repairs on the frame, avoid a truck; the frame is the main component that holds everything together. Be suspicious if the frame looks freshly undercoated; in general, the undercoating is good, but sometimes it could be used to hide some damage or badly rusted spots. Watch for leaks from the rear axle, the rear end of the transmission and under the engine. Check if the visible brake lines appear badly rusted; you can see some brake lines looking at the rear axle from the back.
Check the tires
Have a look at the tires. New tires have a tread depth around 12/32" or about 10 mm. This tire in the photo has only 5/32" or 4 mm. left, which mean this truck will need new tires very soon.
Check the Vehicle Certification Label
Usually you can find it on the driver's door or on the driver's door jamb. The manufacturer label has a vehicle's VIN number that you need to make sure matches with the one under the windshield and on truck's papers. You also need the VIN number to check history records. The manufacturer label also contains the manufacturing date. In this truck in the photo, it says MFG/DATE 6-07, so we know that it was manufactured in June 2006, even though it's a 2007 model. You may find another 2007 truck that is manufactured, for example, in May 2007. It will still be a 2007 truck, but it will be almost a year younger.
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