Trouble spots

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Updated: 3/28/2003 1:53 pm
When you're buying a pre-owned vehicle, there are certain important trouble spots that you should check carefully before making a decision to purchase. Your first concern should be whether the seller is fully entitled to sell the vehicle. Check the vehicle's title and compare the Vehicle Identification Number against the plates that are generally attached to the car inside the door and under the hood. Make certain there are no outstanding liens on the vehicle, particularly if you're purchasing from a private individual. Inspect the vehicle carefully for evidence of recent bodywork, which may indicate that the car was previously damaged. Look for signs of rust or corrosion. Blistered paintwork can be a sign that there's a corrosion problem that may be costly to repair. Examine the wheel wells, under doors, and inside the hood and trunk. In many cases, the underside of a vehicle is a good indication of its general condition and whether or not it's been maintained properly. Check for rust or damage to brake lines and drums, shock absorbers, and the steering mechanism. When you test drive the car, pay attention to the vehicle's tracking and to any undue vibration in the steering wheel as this may be a sign of poor alignment. Check that the tires are in good condition and that all four of them are of the same type and tread. Exhaust smoke can reveal engine problems. Black smoke may mean valve problems; blue smoke often indicates piston-ring wear; and white smoke may mean a work gasket or even a cracked engine block. The best precaution when buying a pre-owned car is to have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before you make a decision to purchase.

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