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Learn2 Check Out a Used Car (continued)
Step 5: Check the oil and brake fluid

Some people consider gasoline to be the lifeblood of a car, but really it's the oil that keeps everything running smoothly. Car owners who neglect the oil levels in their car are taking years of its life--the engine runs very hot and it puts stress on many other parts as well. If you've ever been two quarts' short of blood, you can appreciate what it does to a car. So if you're looking at car that shows signs of oil neglect, know that the engine has taken a lot of wear and tear.

  • Once the engine is warm (has been running a few minutes), turn off the ignition and carefully locate the engine's dipstick. Pull it out and wipe it clean with the rag. Insert the dipstick, pull it out again and check the oil mark left on the dipstick by the oil.

  • There's usually a three-tiered measurement on the dipstick: low, safe, and full. Dark oil is OK, considering fresh oil soils quickly; but it should be somewhat thin, not thick and globby. Since oil is the easiest maintenance to attend too, a seller's neglect in this manner should be duly noted--they may have neglected other important maintenance or repairs. If the oil is still clear and the seller claims not to have changed it in over a month, you have a sign of recently added oil. This may mean they've driven the car with low oil. As noted above, this is very bad for the engine.


  • Check the brake fluid. It should be located under the hood in the back right-hand area. Removing the rubber cap will reveal the fluid level. Without brake fluid, the brakes can't stop the car.


  • With automatic transmissions, check the transmission fluid. With the engine idling, pull out the dipstick (under the hood nearest the firewall) and check the level and make sure the fluid is reddish in color. As with oil, low levels (possibly a leak) or a thick, greasy substance (indicates grinding) mean problems.

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Step 1: Note your first impression
Step 2: Check the underside and tires
Step 3: Check under the hood
Step 4: Perform gauge and listening tests
Step 5: Check the oil and brake fluid
Step 6: Check the shock absorbers and lights
Step 7: Check for play
Step 8: Take it for a drive


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