So, are you wondering,
What to look for when buying a used 4×4?
Well your in the right place.
So, lets dive into the…
Buying a used 4×4 Checklist
So, before we get too far lets touch base on a few things.
It’s always a good idea to find a friend to tag along with you. Preferably that has experience buying vehicles and some mechanical ability.
Well can be for safety
Also, they can help you perform some of the inspection tasks. And to point out things that are wrong that you happen to overlook.
Or, even to keep you in check so you don’t make a hasty decision and buy the wrong rig.
Remember to relax and take your time and look things over several times if need be.
And don’t get too excited about any deal because that’s when you start over looking things.
Go look at it during the day and when its not raining. And make sure it isn’t in too shaded of a spot.
Having wet body panels and or poor lighting from shade can makes it hard to locate and see if it has had paint and body repairs.
But one thing good about rain it can make sure you check the wipers or see if it has a water leak.
Another thing, to mention, before you head out to look at it.
Make sure, you do your
And, look for common problems the vehicle could have.
So check the technical service bulletins.
Find a forum with people that have the same kind of vehicle. And find out about any of the major and minor issues.
So, you know where and what to look for when it comes to problems.
Check Vehicle Price
Compare prices on different websites. See what private individuals are selling them for and dealers.
To help get a better feel for the market and the average pricing of the vehicle your looking at.
Also you can go to KBB.com or NADA .com and check the private party, retail, and trade in value.
To see if you truly are getting a good deal.
You might want to consider getting a…
Vehicle History Report
Some DMV’s have a online title checker so you can look in to that if you want.
Also you could check the VIN on one of those vehicle history report websites. To check ownership, title status (branded, lien), accident history
Although they are useful.
I wouldn’t rely on it totally, because you hear/read stories where a vehicle was wrecked and it didn’t show up on the report.
So, always a good idea to look for signs of damage/body repair the best you can.
More on that below.
Tools to have
Don’t forget to carry a good flashlight. To help you see in the dark spots.
A tire depth gauge to check the tire depth.
OBD2 scan tool to read trouble codes for most 1996 and newer vehicles.
They have bluetooth OBD2 readers available that connect to your smart phone
Like the Blue Driver.
Which makes it easy to carry around with you.
When looking around….
Don’t Buy a Lemon
I guess we’ve all heard the term “buyer beware” right?
Because you sure don’t want someone else’s problem.
So, you have the two basic types of 4x4s.
You will have the grocery getters, which never left the pavement and maintained.
Or the ones that have been rode hard off road and put up well… muddy.
So, just keep this in mind when looking around.
Also, just because you find a rig thats all decked out and looks cool with a lift, racks, and all the gear, for back country adventures.
Most of the time it could have worn out parts in the driveline. .
So it may not be as good of a deal as you think.
Unless of course it was just accessorized to look good for the ride to the mall.
But, only you will be able to determine that by what you’re looking at.
Just don’t get caught up with all the glitters. Until you know its pure gold.
And, check it over really good.
You sure don’t want a big surprise if you where to buy it and get it home.
But, it is a used vehicle and there will always be things that need to be tinkered with and tended to.
And might even have a few little dings dents or scratches.
In some cases vehicles that have some minor dents and scratches or peeling paint.
But are mechanically sound you could get a better deal on them.
And besides lets face it.
If you go off road, you’re going to nick it up somewhere along the line anyways.
Unless you’re looking for a shiny show piece.
But the main thing is,
You’re trying to avoid any big problems right off the get go.
Or at the very least know what your getting into.
Also in some cases people could want to sell the vehicle, because it might need some big repairs soon.
So, here are a few questions on,
What to ask about when buying a 4×4
- Do they have the title in hand? (Can’t make a deal if they don’t)
- Is it a clean title or is it branded salvage, rebuilt, flood?
- Is the title clear no liens?
- How long have they owned it
- Why are they selling it
- Did they do all the maintenance on the vehicle or was it done by a independent shop or the dealer? If so, do they have any of the maintenance records (shop repair receipts?(Some people may not keep good records so not a deal breaker as long as it checks out solid)
- Does it use any oil between oil changes, if so how much?
- How often did they change the oil?
- Are they the original owner or not? How long have they owned it?
- What type of oil did they use?
- Beside maintenance have they had any major work done, If so what was done? (engine, transmission, differentials etc.)
- Do they know if its ever been wrecked
- Did they tow with it
- Did they use it for off road adventures
- What kind of fuel milage we’re they averaging (city, highway, towing, not towing)
Vehicle Exterior Inspection
Start at one corner of the vehicle thoroughly inspecting it as you work your way around back to the same place.
Your looking for:
- Chips in any of the windows or cracks in the windshield
- Check rubber molding around windows for signs of deterioration
- Dents or scratches on the body
- Rust on frame or body
- Rust around wheel wells
- Look for rust on the bottom of the floor pans underneath
- Check for Rust in the bottom of doors and rocker panels
- Check for rust around rain gutter if it has one
- Also around window rubber molding rust can form so take a look at that
- Check all door Locks and latches for proper function
- Check to see if doors open and close nicely and they don’t drop down when you open them. Which could mean the door isn’t adjusted right or the door pins are worn
- Inspect the roof to get a good look for dents, paint peeling etc. Or, any modification that someone may have made like drilled holes for roof rack light bar etc. That’s definitely a good place that could create a water leak in the vehicle. And another problem you could have to deal with if anything like that is going on.
Also here are a few signs on…
How to tell if a vehicle has been in a accident
Check to make sure all body panel seems are even. And have the same gap on either side.
On the hood, doors trunk ( tailgate) fenders
Also are the body panels the same height from one panel to another.
Is one low or high?
Uneven body panels and or seems can be signs parts have been replaced or moved around.
Also, if you see different shades of the paint color. Or a difference in paint texture on panels. (orange peel)
Sandpaper marks (scratches) under paint and signs of body filler.
Socket or screwdriver marks on body panel bolts or even missing fasteners and hardware
Good chance something been removed or replaced.
Another sign is to look for paint over spray,
On sticker labels, trim pieces around windows, doors jambs inside the inner fender wells etc for signs of being painted. masking tape marks
Keep in mind paint overspray doesn’t always mean it was wrecked.
If it’s an older vehicle maybe the old paint started peeling off and they put a fresh coat of paint put on.
On the other hand, fresh paint could be hiding something as well like rust repair etc.
So always take a close look.
Among other things,
If you see non factory looking spot welds, or seem seal (caulk) repair jobs.
Or, any signs of wrinkled sheet metal. Under the hood, floor pans, rocker panels in trunk areas
Anywhere you can get a good look.
A bent radiator support..
Headlights or taillights not fitting properly and flowing with the body lines of the vehicle could indicate damage.
If it’s a pick up truck check under the bed liner (if removable) for damage and or rust.
Ok get down and
Check Chassis/Under Carriage
Is there any,
Frame Damage, Cracks, Heavy Rust?
Check the frame good for fractures even accident damage.
See any repair/patch work?
Some vehicle’s can be more prone to cracks in the frame than others.
And some could have known problems with rusty frames.
So make sure you do your due diligence and research of where and what to look for.
Before, you go look at it.
Now, depending where you live or where the vehicle came from.
It could be more prone in general to have major rust.
Because if it was driven on salty winter roads on or around the beach
Or even used to launch a boat in salt water. Take a look at the back of vehicle if it has a hitch for and major rust signs.
Any gouges on the bottom of frame smashed up skid plates from being high centered?
Springs and Suspension Components?
Standing back looking at the vehicle on a level surface assuming all tires are the same size and properly inflated. How’s the vehicle’s stance (profile)?
Does it lean?
If it leans down on one corner more than the rest it could have a weak and or broken spring (s).
Or sometimes a bad bushing, possibly bent frame, or part.
When its cold one thing to do is get under and look at it and then wiggle and tap the exhaust with your hand.
Listen and look for any loose material inside the exhaust rattling, rust holes leaks in muffler pipe etc.
Giving the exhaust a little wiggle also helps to make sure all the hangers are holding the exhaust in place and not ready to fall off.
Also, take notice if you see any kind of patchwork on the exhaust that may give you problems.
And when you have the vehicle running.
Listen again for any rattles noises or leaks in the exhaust system.
Does it sound like a tractor? Exhaust ticks or hisses coming from the engine bay.
Could be a leaking exhaust manifold gasket, cracked manifold, or possible flange gasket.
If you here rattle inside the exhaust it could be a catalytic converter coming apart or a baffle in the muffler broken or something like that.
Does it have any,
Look underneath for wet dripping oil leaking off the engine, transmission, transfer case, differential housing,
Now depending on how old the vehicle is you can typically expect some oils residues.
But, if it has a trail of wet oil and or its dripping.
You might want to be concerned about that.
And try to find out where its coming from at least to know whats going on.
Also oil leaking between the engine and transmission. Could be a rear main seal of engine.
Which can be a chore and pricey fix right out of the gate.
Check the Driveline
Look for dents, bends or kinks in the driveshaft.
Grab the drive shaft on each end and turn and wiggle it to feel for loose U joints
Also pick up and down on the shaft at the transfer case end and at the pinion end at the diff.
And, feel for play if it moves in and out up and down you have worn components.
Always check cv shaft boots for rips and slinging grease and axle seal leaks
Also any 4wd with birfield joints with gear oil leaking out of the steering knuckles would indicate needing repair.
The bounce test
Heavy sprung vehicles you may not be able to compress the suspension.
But on lighter sprung vehicles you can push down on each corner.
And if it bounces more than twice after you stop pushing on it.
Your more than likely looking at shock replacement.
Also look for worn, dry rotted, or missing shocks mount bushing.
A shock that’s, bent has a dent, oil on shaft or leaking down it. Means it’s going to need to be replaced.
A shock going low on oil will effect the overall performance/rebound.
Which will cause irregular tire wear. More on that further down.
A continued steering wheel shimmy after hitting a bump cruising could indicate bad shocks/struts.
Check Wheel Bearings
Of course, to do this properly you will have to have the safely jack and jack stand the wheel up off the ground.
So, realistically you’re probably not going to be able perform this task.
And it takes an educated ear and feel, to know what you’re looking for.
But, its good to know the basic concept so I’ll through it in.
So, after jacking it up.
Grab the wheel top and bottom.
Ideally, you shouldn’t have any play (wiggle)
However, sometimes depending on the bearing type. There may be a very tiny bit of play.
But, too much play can indicate wheel-bearing problems.
Also if you’re able to spin the wheel listen for any rough roaring sounds. If it does than it would be something that needs to be addressed.
But sometimes this isn’t possible to spin the wheel fast enough. From driveline and or some brake resistance.
So, the best way is to listen on a test drive. More on that later.
Check brake lines
Sometimes on older vehicle the rust can get the best of the brake lines.
So gaze around for signs of that going on under the vehicle.
Look for leaks dripping from the lines, calipers, proportional valve etc.
Or if you see any form of fluid leaking out of the brake backing plates on rear axles.
Could mean it has either an axle seal leak. Or, a brake wheel cylinder leak with rigs with rear drum brakes.
Check Steering Joints
You can grab each steering joint and check for any play. If they have play they’re bad.
Now, if you have a friend with you.
With the vehicle off, safely parked and the wheels properly chocked.
Have them turn the wheel back and forth a little bit
While you look for any play at the steering joints.
Also, if something is loose you might notice it when you drive the vehicle if you feel some steering lag (wonders or drifts).
Which can be from a worn steering box (or rack & pinion) as well.
Take notice to and….
Check Tire Wear Patterns
Ideally you’re looking for even wear across the tires. This will let you know that it does not have any serious suspension, or alignment problems.
Now, if a tire (s), are worn on the inside or outside edges hard you probably have problems.
Assuming the tire has been on that position for a while.
So, if it’s out of alignment.
Maybe it just needs an alignment, or possibly it stems from either worn.
Or, even possible bent steering suspension components from an accident.
But you would need to find out what’s going on there.
On a solid style back axle it could have a bent diff housing. But of course that’s assuming the tire wasn’t rotated from the front axle recently.
Now, if a tire has worn edges on the inside and outside evenly. And the center of the tread is in good shape.
The tire could have just been run low on air pressure for a while.
If you have irregular wear and cupping on the edges or across tire with high and low spots that are consistent.
This is called scalloping
And, sometimes caused by a loose suspension component
Or bad shocks.
Bad shocks cause the tire to slighting bounce off the road surface as your going down the road.
As it does this.
It skids and spikes the street every time creating irregular tire wear (scalloping).
And you don’t always feel this.
However it does show up on the tires and will start to increase wear.
And will get worse over time. Along with the noise or roar of the tire as it’s going down the road.
Also, scalloping can simply be caused by, a bad tire. The cords in the tire casing coming apart.
Any dry rotted tires would be a clear sign you’re going to need tires.
Check the tire tread depth
With passenger vehicles most states consider 2/32 the minimum tread depth.(Always check your local/state requirements)
Or tread worn down to the wear bars, you need tires.
But, roughly around 5/32 and below you could start having compromised snow/wet traction.
Look at the tire sizes
Hopefully they’re the same size type, and brand.
As the same size tire in different brands or type can sometimes vary slightly in casing height.
The reason why this is important, is because, a different size tire spins at a different speed or RPM (revolutions per mile).
And on a 4WD that can cause driveline bind, and premature wear with driveline components.
Look at the size of the spare and see if is the same size and same brand tire as well.
If it’s a different size or dry rotted it won’t be of any use anyhow.
And probably an old spare that wasn’t ever being rotated in with the rest.
Now for the,
Vehicle Interior Inspection
Any moldy mildew smells could be a clear indicator of a water leak.
First thing to check is the carpets to see if they’re wet.
Something else to consider is musky smells can also come from A/C Heater vent.
If the evaporator drain is clogged and not draining it can have standing water and smell.
Or an antifreeze smell or wet passenger floor can sometimes indicate a heater core leak.
Are all the seats in good shape or are they ripped?
Does the seats move to all positions and operate properly
Make sure all the windows roll up and down smoothly and properly
Worn out pedals is a sign it was used a lot for start and stopping (city driving).
If mileage is low but the interior is worn out.
Another indication of a lot of start/stop type driving.
This type of driving typically accelerates the wear on a vehicle cosmetically and mechanically.
Also if it shows really low miles but the interior and pedals are slam worn out.
It could have had a problem with the speedometer/odometer and maybe the instrument cluster was replaced at one time. Or maybe the odometer could have been rolled back.
Also keep that in mind some older vehicles only had 5 digit odometers so they roll over to 0 every 100k.
Lift up the mats and look for wear and tear.
Look for any holes that have been made for accessories. That could allow water to get up in the vehicle.
Dash, trim, and door panels
Is dash or any panels missing, cracked, or busted up?
All the heater A/C control knobs and switches in good shape?
Or is there drilled holes or aftermarket wiring and switches in the dash that not being used now from an old accessory?
What kind of shape is it in? Ripped up hanging down?
Inspect Under the Hood
How clean is the…
If it’s filthy the vehicle might not have been looked after very well.
But, one good thing about this is you can get a honest look for any oil leaks.
Now, if everything is dirty, and you see a clean spot this could mean something has been fixed recently.
Or, maybe a fresh leak was wiped off?
Check Coolant hoses
You’re looking for any dry rotted (cracked) hoses.
Soft spongey hoses, or swelling at the ends around the hose clamps. Are a sure sign of needing hose replacements.
Hard crunchy hoses would also need to be replaced.
And, are sometimes another sign of heavy scale, build up inside the coolant system. Typically you will see rusty residue in the coolant.
Check Air Filter and Intake
Air filter plugged up?
If possible lift the air filter cover up and look down intake tube toward the engine intake see if there is a a lot of dust residue on the inside of tube.
This can tell you if air/dirt was getting around the air filter.
Running like this could have started to cause engine damage to the rings and cylinder walls.
Dirt/dust, in the air intake.
Can be caused by…
An improper fitting air filter. intake tubes, bad air filter, and or air filter housing.
Make sure the air filter housing (bung/drain) is clear and not plugged up. And not full of mud leaves water etc.
Inspect Drive Belts
Inspect the accessories drive serpentine (or V-belts) for any dry rot cracks or fraying
Does the vehicle have a timing belt? If, so when was the timing belt last changed?
Because, a timing belt could be a pricey job to get into right away.
Look at the cores and fins for corrosion and if they are starting to deteriorate. You are going to be looking at a radiator replacement.
Also on aluminum/plastic radiators, the plastic tanks can tend to leak.
Between where the plastic tank mates to the aluminum.
Always look real close at that. And, another thing to point out is,the plastic tanks also can become brittle.
So, if you see any dark brown or discoloration or even stress cracks on the tanks. This could be another sign of needing a radiator replacement.
Inspect battery and wiring
Look for corrosion on the terminals and the cable ends and see what kind of shape they are in.
Look for aftermarket DIY wiring jobs.
A lot of times if someone messed with the wiring and really didn’t know what they we’re doing. When installing aftermarket lights and or accessories.
There will usually be a mess on the battery posts.
With all the added wires.
And sometimes stuff like that, can cause you problems.
Which would be something you will have to fix properly. To, have a safe reliable wiring system in the vehicle.
It could very well be more than you want to get into if your not electrical savvy.
But, sometimes you can just remove all that stuff and start fresh with proper wires and connections.
As long as they haven’t tapped into and made a total mess. By hacking the factory harness to pieces.
This is one of those things.
Where if you get a vehicle, that hasn’t been modified at all yet.
You would have a clean slate and can put it together however you want it to be.
And not have to deal with someone else mess they made.
Check the Fluids
With the vehicle on a level surface make sure the fluids are full.
Always check fluids
Starting with the engine off and cold
Check Engine oil
Pull the dipstick and make sure it’s topped off and the oil is clean and not a burnt coal black color.
Which means it hasn’t been change in a while or way over due for one. On, a gas engine at least.
Now, a diesel the oil will typically be black.
So that theory won’t always apply with diesel in general.
But in some cases a diesel can have some what clean oil just depends on the engine.
Another bad sign would be milky looking oil. Which means it has water in it.
Also take the engine oil fill cap off. Look for milky froth in the top of cap is another sign that moisture is in the engine.
Most common reason for this can be a head gasket or oil cooler failure if it has one.
Or, was the vehicle in deep water or a flood?
Look for excessive carbon sludge built up
Some vehicles you are able to see down in the valve cover at the rocker arms. That is if it doesn’t have a baffle.
If you can look and see how clean the engine is.
Any signs of heavy carbon sludge indicates a poorly serviced engine.
Also any sign of metal metallic flakes in the oil on the dipstick good sign to walk away find another rig.
Only check coolant when engine is cold making absolutely sure it is not under pressure.
Do Not ever remove radiator cap when the engine is hot
Because it will be under pressure.
So what you’re looking for here is to to see if the antifreeze is full and if there is some in the overflow bottle.
Now there is many different color coolants just make sure it is a good vibrant clean color.
Any brown sludge and or signs of oil in the coolant.
Indicate an oil cooler or head gasket failure.
So look closely for anything like that going on.
Rust colored coolant or debris are from poorly serviced coolant system.
Rather, than having the proper mixture. Of deionized/distilled water and antifreeze.
The lack of (or degraded) antifreeze allows rust and or scale to form. Adhering to the inside of coolant ports.
Which can lead to restricted or clogged passages. Or in some cases nearly rusted out freeze plugs in the block as well.
Best to stay away from a vehicle if you see this as you could whined up with problems.
Check Brake Fluid
When checking the brake fluid always good to take the cap off.
As residues can build up on the inside of the reservoir walls when the fluid get old and dirty.
Making it difficult to determine the actually fluid level.
So look down in it to see where the fluid level is.
Low brake fluid could mean the pads are worn out or you have a leak.
Now if the fluid is full could mean one or two things the brakes are good or someone recently topped off the fluid.
Check Power steering fluid
Check make sure the fluid is full and clean.
Follow the lines from the reservoir to the steering box (or rack and pinion) and the pump looking for any lines or seals leaking.
When you start the vehicle listen for any sort of whining noises when turning the wheel.
Loud whining chattering when turn the wheel from lock to lock.
Could indicate it’s low on fluid first off and or a worn power steering pump.
Check Transmission fluid
Most automatic transmissions you have to run the engine to check fluid level properly.
But, always refer to the owner’s manual for the proper method to check the ATF fluid.
And in some case some vehicle don’t have a dipstick at all (sealed system). So you might not be able to check it.
Check the fluid and make sure it’s full and a good clean red color.
But, say the fluid dark brown and has a burnt smell. And or any fine metal metallic silver flakes in the oil on the dipstick.
This can mean big problems await.
So, looks good under the hood?
Start it up
Look for Smoke From Exhaust
Do you see any blue, black, or white smoke?
So if you see,
On a gas engine it’s running rich. Black soot on the inside of the tail pipe can be a tell tail sign.
Maybe it could be as simple as a dirty air filter which would be a cheap fix. But if that isn’t it you would have to dive in deeper and find whats going on.
Now a little bit of black smoke with a diesel is typically common. But check it at different RPMs and loads just make sure you don’t have problems.
An indication of burning oil.
Oily residues in the end of the tail pipe can be a clear sign of an oil burner.
There are a number of reasons for blue smoke
But for a few examples
Could be valve guide seals if it smokes on start up, after accelerating then letting off, but typically clears up after driving at a constant throttle/speed for awhile.
But, if it continues to smoke all the time. Along with heavy pulsing pressure and smoke (aka Blow by) coming out of the valve cover (oil fill cap) You have bad rings.
Wet oil inside the intake can be another sign of blow by.
But on a turbo charged engine. Blue smoke and wet oil residues in the intake or exhaust pipe could mean the turbo seals are leaking.
Or from fuel contaminated oil (too thin of viscosity)
Thick white smoke that stays around awhile means its burning water/coolant. Could be from a cracked head, block, or blown head gasket
Just don’t confuse it with
Thin white smoke (normal condensation) that happens when you start an engine in the cold which should dissipate quickly.
But keep in mind a diesel can also produce white smoke if fuel passes through the engine to the exhaust without being burned.
From either, too cold of operating temp, bad glow plugs, faulty injection timing, bad injector. poor air flow or fuel quality, low cylinder compression.
The only way to tell any more besides the tail pipe. Would be to do a compression and leak down test to check the seal of rings and valves.
Or on a gas engine remove & inspect the spark plugs.
This is totally another topic
A spark plug in a good running engine should be tan/brown,
Black soot running rich.
Shiny oil carbon build up it’s an oil burner.
Extremely white or blistering (too hot): running too lean, improper timing, wrong heat range plug
Metal/Aluminum pieces (possibly from detonation). Means problems find another ride.
Check things cold and hot
Make sure the engine starts up quick when cold and also when warmed up.
If the engine was hot when you arrived they could be hiding a cold start problem.
Also, check for any fluid leaks when cold and hot.
As you can have leaks when its cold and not when hot and vise versa.
Don’t forget when you start the vehicle up cold and also after it reaches operating temperature.
Walk around and listen for any loud
Knocking, ticking noises, in the engine. Or for any smoke coming out of the exhaust.
Always, recheck for smoke and leaks after the test drive.
Just gives you a better chance to see any problems arise.
Also you could check
But, only when the engine is stone cold. Remove the radiator cap and then start and run the engine at a fast idle as it warms up and see if it blowing bubbles or pushing coolant out.
If it does it could have a blown head gasket and or cracked block or head.
How does the Brake pedal feel?
Make sure the pedal is up the top and firm when you push it.
That it dosen’t drift to the floor or feel spongy.
A pedal that drifts to the floor could be a bad master cylinder or possibly a leak
A spongy pedal could mean it has air in the lines the brakes weren’t bled properly.
A really hard brake pedal that’s difficult to get vehicle to stop. Could be a bad brake booster, and typically you have to really push hard when it goes bad.
How to check the vacuum brake booster
Start with the vehicle engine off.
Pump the brake pedal a few times until it gets harder to push.
Then put slight pressure on the brake pedal.
As you start the car up your foot should go down towards the floorboard slightly.
When you let off the pedal it should rebound and come back to the rest position. This mean the booster is working ok.
If it doesn’t move down when you start the engine or come back up to the rest position. When you let off the pedal you more than likely have a problem with the booster or vacuum leak.
Check the Clutch
How Should a Clutch Pedal feel
A good clutch should engage (start to grab) on most vehicles a few inches up off the floor.
Roughly right before halfway of the pedal travel.
Have some firm resistance but feel smooth to push.
And, have a inch or two of free play at the top of the pedal.
Allowing you to change all gears smoothly.
Doesn’t feel right?
Signs of Clutch Problems
Now, if it engages at the top it’s way out of adjustment or the clutch is flat worn out.
Also, if the clutch is grabbing right at the floorboard, feels like something is binding, or you can’t get it in gear.
Something is wrong with the clutch assembly, master, or slave cylinder
Or it could be out of adjustment.
Now, hydraulic clutches are generally not adjustable. They set and adjust themselves every time you press the pedal. (as the clutch wears)
So if it’s a hydraulic clutch, and not engaging properly indicates problems.
Now, if the vehicle has clutch linkage that’s adjustable. Sometimes it’s something you could adjust out depending on the setup.
Loud chatters or rattles could indicate a problem
A growling noise when pushing the clutch pedal could indicate a bad throwout bearing (aka release bearing)
Also keep in mind
A hot clutch is more likely to slip than when its cold.
And, a clutch is more likely to slip when it’s in a higher gear accelerating under load as well.
Check operation of all…
Gauges, Controls, lights, and Accessories.
Heat and AC work?
See if the heat blows hot and the AC (if its has it) works and gets cold. listen for the compressor to come.
Does the blower fan work on all (stages) settings
Make sure the vents switch to different positions defrost, vent, floor, mix etc. This will make sure you don’t have blend door problems.
How about the,
Does it work? Gotta have your tunes right?
Listen to hear if all the speaker work and are not crackling or popping.
Turn on the,
Make sure they work on all stages low med high (and intermittent if it has it)
Do wiper blades streak or coming apart?
Check windshield washer fluid squirters (does it have washer fluid?)
Don’t forget to,
Inspect all Lights,Gauges, and Power Outlets
Headlights: high and low beams
Instrument cluster/dash lights
Look and see if the gauges work properly fuel, oil, temp, etc.
12v power outlets working?
Now, check for any
Fault Codes/Warning Lights
Warning aka (“MIL” malfunction indicator lamps)
Should illuminate for a “lamp check” with ignition on.
And, go out after engine starts.
If they stay on.
Grab a scan tool to see what’s going on.
Vehicles 1996 and newer use OBD2 connection.
Ideally, you don’t want any Engine, ABS, SRS, TPMS fault codes
Even if it Engine light isn’t on in some cases,
They could have had the trouble codes cleared recently.
You need to check OBD2 “readiness monitors”
Now, you’re looking for all monitors to be “OK”.
If the monitors are “incomplete” or “not ready” means you could still have a current problem.
They haven’t met certain criteria yet from clearing the codes or a recent dead battery. That’s a topic for another time.
If it has codes or monitors are not ok. You might want to find out what’s going on or find a different rig.
If it’s road worthy
Test Drive the Vehicle
So if you can try to test drive it for about 10-15 minutes or so.
From slow up to highway speeds.
To, get a good listen, for any engine noises, shakes, hums, vibrations, squeaks. squeals and squalls, that could show up at different speeds.
Shakes when applying the brakes? Could indicate bad rotors.
Check the oil pressure, engine temp, charging voltage.
Also feel for any excessive play in the wheel.
Or, when slightly turning to the right and left going straight down the road, will load the wheel bearing.
Like when changing lanes.
You’re Listening for any changes in sounds and or rough growling noises.
Which could indicate a bad bearing.
With an automatic transmission make sure it goes right in gear smoothly.
Without any loud banging or clanking noises. While holding the brake shifting from reverse then to drive.
Also if it takes a long time going in gear could be a sign of a potential problem.
While in drive still holding the brake firmly give it a tiny bit of throttle for a second let off do same thing in reverse. Feel something clunk? Could be a bad motor mount.
When riding down the road make sure it shifts smooth
And doesn’t slip, going positively in each gear.
Just make sure it shifts good and sounds smooth through the gears and the clutch doesn’t chatter or slip.
Let on and off the throttle pedal, going down the road.
Feel for any driveline slop and listen for transmission or rear end noises.
Also make sure,
The engine runs smooth, and doesn’t hesitate (misfire) when you power in on it.
It’s even a good idea to ride with the window down to hear a little better.
Pay attention when going over bumps listen for squeaky and clanking suspension parts.
Just remember if you hear any wild noises.
It could be a clear indication something is going to cost you some coin to correct.
Does it Track straight?
Hopefully your friend came along?
If so you can have them watch the vehicle as you drive it off down the road.
Or maybe have the owner drive it as you look.
Make sure it tracks straight.
If it tracks off to the side (aka dog walking or side tracking)
It could have a shifted axle, maybe a bent suspension components, or possibly a bent frame.
Test out the….
Four Wheel Drive
You may need to locate and take a quick look in the owner’s manual or look it up online to know how to get it in 4wd.
If, you’re not familiar with the vehicle.
Check the transfer case make sure that is goes in 4 hi 4 low nicely.
How to check if 4WD works
In a safe place at very slow speed in 4Hi and 4Low.
Turn all the way left or right and see if it feels like it binds up or has more resistance. Feeling different than when in 2wd.
If it does a good indication it probably working.
Or, have someone observe the tires turning.
Only other option lift all four tires off the ground.
Also when driving and turning the wheel listen for clicking or clunking popping. Which could indicate bad, CV joints, front axle steering U joint.
Does it Have Diff Lockers?
If the vehicle is equipped with differential lockers make sure they work.
E lockers, Air lockers, Manual lockers.
One way to check after engaging them from a stop.
Turn right and left typically tires will chirp and skip when you turn.
Adding more resistance making it even more difficult to turn reducing the turning radius as well.
Another way would be with the vehicle off wheels chocked. Jack up and jack stand one wheel off the ground spin the tire by hand (open rear)
Then engage the locker and see if the wheel locks in and stops spinning.
Also, with air lockers if you hear a compressor running off the hook. You probably have a leak somewhere.
Sum it up
Now, if it passes some of the critical criteria without too much wrong with it.
And seems like a solid ride, and your really interested in purchasing it.
It might be a good idea to try to work out something with the owner. And take it to an independent mechanic that you trust. If you’re in your local area.
Or, maybe find a mobile mechanic for a pre purchase inspection.
Even it it does cost some for the inspection, doesn’t hurt to have another set of educated eyes to go over it. Just to make sure you know what your getting.
Now, hopefully at least you have a better understanding of what to look for and figure out whether the deal make sense for you or not.
Or, you can get an idea of what it might cost to fix it and or possibly use it for leverage to wheel and deal.