Article by Justin Pritchard

Regardless of its country of origin, brand, age or history, a car is a machine made of parts that will eventually wear out, break, and require replacement. The speed and rate at which this occurs depends on many factors — so buying a new car without making some important generic checks is strongly advised against.

“But it’s red and has a sunroof and I just love it!!!!!!!” say used car shoppers every day, everywhere, with lust in their eyes.

Used Car Checks
Used Car Checks
Used Car Checks
Used Car Checks. Click image to enlarge

“And it’s safetied!! Surely, it can’t have a blown head gasket and a leaky diff and a rat’s-nest of wiring issues waiting to leave my wallet emptier than the Canadiens’ locker room after the beginning of May?”

Firstly, yes it can. Secondly, a safety, certification, or whatever, is largely a joke. In most provinces ‘certified’ means the horn works, and that the vehicle has four tires and four brakes and a windshield. You can even safety a car without an engine, if you like. A safety is in no way a guarantee that the vehicle is reliable, or won’t break down. It simply means the vehicle has met some very minimal standard that it’ll go down the road without falling apart like Chinese patio furniture.

So hopefully, the used car you’re considering is in great shape with no issues. But maybe it’s not. To help protect yourself from expensive surprises, and to help confirm that the seller isn’t trying to pass along a repair he’d love to be someone else’s problem, here’s a list of important used-car checks you shouldn’t miss.

Hitting some used-car dealers or sellers this weekend? Print this out, and take it shopping with you.

And remember: you need more than an hour to go buy a car. Do your homework, make an appointment with a mechanic, and don’t be a sucker.

Timing Belt: Depending on the year, make and model of the vehicle in question there’s a good chance its engine employs a rubber belt to control valve timing. This belt connects the crankshaft and camshaft pulleys, thereby operating the valves in precise relation to the position of the pistons inside the engine.

In simple English the timing belt sets the mechanical heartbeat of the engine.

If your own belt breaks, you’re likely to have a saggy sort of day in the trouser department. If your timing belt breaks, your valves will get smashed in when they’re hit by the piston that’s supposed to not touch them and your drive is over. Congratulations: you’ve just experienced catastrophic engine failure, your engine is a paperweight, and you’re out $2,500 – minimum.

There are no warning lights or wear indicators when a timing belt is wearing out. Simply, they’re changed regularly before failure. So, be double-sure to determine where the timing belt on the ride in question sits within its service life. Ask the seller for documentation proving that the belt was replaced. If they claim it has been but can’t seem to find that pesky receipt, remind them that their dealer can probably pull it up for them.

If the timing belt on the ride you’re considering is past due for servicing, be sure to determine what, if any, other maintenance duties the seller neglected, and budget for a timing belt change. This can cost $600 or more, depending on the model.

Note that not all engines use timing belts. Check with your local dealer or on Google to see if the model you’re considering has one or not.

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