12 Point Inspection Buying a Used Truck

My darling Boudicca

My darling Boudicca

Once I realized that a Toyota Tacama 2006 4wd was out of my price range I started looking at e-bay and craigslist for the ideal journey truck. I have a few must-haves. It must have 4wd. It must have manual transmission. The would-prefer list includes an 8’bed, no heavy hauling in the past, rust cosmetic only and all windows intact. It has to be local so I can inspect it first.

205,000 miles $1,500

205,000 miles $1,500, but lives in Cleveland

Then I started thinking about the other defects I should spot before committing to purchase the truck. Wonderful Mother Earth News gave these helpful hints when one is buying a used truck:

Mother Earth News’ 12 Point Truck Inspection Checklist:

  1. Examine the truck only in daylight; even a well-lit lot will conceal defects and hamper a good inspection. You should also be on level ground in order to check the fluids correctly. (One person suggested smelling the oil dipstick to check for an odor of gasoline, which indicates an expensive leak.)
  2. Check each opening and body-panel joint for fit. Run your hand along the bottom of the doors and check for hard, rusty edges. (Almost all of the trucks I saw had rust.) Check the panels along the body from back to front; if they seem wavy or uneven, check them with a magnet (plastic body repairs won’t attract a magnet). (Why do I care that they have been repaired with plastic?)
  3. If there are any raised spots on the roof, it means rust underneath. A more extended inspection of that area might be necessary if you want to buy that vehicle.
  4. Look at the inside of each tire for signs of leakage (brake fluid, grease) and tread wear.
  5. Raise the hood, remove the radiator cap and take a look at the coolant fluid. Usually it will be greenish in color. If the color seems wrong, or if the fluid has rust in it, the engine will probably have a tendency to overheat. If you are unsure of the quality of the fluid, an inexpensive tester would be a good investment. (but that is such an easy fix to have the radiator blown out and refilled, no?) Next, examine the air filter for excessive dirt, as well the surface of the engine itself. Large amounts of grease or oil deposited on the engine are an indication that it wasn’t well cared for. Look for recent engine work, like edges of new gaskets showing.  (That would be a plus, no?) Most engines will go 70,000 to 80,000 miles before any major engine work is necessary, but all motors should be checked thoroughly in case the previous owner’s favorite hobby was drag racing. (How would I know if they loved drag racing?) If the car has an automatic transmission, check the transmission dip stick. If the oil on the stick has a burnt smell (like burnt cork), back away! This usually means transmission trouble on the horizon. (no automatic for me!)
  6. Start the engine. Make sure there are no knocks or thuds. These sounds may indicate a bad crankshaft or connecting-rod bearing, and both of them are costly repairs.
  7. Set the emergency brake to see if it holds. Put it in park and let it idle while you go to the rear. Use a rag (wad it up) to cover the tailpipe outlet. If you do not feel pressure while holding the rag against the end of the tailpipe, you have a leaky exhaust (often you’ll be able to hear such a leak as well). Put your car in drive with your foot on the brake to see if it idles okay.
  8. Check all switches and extras on the car (lights, air, etc.)
  9. Drive the car at least 10 miles, shut the engine off, allow it to cool for a moment and then start it again. If the engine hesitates upon starting the second time, have it checked by a mechanic.  It’s always a good idea to take somebody with you on a test drive. The extra rider will be able to notice things like rattle and wind noise that the driver might be oblivious to.
  10. At a safe place, try a panic stop to see if the brakes behave. Next, try a rough road to see if the shocks control after bouncing. Bounce the truck’s front end — if it bounces more than three times, the shocks are worn.

Also: If a seller tells you that his ’85 pickup has 35,000 miles on it, check for a few things, such as excessive wear on the brake pedal (if the comers are worn away, there’s a lot more than 35,000 miles on the truck); wear on the armrests and upholstery; and large numbers of pits on the windshield.

Also: Eyeball the truck from the outside – do the body lines match up? Misaligned body panels can indicate frame damage due to extreme use. Take a look at the truck from the back to see if the box looks twisted compared to the cab.

All good hints. I would also check the door locks (once bought a truck and didn’t realize the locks were busted until I had to lock the doors.) and the VIN if the truck is after 1980.

Oh, this could be an extensive search. I also have to rethink finances re gas mileage, repairs, tires, etc. ad infinitum.

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