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Classic Car Inspection Checklist by Schumacher Secure

Examining the condition of a classic vehicle before you purchase it is an integral part of the buying process. Use this as a guideline, be thorough and you’ll make the experience worthwhile and avoid unforeseen repair costs.

Body

  • ❑   Are seams where doors and fenders meet even and straight? Smooth edges?
  • ❑   Are seams where the hood and trunk meet the fenders even and straight? Smooth edges?
  • ❑   Does a magnet cling to all steel body panels? (Be sure to test fenders, the lower corners of doors, and rocker panels—the areas below doors. If a magnet doesn't cling, suspect body filler was used to repair rust or accident damage.)
  • ❑   Are all body panels the same color? Check the metallic in paint also..
  • ❑   Has the car been recently repainted? (Look for signs of spray paint on moldings; also check the edges of the doors, hood, and trunk to be sure they are all the same color. Fresh paint may cover rust that will continue to progress.)

Tires

  • ❑   Do all tires have the same amount of tread? Outside & inside tread..
  • ❑   Are all tires the same size? (Check tire size markings on tire sidewalls.)
  • ❑   Are all tires the same brand?
  • ❑   Is there a spare tire, jack, and lug wrench? If the vehicle has locking hubcaps, is there a key for removing them?
  • ❑   Is the spare tire inflated (Press hard against the side with your thumb; the tire should be firm.)

Suspension

  • ❑   Does the vehicle sit level?
  • ❑   Bounce each corner of the vehicle. Do all corners respond the same? (Corners should only bounce once or twice before stopping.)
  • ❑   Do you hear a creaking noise when bouncing the vehicle's corners?

Frame

  • ❑   Examine inside trunk, wheel wells, and under hood. Do you see areas that look like they have been crumpled and straightened? Black thick paint used to cover a repair?
  • ❑   Look underneath each side of the vehicle for a row of holes in the frame just inside the vehicle's outer edge.
  • ❑   Do holes appear scratched or recently cleaned? (If so, suspect the frame has been straightened after a crash. May need a mechanic & a lift)

Gas Cap and Filler Neck

  • ❑   Is there a gas cap? Does it fit correctly? (If the cap locks, is there a key?) Overspray?
  • ❑   Remove the gas cap and check inside the filler neck. Is there a fuel-nozzle restrictor to prevent adding leaded fuel? (Most states require them.)

Interior

  • ❑   Is upholstery in good condition? (Look for tears, stains, and burns.)
  • ❑   Are the dashboard and headliner in good condition?
  • ❑   Do seats adjust easily?
  • ❑   Are any window cranks/buttons, door locks, handles, dash controls or similar items missing?
  • ❑   Do all interior lights and dash bulbs work?
  • ❑   Does carpet condition match the age of the vehicle? Wear on brake pedal, match miles?
  • ❑   Does carpeting smell of mildew or stale water, suggesting moisture underneath (or worse, flood damage)?
  • ❑   Check under the dash at the top of the carpet. Are there stains suggesting heater core or air conditioner leakage?

Accessories

  • ❑   Do all accessories, such as the heater, air conditioner, audio system, and alarm system, operate fully? Test all functions of each.

Engine Compartment

  • ❑   Are there signs of oil or fluid leaks? Any scratches on any bolts, showing work done?
  • ❑   Run the engine at full operating temperature. Are there abnormal smells that might be due to leaking fluids on hot engine parts? Is the oil cap clean, dirty or milky?
  • ❑   Are there unusual noises, such as clattering or metallic sounds, or sharp hissing, in the engine compartment when the engine is running? (Normal sound is smooth whirring of belts and fan.)
  • ❑   Does anything appear to be missing? (Look for shiny or clean areas where parts may have been removed.)

Under the Vehicle

  • ❑   Are there fluid leaks on the underside of the engine and transmission, at axle ends, at brake line connections, or on the ground beneath the vehicle? Green fluid is usually antifreeze; reddish fluid is usually power steering or transmission fluid; dark brown or black fluid is usually oil or brake fluid.
  • ❑   Are any parts loose, with the exception of exhaust parts slung from flexible rubber "donuts"?
  • Does anything appear missing, such as bolts, clamps, brackets or cables?
  • ❑   Are exhaust system parts rusty?
  • ❑   Are there marks from scrapes, indicating the car has bottomed out on rocks or pavement?
  • ❑   Examine exhaust when the car is operating at normal temperature. Do you see white or blue smoke? (Both can indicate an engine problem, especially if the smoke burns your eyes. A small amount of steam is normal, especially in cold weather.)

Engine

  • ❑   Does the engine start easily?
  • ❑   Does the engine stall at any time?
  • ❑   Does the engine idle smoothly?
  • ❑   Does the idle speed seem too slow or fast?
  • ❑   Does the engine hesitate or stumble on acceleration?
  • ❑   Does the engine run smoothly during operation?
  • ❑   Does the engine seem to lack power?
  • ❑   If the vehicle has cruise control, do all features work correctly? Do engine or other system warning lights appear? Temp gauge normal?
  • ❑   Does the engine diesel (continue running) when shut off?

Transmission and Clutch

  • ❑   Is automatic shifting smooth? Under a faster acceleration too?
  • ❑   On a manual-shift vehicle, is take-off smooth, without grabbing or jerking?
  • ❑   On a manual-shift vehicle, accelerate hard in a higher gear (third or fourth) or while going uphill.
  • ❑   If engine rpms rise without a corresponding increase in vehicle speed, the clutch could be slipping. It may need to be adjusted or replaced.
  • ❑   On a manual-shift vehicle, try shifting to a lower gear when going slowly. Does the transmission shift easily, without grinding?

Brakes

  • ❑   Apply the brakes several times at different speeds. Also try a sudden stop. Does the vehicle pull to one side when brakes are applied?
  • ❑   Do brakes stop the vehicle adequately?
  • ❑   If the vehicle has anti lock brakes (ABS), try stopping suddenly. Do wheels lock? (A pulsing brake pedal is normal.)
  • ❑   Does the parking brake hold firmly and release completely?

Steering

  • ❑   Does the vehicle pull to one side during normal operation?
  • ❑   Is steering difficult at any speed?
  • ❑   Turn sharply in both directions. Do you hear clunking or other noises, or feel rubbing or binding?
  • ❑   Does the vehicle shake or vibrate while moving? (Take the vehicle up to freeway speed for this test.)

Originality

  • ❑   Are VIN, engine, transmission numbers matching or period correct?
  • ❑   Are colors paint, interior, upholstery original or redone period correct?
  • ❑   Are wheels, tools, spare, A/C original or period correct?

If you don’t have the time to inspect the vehicle before you purchase it or can’t be present, you can always hire a specialist to perform the pre-purchase inspection.

Robert Delmotte is our resident classic car specialist and the author of this detailed checklist. He specializes in the import and export of European classic cars. To learn more follow the link above.

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