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How to perform a used transport vehicle inspection

Before buying a used transport vehicle a thorough inspection is a must-do. There are specialists that can perform the inspection for you, but you can also do it yourself. If you choose to do the inspection yourself, make sure you leave nothing unchecked. Read our helpful tips and follow the steps.

Don’t miss a single inspection point. Download our TRADUS used transport vehicle inspection checklist (PDF) to take with you.

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Preparing your used transport vehicle inspection

Before we go into the detailed step-by-step used transport vehicle inspection, let’s quickly go over the preparation. Check below if you haven’t missed anything before taking off to the seller.

Did you find the right used transport vehicle?

Have you found the right used transport vehicle? To be absolutely sure, review the following aspects:

  • Your wants and needs – e.g, loading capacity, fuel economy, accessories etc.
  • Availability of parts – is there a supplier and/or shop nearby that can help you with maintenance and repairs? Finding this out before buying your vehicle can save you a lot of time and money.
  • Your budget – this should include the price of the vehicle, but also additional taxes and repair, maintenance, financing, and insurance costs.
  • Financing and insurance – it pays to shop around for the financing and/or insurance options that suit your needs and fit your budget.
  • Regulations and restrictions – how easy is it to import the vehicle to the buyer country? Can you register it in the buying country (e.g. Euro 5 vs Euro 6)

Try our advanced search

Do you have a clear picture of what you’re looking for? See which vehicles that meet your requirements also fit your budget. Use our advanced used transport vehicle search to find any models that you may have overlooked.

You’ll soon have a list of used transport vehicles that fit your criteria. Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or a few serious finalists, it’s time to start looking at the inspection.

Parts of the inspection you can do from home

TRADUS is an international marketplace. That means there’s a chance the used transport vehicle of your choice is not being sold around the corner. In that case preparation is key.

It’s best to check the documentation upfront, such as ownership papers, maintenance history, damage reports etc. Get in touch with the seller and ask to send it to you.

Research the engine model history for any known chronic problems or outstanding recalls. Also, always a good advice is to educate yourself in advance about the specific of this model’s bord computer beforehand – so you know how to read it right when you see it.

Ask as many questions as you can to get a clear picture of the vehicle. For example:

  • Why is the vehicle being sold?
  • Does the vehicle have a valid maintenance license – e.g. TÜV?
  • Has it ever been in any type of accident?
  • How did the last owner use the vehicle? On what sort of roads?
  • Is everything in good working order?
  • Are there any noteworthy aspects about the condition of the vehicle?
  • Does the purchase come with any warranty?
  • Are there any parts that need replacing now or in the near future?
  • Can the seller help with temporary license plates for the transportation?
  • Etc.

Last but not least, think about what you’re willing to pay for the vehicle (considering the state of the vehicle is as you believe it to be). Before taking your trip, make sure to validate the pricing arrangement with the seller – and make it pending final inspection and confirmation of vehicle condition.

Final preparation

Never take off on an inspection trip without the following:

  • A specialist. Bring a mechanic or a truck driver with you that can provide an expert opinion – or might see “things from a different angle”
  • A flashlight. It will come in handy when you want to check darker areas, such as axles, engine, etc.
  • A measure tape – check the dimensions of your truck, such as wheel base, body dimension.
  • And bring along our used transport vehicle inspection checklist (PDF).

Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to start the actual inspection.

Part 1: The paperwork

If you haven’t checked this already, check the paperwork on location as step one of your used transport vehicle inspection. These are the things to look for:

  • Maintenance and oil change records
  • Accident history
  • Vehicle inspection license: TÜV, MOT, etc
  • Certificate conformity license VOC (for trucks with first registration post 2014)
  • Temporary license plate to transport the vehicle across country borders

If the records show everything has been done according to the manufacturer’s requirements, you can move on to the next part. If not, find out why. If the seller has no satisfactory answers to your questions, you can skip the inspection and move on to another used transport vehicle. While mileage is an important factor, low numbers mean nothing if maintenance hasn’t been properly conducted at the right intervals.

Part 2: The exterior

Preferably perform your used transport vehicle inspection in daylight on a dry day. Rain and lack of light can easily mask cosmetic indicators of problems.

The body

Check the body panels for uneven gaps and color differences. Also check for rust, dents, and scratches. Of course the vehicle may have light damages (depending on your preferences). However, any signs of constructional damage should be a deal breaker – or a large bargaining chip. Use your magnet to check for any areas that look like they might have been treated with filler.

Take your flashlight and check dark spots underneath cabin and chassis for chassis number.

Open and close the doors and other hinged panels to see if they open and shut properly. All rubber seals around doors, windows etc. should be in good condition.

While doors and other panels are opened, check for frame damage or signs of repaired frame damage. Any scratched bolts or welds where they shouldn’t be are good reasons to ask questions.

Glass surfaces

All glass surfaces on the used transport vehicle must show no cracks or large cratered areas. Cracks, however small, can easily get bigger and may be expensive to repair. Small chips on windows or other glass surfaces don’t necessarily have to be a problem. Any damages that you weren’t informed about before inspecting the vehicle can be used to discuss the price.

Suspension

For this part the used transport vehicle must be parked on even ground. Take a few steps away from the vehicle and check if it’s standing level. If the body seems to be hanging slightly lower in one or two corners, this could be an indicator of suspension problems.

Lights, lenses, and other electrical parts

Check all the lights in all their settings. Also check the glass surfaces (and reflectors) for any damage, fog, and just to see if they’re all there.

Does the vehicle have any control consoles on the outside? Press, tug, and twist all the knobs and levers to see if everything is in good working order.

Tires

The tires of a used transport vehicle require extra attention during your inspection. They can tell you a lot about the overall condition of the vehicle and how it was treated.

Check if the tires per axles are of the same brand and type. Check the tread on each tire for even wear. If there is more wear on the outside or inside – it could be an indicator of wrong wheel alignment. Make sure the tread depth is still over the minimum legal limit.

Don’t skip the spare tire during your inspection – and check tire pressure on the spare tire. The tools to replace the tire should also be there.

Finally, check if the condition of the tires matches the mileage on the odometer. Low mileage combined with worn-out tires are a telltale sign of odometer rollback.

Look underneath

Before climbing underneath, check the ground below the vehicle for any leaking liquids.

If possible, get underneath the used transport vehicle for a rust inspection. Especially the frame must show no signs of damage.

Part 3: The engine bay

When you look at the engine of a used transport vehicle, the first thing you should look for is corrosion and fluid stains. Any oil, coolant, or other fluids on the engine may be the result of leakage. Belts and hoses must be in good condition and not dried out. Radiator hoses should feel firm.

If you find dirty brown coolant, this could mean that the cooling liquid has never been changed.

Part 4: Stepping inside the vehicle

Always a good start of this part of the inspection is your own opinion. How does the vehicle look? Check if everything is still attached and functioning properly, incl seatbelts.

A good tip is to educate yourself in advance about the bord computer of this particular model: Where/how can you find all the right metrics – so you can compare the details with the condition of the vehicle

All electrical parts need to be in good working order. All handles, levers, knobs etc. must function properly and still be in place. Pay close attention to the air conditioner, and see if it keeps the interior cool. Also don’t forget the interior lights, warning lights on the dashboard, stereo, and backup camera (if installed).

Does the state of the interior reflect the used transport vehicle’s age and mileage? If the odometer shows low mileage, but the interior looks worn out, it could be a sign of odometer rollback.

Are the required additional necessities available in the truck, e.g.  warning light /triangle, reflector jacket?

Part 5: the test drive

If there are any doubts about the quality, check if it’s possible to make a test drive. Beware: for many B2B dealers, this is not a standard protocol.

Cold start

Before you roll off, start the engine. Watch the temperature gauge. Is the engine cold? If not, the seller may have warmed up the engine for a reason.

Let the engine idle after a cold start. Watch the exhaust for fumes. White vapor is usually a bad sign – except in cold weather.

Check the exhaust

There must be no excessive noise coming from the exhaust. Otherwise you might be dealing with muffler problems. The engine should also make no squealing, rattling, or knocking noises. See if there are any leaks, and open the oil filler cap again. If there are any fumes, you might be dealing with engine trouble.

Your test drive

If possible, check if you can test the vehicle… be aware it is not very common for sellers in B2B trade. Make sure it’s properly insured. Ask the seller to point out some quiet roads if you don’t know the area. This allows you to focus as much as possible on the ride, during which you can check the following points:

Before heading out

Check the brakes at low speeds before going on a long drive. Don’t go over 50 km/h. Be on the lookout for intense vibration, strange noises, squeaking sounds, and pulsating grip. Also, the transport vehicle should stop in a straight line without pulling to either side.

During the entire test drive

Keep an eye on the dashboard for any warning lights during your drive. Also regularly look at the temperature gauge. If it gets up to halfway rather fast and stays there, the thermostat may be on its last legs. It goes without saying that the engine should not overheat during your drive – otherwise you’re dealing with problems.

While driving, listen for any body noises, such as rattling sounds – especially when driving over bumps.

In all conditions – cruising, accelerating, decelerating, going uphill, on flat roads – should the engine run smoothly. If it sounds rough or noisy, you might be dealing with a vehicle that has been neglected. Also, the vehicle should perform as you’d expect. If it feels less powerful than it should be, there may be something wrong.

Uphill accelerations

No excessive smoke should come from the exhaust during the test drive. A good way to test this is by accelerating uphill.

While accelerating uphill, try doing so in a higher gear to check for slipping.

Steering and suspension

A bit of play in the steering wheel is allowed, but it should never be more than 5 cm. If the steering feels heavy to your taste, a further inspection may be needed to check if the power steering is working properly.

Loosen your grip on the steering wheel on a straight and level road. If the vehicle pulls to one side, there may be a problem in the suspension or the steering alignment.

Drive at low speed to see if there’s any unwanted movement in the body. If you feel it shake, you might be dealing with costly issues.

Clutch and transmission

Does the clutch have an easily identifiable gripping point? How much pedal travel is needed to reach that point? If it’s a long way, the clutch is probably worn out.

Gear changes should always be smooth – both up and down – without crunchy noises. When you push the gear stick into neutral, it should self-center.

If you’re driving a vehicle with an automatic gearbox, the changes should feel smooth and occur in line with your road speed, elevation angle, engine load etc.

Brakes

Although you’ve tested them at lower speeds, it’s good to test the brakes again when driving faster. Check if there are no cars behind you. If so, hit the brakes hard. Again, you should stop in a straight line, without pulling to the sides and without any strange noises, vibrations, or other unwanted reactions from the vehicle.

Check the handbrake to see if it works properly.

Warm start

After the drive, the vehicle should be all warmed up (but not overheated, of course). Turn the engine off and back on again to see if it also fires up well when warm.

What do you think?

If the used transport vehicle performs well in this part of the inspection, there is still one question left: how do you like the ride? If you will be the one that uses the vehicle, you should feel comfortable driving it.

Be willing to walk away

If your thorough used transport vehicle inspection brought any major issues to light, always be prepared to walk away. If you can’t find any issues, but the deal just seems too good to be true, also walk away. It’s always better to pass up on a good deal than to blow your money on a bad one.

Deal or no deal?

Now that you’ve decided you want the used transport vehicle, it comes down to getting the vehicle at the right price. You can use the information from our TRADUS Market Value tool to discuss the price.

Download the checklist before the inspection

Be smart. Download the TRADUS used transport vehicle inspection checklist (PDF) and take it with you to your inspection!

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