Look, Listen and Feel…
Look, listen and feel is the process used to determine breathing on an unconscious human to determine if CPR is required. This is also the process of the mechanical evaluation on a vehicle. Equally as important as the vehicle’s structural integrity and appearance is the mechanical condition of the vehicle. Let’s face it although a collector car is considered to be a rolling works of art, they were built to be driven and enjoyed. Far too often a collector car is purchased at a collector car auction and the buyer soon discovers of a myriad of undisclosed mechanical issues will need to be addressed upon delivery. When buying a car from a private party or a dealer a pre purchase inspection of the vehicle mechanically is always money well spent. Sometime the scheduling of a mechanical PPI by a factory trained mechanic is not feasible logistically or the time required can cost you a loss of the vehicle to another buyer. If you are unable to have an experienced mechanic inspect the vehicle, a general mechanical inspection of the vehicle can be made through some sensory observations.
When I first start a mechanical inspection I always ask that the vehicle be cold and not warmed up before I arrive. A cold start of the vehicle will tell you a bit about the condition of the vehicles fuel pumps, fuel filter and the ignition system. Older carburetor cars will typically need a bit of priming of the gas pedal or choke switch before the engine will turn over. I also asked to see exactly where the vehicle is kept inside of the garage. The presence of larger size pools of oil stains or transmission fluid could be a red flag. This is not always the case, if the owner has receipts for recent repair work or if the staining appears to have been there for quite some time and multiple cars have shared that spot in the garage. The appearance of wet fluids or a damp piece of carpeting or cardboard is also a good indication of fluid leaks. In most cases at a private owner residence the use of a mechanical post lift is not available so do not arrive for the inspection wearing your Sunday’s best as you will be crawling around the vehicle with a flash light. If a floor jack is handy it would be an invaluable tool to get a better look at the vehicles undercarriage also. Inspecting the condition of the undercarriage starts with an evaluation of its frame, sub-frame suspension, rocker panels, fender wells and floor pans for rust. Heavy amounts of non factory applied undercoating will be a concern as it can be an attempt to hide rust. As stated earlier, heavy rust with noticeable holes in the frame and floor pans usually terminates my inspection from further consideration based upon the buyers ambition and budget. Pay particular attention underneath for fluids dripping from the valve cover, power steering box, oil pan gasket and the rear main seal. On most vintage automobiles it is very likely that the rear main seal will have a little seepage, but an excessive leak at this gasket can be a very expensive repair. Leaks from the valve cover gaskets are common and not as expensive a repair to address. A leaking power steering box is also a concern as a replacement is inevitable. While under the car look at the condition of the exhaust, hoses, and motor mounts and bushings if visible? If these are not visible from the ground, you will be able to detect the failure of these rubber items through feel and sound during the test drive portion of the inspection.
A mandatory check of all fluids, belts and hoses are visually checked while looking under the hood. The condition of aluminum, cadmium plated components and the presence factory markings and decals are to be inspected as their presence is expected on original low mileage examples. The presence of a factory applied hood insulation is always a big plus as these materials decompose over time and finding this original material intact is a good sign of the vehicles environment of how it was stored. Replacement cost of this material is nominal. Although these items are cosmetic the presence of these item in original and pristine condition are a good indicator of the care that the vehicle received. After 20+ years of inspecting the cars of private sellers, the fastidiously maintained low mileage cars are typically just as well maintained mechanically.
Up to this point all observation are visual and the “look” portion of the inspection is exhausted while the vehicle is not running. It’s time now to turn the key, as all three senses come into play as we look to determine any apparent issues that will need to be addressed.