How I inspect cars, particularly E38s, as a dealer.

Originally posted at

For those of you who know me from the boards, you know I'm a dealer and I sell a fair amount of E38s as well as other cars.  The upside is, I play with cars that I love (I am a hard core car freak) for a living.  Downside is, sometimes I have no more than a few minutes to look them over before spending sometimes as much as $50,000 or more!

You can take your prospective purchase to a mechanic, I can't.  These are methods that I have sort of developed over the years.  Yup, I'm 29 but have been buying Highline cars wholesale since 1996.  I just figured something out.  I have bought almost $100,000,000 worth of cars over the years.  Pay attention :)

The first thing I look at on a car is the body... I'm looking for, aside from obvious damage, paintwork.  Here's a great page I threw together on paintwork, access it by clicking here:  PAINTWORK PAGE

Now I can spot paintwork oftentimes by looking, even from quite a distance, you can't.  You basically want to look for color imbalance in the paint, and to make sure all the panels line up right.  If the carfax report shows an accident, then you might want to have a qualified tech look the car over to check for frame damage, if any is present.  A Carfax accident report doesnt mean the car was "hurt" or "wrecked", and lack of one on a Carfax also doesnt mean that the car was never hurt.  On a several year-old car minor previous damage isn't of concern.  On a CPO-Level car, it sure is and hurts the car's value.  Do I care if that 1997 740i with 110K has had a fender changed?  No.  Not as long as the Apron wasn't damaged.  Ah-ha!  What's an Apron?  That's the inner front fender and part of the car's unibody structure.  That's frame damage.  If the left front fender got scraped and a new one was bolted on with NO other damage, who cares.  In reality the car's fine.  What's unibody damage is damage to the Pillars, rear quarters, floors, rockers, roof, etc.  Basically anything that's NOT bolt-on sheetmetal.  Radiator core supports, fenders, decklids, hoods, doors, that's not unibody.

OK, so by now I have determind that the car wasn't hit as hard or as often as Joe Louis, it's time to look at the rest of it.  The next thing I look at are the tires... this is important.  I want to see, on an E38 with stock wheels the following:  Name brand tires in a performance speed rating.  A Set of Pep Boys tures is a HUGE red flag.  We all know how expensive these monsters are to maintain, if they couldnt spring another $200 for good tires, how did they take care of the rest of the car?  Are they worn evenly?  Do they all match?

Next thing we look at is under the hood.  I pull the oil cap with the engine off and look for nastiness, I also look for crud or sludge on the dipstick.  That's a bad thing.  I also stick my finger in the expansion tank (Assuming the car is cold) and look for nasty residue.  I'm also looking for either a super clean, or super nasty engine, I take a quick peek for leaks, things missing, or things jury-rigged.

After that, I get in the car.  First thing I do is turn the key on but DO NOT START THE ENGINE!  Make sure all the warning lights are there and that no schmuck pulled the bulbs for the check engine light, ABS, Airbag, etc.  If a bulb is not coming on, it's because someone pulled it.  Sounds stupid but a lot of people fall for that.  This is very common with "CHECK ENGINE" lights.  The only one I see pulled a lot that I am OK with is the "SERVICE" light on 96-98 Volvos, the dealer needs to reset it and it's annoying to a lot of people who maintain the car well anyways.

OK, now it's time to start it up, look for the obvious.. give it a second to build oil pressure and then rev it up slowly and smoothly, listen for noises...........  then engage the tranny in drive, make sure it engages smoothly and properly.. no delay.  Then go to Neutral, wait a second and hit reverse.

Now, back in park... Now's the time to loosen (NOT REMOVE) the oil filler cap, a WOOSH sound indicates a bad oil separator valve (Happens after you turn the cap and pull it up a hair).  Listen for bad noises, etc.

OK, now back inside.  Firt thing, hit the air.  Then hit the power windows, sunroof, acessories.  Hit the radio, make sure it sounds good, etc.

Turn the steering lock to lock, listen for bad noises and check for play.  A Healthy E38 has NO free play in the steering at idle.

Look at the seats, headliner... etc... check the lighters to see if it was a smoker's car.  You want to kind of get a feel for how the car's been maintained.  I want to see a nice clean car with no paintwork, decent original floormats (Shows the PO wasnt a pig), clean ashtrays, no evidence of orange juice or coffee near the cupholder, or center console cubbys, etc.

By now the car should be warmed up and you can hear for bad cats, etc.

If it passes all these tests, THEN you take it to a mechanic to get looked at AFTER you test drive it.

Feel free to post questions on Bimmerboard.