Ok...check the general condition of the body of the car. ie: look for rust, dents, crooked body lines, overspray (bad paint jobs).
Check the inside of the car for evidence of water leaks. Check the carpet to see if it is dry under the floor mats and behind the seats. Check the spare tire area for water.
Take it for a roadtest. Go through all the gears a few times to make sure that the transmission is in good shape. Take a few sharp turns at slow speeds to see if the axles are clicking. Leave the car to idle for a couple of mins to see how it runs without any throttle. Test all the lights and turn signals while it's idling.
Lastly, but very importantly, closely inspect the 3 Vehicle Identification Number locations on the car. All 3 should be present. Here's some definite signs of a problem:
-The door sticker is scratched off or painted over.
-The dash VIN plate shows signs of damage, or loose rivets. Look for evidence of glue around the plate. It should be securely fastened down with black rivets only.
-The firewall VIN is stamped into the firewall. It is not a separate plate. If it looks like someone has attached a plate to the firewall with the VIN on it, it could be a plate that was cut from the firewall of a different car.
Also, I forgot to mention. Always do a Lien search and a vehicle background check. www.carfax.com can give you good information about collision history, odometer rollbacks, and other nasty details that the owner might not know or willingly provide. You can usually do a lien search through your local government motor vehicle branch.
Like Stickershop said run a Carfax. Do not buy anything from the gulf area of the U.S. (shame too used to be home to lots of hardly rusted EFs). There are literally thousands of cars that were flooded or went under in storm surge (saltwater so they won't even be good parts cars) being totalled by insurance companies. Some will end up with shady dealers trying to sell them. Just the other day I saw a semi loaded with late model cars and SUV's with insurance companies stickers on their windows. They also had clear water marks on their windows. The semi's door said "New York Auto Auctions" on it.
wow, thats messed! good point, i'm not plannin on importing one (i'm in canada here) so that shouldn't be too much fo an issue (thank you for the heads up, i was unaware!).
i saw a rex today!
1988 SI... freshly painted black with shaved side mouldings, no water leaks, body has 280k on it, motor has 170k but burns oil... got 16" rims (which i could care less about, i just need to get around)...
The sunroof of the car was shaved.. (the top looks like theres no sunroof... and from the inside it looks like there is one)...
how much would you pay for this car? he's asking 2000... i offered 1600...
it may be a no-brainer, but check all fluids too. if the brake fluid looks like motor oil, then the cars brakes (if not other things) need attention. if ALL fluids look neglected (low oil, coolant level, etc) then maybe the car hasnt been looked after so well.
my grandpa once told me that if the owner of any vehicle takes the time to wash around the doors and around the hatch and hood (places that dont get washed often) then the owner pays attention to details, and probably takes good mechanical care of a car too.