What's the Most Important Maintenance After Buying a Used Car?

Illustration for article titled What's the Most Important Maintenance After Buying a Used Car?
Photo: Justin Westbrook

I’m throwing my well-used Honda S2000 up on a lift this weekend for the first time for some light maintenance, and I also want to give it a full look over while it’s up there. The car’s new to me and I haven’t done a real deep-dive yet (which I maybe should have done before letting all my co-workers hoon it.) What should I look for?


I’ve ordered some motor oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid, and a new positive crankcase ventilation valve for my 184,000-mile Honda, just as a starting point. But I also want to give it some sort of post-purchase inspection—something like what I probably should’ve done before buying the car.

After driving my S2000 more than 1,000 miles since purchase, I can safely say it works, but it does have its quirks. Most notably, it burns a concerning amount of oil, it has an occasional grind in second gear, and I think that basically all of the tires leak air, for some reason. So I’ll be trying to look into those things.

Your turn. Do you have some sort of new (used) car purchasing ritual? Do you clean the interior and look for loose change? Do you start pulling belly pans off and looking for play in suspension parts? What do you think is the most important thing to do after you buy a used car?

ex Jalopnik car boy, former social media editor.


The ritual is very simple.

First you order a new set of racing tires to replace the garbage economy tires the previous owner had. While waiting for those to arrive, you stress out about the life of the clutch and assume that changing the fluids in your car will help relieve that anxiety. You Google the process for all the fluid changes and realize the only one you actually feel like doing is the oil. Then you change the oil and the filter, and clean up parts of the engine bay with some paper towels under the assumption that if the engine bay is pretty the car will reward you with years of reliable operation. The new tires arrive and you schedule an appointment with Tim to go put them on the car. That won’t be for another week, but he’s cheap, so you don’t complain. So while the tires sit and make sure your garage smells like a rubber factory, you look up the cost of new brake pads and figure “Screw it, I might as well just get new rotors too because those are the cheap part here.” At this point you’re closing in on $1000 toward your brand new purchase that you were thrilled you found for $800 under market value because you’re a shrewd negotiator. Then you clean the hell out of the car. I mean scrub it, wax it, treat it like it’s never been treated, because you know how paint works and if you baby it now for once in its long sad life, you’ll surely bring the paint back to better than original condition. So after 90 minutes when your back and legs are sore you call it quits but it looks pretty good anyway. Then you take pictures of it in your driveway and send it to your friends and family and stare at the pictures of it in your free time.

And two years later you simply replace it and start from step 1.