Let's begin with the outside or under the vehicle. Although nowadays, long-time guarantees against corrosion are the order of the day, we would still urgently recommend putting the car on a hoist to check the outside. In addition, a pocket flashlight and one or more light tyre-levers would be ideal. Before doing a detailed inspection, one should have a look at the complete underbody (picture 11). Does everything appear to be fairly straight? Is everything where it should be? Can you see anywhere that has obviously been worked on? Are any fluids leaking out of where they shouldn't? Does anywhere look like something has been wiped away or look particularly clean?
Be careful if the underbody has recently been completely sealed ...
Now you can start to have a closer look, e.g., the tyres can be inspected better than from above. The remaining amount of tread is just one factor. Are there perhaps winter-tyres mounted, which have been used in the summer months? Is the amount of tread-depth evenly distributed? Maybe they show one-sided wear and tear. Are all four tyres the same make and size? One can check the age of the tyres by looking at the DOT-No.
It would be important that no areas of the underbody have been worked on or patched up. The best thing would be that the dirt is distributed evenly over the whole area. As far as the bodywork is concerned, one could poke around the door-sills and the cross-beams, however, if there are no clearer signs of corrosion this won't mean all that much. There are so many hollow cavities in a carbody, that one would have to have a concrete suspicion. There are experts who know more about the weaknesses of individual vehicle types.
Concentrate on the chassis and suspension. Are the shock absorbers dry? Have a look at as many rubber coverings as you can. Is grease coming out from anywhere? If possible, have someone turn the steering wheel back and forth. Hold any swivel-joints using your whole hand, that way you may be able to feel if there is any play. Most of the time, if you've not found any faults, the rest of the checking is not done quite as intensively. That's when you may overlook something, indeed, one can assume, that if any, only individual repairs will have to be made.
Now, why do we still have the tyre-levers in our hands? You can use them to try and lever out the individual universal joints. When doing this, avoid damaging the rubber covers or collars. Speaking of the rubbers: Supporting joints, e.g., wishbones, are also bedded in rubber (see picture 12). Here you can check for cracks and above all, for play. Basically, one should pay very close attention to the suspension of each individual wheel.
In comparison, faults in the exhaust system seem to be less of a danger. Unfortunately however, repairing them can be pretty expensive. In this case, the MOT-authorities will show no mercy. Try, without damaging them, to shake the individual sections to find out if there's any loose material in them. Check the mounting of the whole system. Have a look at the whole system from a distance, to make sure that no section has perhaps been mounted the wrong way around. Any leaky points can possibly be found by blocking the exhaust with a large rag and then starting the engine (be careful, exhausts get very hot!).
The braking system is of course, of prime importance. The discs should always be checked to see if there is any grooving. Actually the discs should also be checked for fissures but, for the layman, this is somewhat difficult. It is in fact, not even that easy to get to the brake-discs, even from the inside (see picture 5). As far as road safety is concerned, inspecting the piping system and particularly the flexible tubing, is possibly even more important. Bend the tubing slightly to see if there are cracks or any abrasions. By the way, checking the fuel supply lines in the same manner, wouldn't be a bad idea either. 07/13