Engine Checklist: What To Check When Purchasing Your New (Old) Imperial


Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Engine -> Checklist

1.  Are there any oil leaks?  

A leaking black liquid may be oil from the engine or manual transmission; reddish fluid may be from an automatic transmission; greenish, watery liquid may be antifreeze. Clear water, usually from the air conditioner, is okay. Oily, odorous fluid may be brake fluid. You can recognize gasoline by its smell.

2.  Does the car use excessive oil or smoke when the engine is running? 

3.   Does the engine overheat? 

4.  Does the car idle and accelerate normally?

5.   Listen to the engine.

When you're on the highway at cruising speed, listen for unusual sounds of stress and strain. Even if the weather is very cold or very hot, drive with the window rolled all the way down in order to hear any clanks, groans, or other sounds that could signal expensive repairs down the road. As you accelerate, the engine should not feel as if it is laboring. Listen for a pinging or tapping from the engine. This sound may disappear by simply using a higher-octane gas, or it may signal the need for a major engine overhaul. Have your mechanic check it out. Even if you cannot identify the sounds, report anything unusual to the mechanic who inspects the car for you.

6.   Listen to the engine idle.

Pull over and let the engine idle while the transmission is in park. It should run smoothly. If you notice any acceleration, hesitation, or uneven performance, the problem could be something as simple as an idle adjustment or as serious as a carburetor overhaul. You shouldn't hear any loud tapping noises coming from the engine. If you do, the car may need expensive valve work. If you hear some light ticking or tapping noises, the car may simply need an adjustment. In either case, be sure to put these noises on your mechanic's checklist.
After you've listened to the engine for a while, turn off the key. The engine should stop immediately; if it continues to run for a few seconds, the car might need a carburetor overhaul, or it may simply require a tune-up.
7.   Examine the tail pipe. 

Make sure it's cool; then rub your finger inside the tail pipe. You should see a white or grey powder. If your finger is black and sooty, the car may simply need a tune-up. However, if it's black and gummy, the car probably has a problem with its rings or valves and is burning oil.

8.   Engine Stress Test:

Here's how to conduct an engine "stress" test for cars with automatic transmission and power steering: With the engine idling, air conditioner turned on full (whether you need it or not), lights on with high beams, radio on, and foot on the brake, put the engine in gear -- automatic transmission only -- and turn the wheel (if equipped with power steering) all the way to the left and right. Everything should continue running smoothly. Listen for screeches or howls in the power steering and feel for smoothness as you turn the wheel. There should be no surges or bouncing.

9.   Test the engine's compression.



Here's what to check under the hood of a used Imperial:

Before you start your car:

1.  Check the radiator. While the engine is cool, open the radiator cap to see if there is a shiny oil film on the top of the water in the radiator. If so, engine oil is probably leaking into your cooling system through a cracked head, cylinder block or a leaky head gasket. All are expensive repairs. If the coolant mixture is rusty, you may need to replace the radiator. Stick your finger inside the filler neck and check for sludge. This usually means that somebody added a "stop leak" product to plug up holes in a leaky radiator.
Caution: Always make sure the radiator is cool before making these checks.

2.  Examine the engine compartment.  Check the overall cleanliness of the engine, but beware of perfectly clean engines. That's a possible indication that the engine has just been steam cleaned in order to prevent you from seeing various leaks. In either event, inspect the engine carefully and look for leaking around the various components.

3.  Look for maintenance stickers.  Look around the engine compartment, air filter, underside of the hood, or doorframes for any maintenance stickers put on by a service station. This may provide a clue to how frequently the car has been serviced. A key factor is frequent oil changes. If the owner regularly changed the oil, then your chances of getting a well-running car increases dramatically.

4.  Examine the belts.  Check the fan belts for cracks or shredding and make sure that they are not too loose. When you push down on them, they should give only about half an inch. It's okay for the belts on a four- to five-year-old car to look as though they need to be replaced -- they probably do. While you check the belts, wiggle the fan blade and other pulleys connected to the belts. If any are loose, the bearings may be gone and they will have to be replaced.

5.  Check the wiring.  Check any wires for frayed or worn spots and cracks. If the car is more than two years old and all of the wiring looks new, the owner could have had a major problem. This isn't necessarily bad, but it's something that you should inquire about. The wires going to the spark plugs (known as the ignition wires) should have no cracks, burn marks, or wear. If so, they most likely will have to be replaced. This isn't a major repair. It's more an indication that the car has received poor preventive maintenance.

6.  Check all the fluids.  Inspect the brake fluid, power steering fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Low power steering or brake fluid could indicate a leak in either of those systems, which should be checked out by a mechanic. If the windshield washer fluid is low, put some water in and test the system to see if it works. In general, low fluids may indicate that the car has been neglected overall.

7.  Look at the battery.  A brand new battery on a car that's less than two or three years old could mean electrical problems. If the car is four or five years old and you're convinced that it has the original battery (it bears a date), you can assume that the electrical system works fine.

8.  Check the air filter.  If it looks particularly dirty, then the owner probably did not do much preventive maintenance, because changing the air filter is one of the easiest things that can be done to keep a car in good shape.


After You Start the Car:

1.   Check the oil. After the engine has been running, find the dipstick to check the oil level. If it's low, then the car is either an oil burner, has some kind of oil leak, or the owner has not replaced what was naturally lost. If the oil is fresh, it will be a clear, amber color; if it is dark, it usually indicates that the oil has been in the engine for some time. The color of the oil is not very significant; in older engines it will rapidly turn dark. Gritty or gummy oil is a sign of infrequent oil change, which could signal that the engine has not been very well maintained. If the oil is milky brown or grey or has small bubbles in it, then water is present and the car could have a cracked block. Very thin oil that smells like gasoline also indicates severe engine problems. Very thick oil could indicate that the owner is trying to quiet the noise from a failing valve lifter.

2.  Check the automatic transmission fluid. The automatic transmission has a dipstick, which is usually located at the rear of the engine. Put the emergency brake on, and with the transmission in park, start the car and check the color of the oil on the transmission dipstick. It should be reddish. If it's dark brown and sludgy, the transmission has been poorly maintained. If it has a burned smell, it means that the transmission has excessive wear and could quite possibly fail shortly. If you notice any metal flecks, actual parts of the gears are being ground up. If the fluid level is low, then the transmission leaks.

Most older cars will have some problems.  After you are done with these tests, you should have a good idea of what is wrong with the Imperial.  You should call a mechanic and get an estimate of what it will cost to get your engine back in shape.  Then, with complete knowledge of what the car will really cost you, purchasing your new Imperial should not be as risky!!  GOOD LUCK!!!

This page last updated May 3, 2001.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club