While the test drive is critical to your car buying decision, so is your vehicle inspection checklist. Following a car inspection checklist will make a difficult decision easier and give you some peace of mind. You’ll know you took a good look at this new addition to your family.
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Your Pre-Inspection Car Inspection Checklist
You’ll want to bring a flashlight to peer under the hood, and an inexpensive tire gauge to check the tire pressure. Bring some rags to wipe off various dipsticks and a clean piece of cardboard to put under the car to check for leaks after the test drive. Wear old clothes to go under the car. And bring a clipboard, a pencil and this used car inspection checklist!
Asking good questions should also be part of your car inspection checklist. Are the vehicle’s registration, inspection and smog certifications current? If the vehicle is not registered or is registered as “non-op” (non-operating),why? Also ask if the owner has the manual, maintenance and inspection records as part of your vehicle inspection checklist.
Put the hood up, inspect the engine compartment, and run the engine to check for noises or fluid leaks before you take it for a test drive.
Take as much time as you need to inspect the vehicle. If the owner tries to rush you, leave.
This vehicle inspection checklist is primarily visual (although you’ll also want to be sensitive to unusual smells or noises). Certain tests, like testing the car’s computer module, are best done by a mechanic. Use your judgment to determine if it’s necessary to pay for such testing, or if you’re satisfied with the results of your car inspection checklist.
Used Car inspection checklist: Vehicle Exterior
Any evidence of an accident, or flood, fire or other major damage to the body panels? Yes___ No____
Has the car been repainted or ‘touched up’? Yes___ No____
Any visible damage to the bumper? Yes___ No____
Are the doors, tailgate or hood damaged or misaligned? Yes___ No____
Any mismatched paint (a sign of possible replacement of damaged parts)? Yes___ No____
Are the grill, trim and roof rack all attached and undamaged? Yes___ No____
Are the windshield and side and rear windows free from cracks, pits or wiper marks? Yes___ No____
Have the wiper blades been replaced? Yes___ No____
Are the mirrors attached and working without cracks? Yes___ No____
Is the sunroof (or convertible top) undamaged and operating in all modes? Yes___ No____
Consider driving into a dark garage to check exterior lights. Are all lights, including headlights, parking, turning and fog lights, brake lights and hazards, operating? Are the lenses undamaged? Yes___ No____
Used Car inspection checklist: Vehicle Interior
Are the safety belts functional, and free from cuts or wear? Yes___ No____
Check the airbag if possible. Does the steering wheel has abnormal wear, which may indicate it was replaced with a junkyard wheel or air bag. Yes___ No____
Audio and alarm: do the radio, cassette, CP, MP3, speakers and satellite radio all work? Is the antenna present and working? Yes___ No____
Is there a working navigation system? Yes___ No____
Test the alarm and theft system if possible. Yes___ No____
Do the heater, defroster and air conditioning work? All vents functional?
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Gauges and Controls
Steering wheel tilt, lock and controls (audio, speed control, etc.) work? Yes___ No____
Yes, sound the horn! Yes___ No____
Windshield wipers (and washers) work at all speed? Yes___ No____
Rear camera or backup alarm? Yes___ No____
Mirrors all present and working? Yes___ No____
Interior lights (dome lights, courtesy lights, trunk light, map lights) working?
How about the gas gauge, RPM gauge, clock, cigarette lighter/power outlet, and odometer? Yes___ No____
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Seats and Interior
Is the upholstery clean, not stained, worn, or cut? Yes___ No____
If it bothers you, ask (and smell) to see if the previous owner was a smoker?
Are carpet, floor mats and headliner in good shape (check under carpets for flood damage)? How about the door panels? Yes___ No____
Do the head restraints move? Yes___ No____
Do the seats fold properly? Yes___ No____
Heated/cooled seats functional? Yes___ No____
Do the door locks and child safety locks work? Yes___ No____
How about the remote entry systems? Yes___ No____
Window controls work on all four windows?. Yes___ No____
Remote gas lid and trunk lid releases work? Yes___ No____
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Luggage compartment
Are the carpet, trim and cargo net in good shape? Yes___ No____
Does the light operate? Yes___ No____
Spare tire and tire tools and jack present? Yes___ No____
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Under the Hood
Raise the hood and check the fluids, including:
- Coolant expansion tank
- Washer fluid reservoir
- Power steering fluid
- Oil level—pull out the dipstick, clean it off, and put it back in and check.
- Brake fluid
- Air conditioning system charge
Are there fluid leaks? Yes___ No____
Are the hoses and lines (like the fuel line, steering line, steering, etc) in good shape or worn and cracked? Yes___ No____
Are any of the belts worn, cracked or frayed? Yes___ No____
Does the wiring look in good condition? Yes___ No____
Are the engine mounts in good shape (not broken or separated?) Yes___ No____
Does it start right up, or does the starter ‘grind’? Yes___ No____
Any smoke from the engine or exhaust system? Yes___ No____
Check the radiator for leaks and general condition. Yes___ No____
Do the cooling fans and motors work when you run the engine? Yes___ No____
Is the radiator full of fluid? Yes___ No____
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Underbody
Break out those old clothes and crawl along with your flashlight.
Is there rust? Yes___ No____
Any holes or bent metal? Yes___ No____
Does the frame appear straight? Yes___ No____
Any visible dents or damage, signs of repair? Yes___ No____
Are the radiator and the exhaust system attached and undamaged? Yes___ No____
Any leaks from the transmission casing? Yes___ No____
Are the transmission mounts cracked, broken or soaked with oil? Yes___ No____
Used Vehicle inspection checklist: Tires, Wheels and Steering
Do all tires and wheels match? Yes___ No____
Do the tires (including spare) have at least 50% tread? Yes___ No____
Is the tire pressure correct (use tire gauge). Yes___ No____
Are the tire caps and wheel covers free from damage? Yes___ No____
Does the wheel alignment seem correct, or does the car ‘pull’ to one side or another when driving? Yes___ No____
Do the springs give the car the right ride height? Yes___ No____
Any leaks from struts, shocks or power steering pump or hoses? Yes___ No____
Do the control arms or other steering pieces look worn? Yes___ No____
It’s worth spending the time on your vehicle inspection. After all, you’ll spend a lot of time with your car.