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Vehicle Inspection Checklist

Michelle Naranjo
by Michelle Naranjo
May 21, 2011
4 min. Reading Time
car inspection checklist ・  Photo by WikiCommons

car inspection checklist ・ Photo by WikiCommons

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. 

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?             

Yes___            No____


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?

Yes___            No____

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?

Yes___            No____

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
  • Radiator
  • 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____

 Photo by Thomas Rosquin

Photo by Thomas Rosquin

Bottom Line

It’s worth spending the time on your vehicle inspection.  After all, you’ll spend a lot of time with your car.



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