Used car checklist

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2-page pdf version

Bring the following items with you for inspecting the vehicle:

  • A notebook and pen for taking notes and recording the vehicle identification number, mileage and asking price
  • A rag or paper towels for checking the engine oil
  • A bright LED flashlight for looking under the car for leaks and corrosion
  • A refrigerator magnet for detecting body work (bondo)
  • A CD and/or phone + aux cord for testing the car stereo
  • Inspection checklist (Detailed below. Hit Ctrl+P to print, or use the pdf)
  • If possible, an auto history report. Plug in the VIN at https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck and also at https://vindecoded.com/FreeVinCheck or http://motosnoop.com/

With these tools in hand, run down the following checklist. To make sure you hit everything, print this page and take it with you when conducting your inspection.

Exterior[edit | edit source]

☐ Windshield free of cracks
☐ Body panel colors match
☐ Magnet adheres to all steel body panels
☐ Fresh paint job (if yes, it could be to conceal rust)
☐ Seams where the trunk and hood close are properly aligned
☐ Seams where doors and fenders meet are properly aligned
☐ Free of body scratches
☐ Free of body dents
☐ Windshields wipers and blades fully functional
☐ Headlights and directional lights intact and fully functional

Tires[edit | edit source]

☐ Tires are a reputable brand name (Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear)
☐ Tires are all of the same make
☐ Tires are of free of any cuts, bubbles or cracks
☐ Tread worn evenly (uneven wear indicates alignment and suspension problems)
☐ Spare tire, jack and lug wrench on car and fully functional
☐ Spare tire inflated

Engine & Exhaust[edit | edit source]

☐ Free of fluid or oil leaks
☐ Oil filler neck not coated with thick, black deposits
☐ Battery terminals free of corrosion
☐ Oil dip stick free of dark, black oil
☐ Free of odors while engine is running
☐ Exhaust pipe emissions are neither blue (indicates engine burns oil) or black (indicate excessive oil consumption)
☐ No leaks in the exhaust. Check by listening to the exhaust sound.

Suspension[edit | edit source]

☐ Vehicle rests levelly
☐ When bouncing the vehicle's corners, no creaking noises are made
☐ All corners respond the same when bouncing

Interior[edit | edit source]

☐ Seats unworn and free of cracks
☐ All doors open and close freely
☐ Trunk opens and closes freely
☐ Lacks a heavy scent of air freshener (may indicate something is being concealed)
☐ All gauges work (be sure to check gauge lighting, and dimmer switch)
☐ All Interior Lighting (map lights, glove box light, overhead dome light, trunk light, rear seat reading or courtesy lights, door-activated switch, etc)
☐ No dashboard warning lights remain illuminated
☐ Stereo works
☐ Heater works
☐ Air conditioner works
☐ Windshield wipers work
☐ Windshield wiper fluid dispenses properly
☐ All seats equipped with functional seat belts
☐ All seats adjust properly
☐ Power windows operate properly
☐ Sunroof opens and closes properly (if applicable)
☐ Car alarm works (if applicable)
☐ Trunk and driver-side door lock and unlock with key
☐ Hazard lights function properly
☐ Headlights, including brights, work properly

Frame[edit | edit source]

☐ Chassis is neither bent nor cracked
☐ No signs of crumpling or straightening inside the trunk
☐ Frame holes just inside outer edge clean and free of scratches
☐ No excessive rust of frame or suspension components
☐ No rust in the floor pans (Easily checked when dark out. Remove floor mats. Shine a bright light under the car and look for light infiltration.)

Automatic Transmission[edit | edit source]

☐ Transmission fluid looks clean, not dirty or gritty (no indicates possible internal transmission problem)
☐ Transmission neither slips nor delays when driving

Manual or Standard Transmission[edit | edit source]

☐ Each gear shifts smoothly
☐ No grinding noises when in reverse

Brakes[edit | edit source]

☐ Vehicle steers straight and does not pull to one side when applying brakes
☐ Parking brake engages and disengages freely
☐ No grinding noises when applying
☐ Wheels do not lock when applying antilock brakes (if applicable)

Steering[edit | edit source]

☐ Vehicle does not drift to one side without prodding
☐ Vehicle is stable; no shaking or vibrating
☐ No resistance in the steering wheel when turning
☐ No clicking or clunking when turning

Miscellaneous[edit | edit source]

☐ Car manual located in the glove compartment
☐ Instructions included for any accessories
☐ Service and repair records available
☐ Owner has title
☐ Owner's license matches title (not a dealer pretending to be a private seller)

Other Insights[edit | edit source]

  • Walk away if the seller objects to your inspection
  • Don't feel rushed while inspecting
  • Share your checklist results with your mechanic and have them inspect it for you
  • Get ballpark estimates on any repairs/defects and take that off the asking price

Related[edit | edit source]