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 and also at or

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]