Ultimate Used Car Inspection Checklist

November 10th, 2018 by

Before You Buy Checklist


A car is one of the most expensive items you’ll ever purchase; A vehicle buying is an especially stressful activity. If financing or leasing a new vehicle is out of your budget one great way to save some money on the transaction is to buy a used vehicle instead of a new one since the asking price is significantly lower. Many models take a huge dive in value after a few years, so you reap the savings, whether you choose a private seller or dealership.


When buying a used car, there is a significant risk. The previous owner might not have properly cared for the vehicle; it potentially could be a lemon, or even worse, seriously damage might have occured. Without a proper inspection, you might buy a used car with serious problems, costing you thousands of dollars in repairs. After all, how do you know it hasn’t been in an accident, was flooded, etc.?


Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid the hassle and financial losses of buying a lemon. Vehicle history reports like Carfax help, but you need to check over the car yourself as well. The following ultimate used car checklist will help you get around, without crippling problems.



Body Panels

The easiest thing to check first is the condition of the body or exterior of the car. Walk around and note any dents, scratches, or signs of rust anywhere. If the car is dirty, these types of items are difficult to see, so keep that in mind.


Take your time and look at troubling sections closely. While used cars inevitably will have some scratches and small dings, if there are too many that would be cause for concern.


Pay careful attention to the seams or gaps between body panels. If those gaps aren’t even from one end to the other, it’s a potential sign the car was in an accident. Open and close the trunk, hood, and all doors. If there’s any popping or difficulty, that too could be a sign of collision damage.




Recruit a friend to come along or have the seller get in the car and turn on the different lights, while you check that they all work. This includes the foglights, turn signals, brakes, high beams, and reverse lights. Look closely at the lights themselves, noting if the lenses are cracked, have condensation on the inside, or are clouded.




The condition of the tires can provide some clues about the car. First off, notice if all the tires are the same brand since mismatched tires are possibly the sign of a problem. Also watch for cracking, bubbling, splitting, or other damage on the sidewalls.

Check the tire tread and see if there’s at least a quarter of an inch left. Note if the wear bars, which run counter to the tread, have been exposed. Note if the tire tread is worn unevenly on one or more tires, possibly indicating a problem with the suspension or other chassis components.

Don’t forget to check the condition of the spare tire, something that’s usually overlooked by everyone.


Under the Hood

One of the biggest indicators of a used car’s condition is the engine compartment. You’ll want to spend a fair amount of time checking things over. To start, note the general condition of the engine compartment. Dirt, grease, splashed coolant, etc. are possible signs of a chronic problem.

Check all the fluid levels. If they’re low, that could be the result of a leak. If the motor oil isn’t amber/dark brown/black, or if the coolant has black swirls in it, the engine might have a serious problem, such as a blown head gasket or cracked block. Examine the belts and hoses for signs of wear, like cracks, fraying, or any missing sections. Squeeze the hoses to check if they feel brittle or hardened.

Look under the engine bay on the ground and note if there are any fluid leaks.



Believe it or not, what the car smells like when you first open it can offer some clues. If you detect a hint of mold, mildew, or any kind of musty smell, that’s often a signal that the car has been the victim of water damage.

If you do smell something strange, start looking closer at the interior, especially around the carpets. Water lines run, or even just general wetness are big red flags. Don’t forget to look over the headliner on the roof, since water could have leaked into the car from the top and trickled in.



Try out each of the seats, to ensure they’re not broken down. Adjust each seat, checking that they’re not stuck in a certain position. Use each seatbelt to see if they click properly, release, and aren’t frayed.

Turn on the car and try out both the heater and air conditioning. If there are seat heaters, heated steering wheel, etc. try those out. Roll the power windows up and down, plus open and close the sunroof, if the car has one. Turn on the sound system and every other feature to check that they work. Also, pay attention to any warning lights on the dash, since those could indicate a big problem.


Test Drive

You should never buy a used car you can’t test drive. No matter how well you look it over while the vehicle is sitting, driving it can expose problems you wouldn’t detect otherwise. When you first fire up the engine, listen carefully for any odd sounds. Also, note if the engine struggles to start or stumbles at all after it fires up. Pop the hood and listen to as well as watch the engine run for a moment.


Drive on a range of roads at different speeds, including the highway. Note if the car shakes, if the brakes vibrate when you press them if the steering seems off, or any other problems. Try a few controlled emergency stops in an empty parking lot, accelerate the car hard a couple of times, and corner quickly a few times.


Research Common Problems

Of course, it’s impossible to have a checklist that covers points of concern for every vehicle. Certain models made during certain years might be prone to a particular problem. If you do online research, you’ll know about these potential issues and how to check if the used car you’re looking at suffers from them.



Whether you are in the market for a new Chevrolet or just looking for a great used vehicle we have you covered. Each and every vehicle we have on our lot we check through thoroughly both structural and mechanically. When you purchase from us you know you are getting a quality vehicle with no suprises down the road. Contact us today to help us help you find a great vehicle for you and your family.