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Used Car Buying: Inspection Checklist

Used car on car lot

Purchasing a car can be an exciting event but can also be quite stressful. When you purchase a new car, chances are after you leave the lot, you won’t have too many mechanical troubles. When you buy a used or pre-owned car, there is an element of risk involved. 

Has the car been in a serious wreck or a flood? 

Has the seller covered up any potential issues? 

The fact is, you can’t be sure of the car’s history. 

We’ll guide you on what you can visually inspect on the vehicle yourself that may clue you in on the vehicle’s past. 

Once you’ve had the chance to take a look and test drive the vehicle, have it inspected by a professional. A professional will follow a used car inspection checklist to ensure each area of the vehicle is in good, fair, or poor condition. Their final assessment will help you decide whether or not the vehicle is worth your investment. 

  • Do Your Research – Make a list of the makes and models of vehicle’s you’re interested in buying. Research the vehicles and look for common defects, active recalls, and any other common repairs or maintenance. With this information, you’ll be more apt to find a bargain because you’ll be informed ahead of time for any inadequacies and how to use them to your advantage.
  • Get a History Report –A Carfax Vehicle History Report is a great way to get a look into the vehicle’s past. These reports provide details such as accident history, maintenance records, and odometer fraud. 
  • Inspect the Vehicle – Whether you purchase the vehicle from a dealership, a private seller, or an online car sales company, you’ll need to get a good look at the vehicle first. Start off by walking around the vehicle, check under the hood, and take the car for a test drive. 

Your Used Car Inspection Checklist

  • Check the Exterior

    • Body & Paint – Minor scratches and dents are common with any vehicle and shouldn’t be cause for concern, however, rust and other areas that don’t look consistent with the other areas of the car may indicate some kind of cover up of larger problems. A vehicle that may have been in a serious accident and repaired may show signs on the paint with poor repair measures such as dirt spots, broken trim, sand scratches, and blistering. 
    • Glass – The windshield is actually a structural component in your vehicle. Ensure the area around the windshield is sealed properly. Get an up-close view of the glass on the vehicle including the windshield and other windows for signs of chips, cracks, or other blemishes. While seemingly harmless now, chips and minor cracks may spread over time.
    • Tires – Check the condition of the tires by looking for cracks, bulges, scuffing, or uneven wear that could indicate suspension problems. Ask the seller if the tires have been well cared for including frequent rotations. Check the age of the tire. Every tire comes with a date stamped on it indicating when it was manufactured. If the tires are six years past the date stamp, the tires have expired and must be replaced.
    • Suspension – After inspecting the tires, walk around the vehicle and determine whether the car sits level (make sure the car is on solid ground, first). Make note whether one side looks higher than the other. You can also perform a quick test by bouncing each corner of the vehicle. If movement is identified after you’ve let go, this could indicate worn shocks. While test driving the vehicle, pay close attention to what happens when braking. If the vehicle’s front end dips down while coming to a stop, there could be an issue with the suspension. 
    • Lights – Test all lights to ensure they are operating properly including headlights, tail lights, high beams, and turn signals. Ensure light housings and reflectors are properly attached and do not show signs of cracking or moisture. Used Car Inspection Checklist: Check the Headlights
  • Check the Interior

    • Smell – When you first open the door to the vehicle, take the sniff test. Musty, mildew, or moldy smells may indicate the vehicle was involved in a flood or has some other water-related damage. Check under the floor mats and touch the carpet for any signs of moisture. Question any heavy use of air fresheners that could be used to cover up any unpleasant odors.
    • Upholstery – Check seats, headrests, arm rests, and the headliner of the roof for any rips, tears, or holes. Check around the windows and sunroof for any stains that could also indicate water damage.
    • Dashboard – Put the key in the ignition or press the ‘start’ button with your foot off the brake so that the car is in accessory mode. All lights should illuminate on the dashboard. Turn off the accessory option and start the vehicle. Make note of any lights on the dashboard that stay illuminated. 
    • Accessories – With the vehicle running, check to ensure all accessories are working properly including windshield wipers, rear or side mirror cameras (if applicable), electric locks, windows, and seats, as well as the radio, sunroof, and heater and air conditioner. 
  • Seek out a Professional

Take your vehicle to your favorite automotive service shop for an expert opinion. 

A technician will use a pre-purchase inspection form to check various areas of the vehicle that may indicate any mechanical issues. A mechanic will either give you the green light to complete the purchase, caution you against it, or advise you on what needs to be repaired to help negotiate a better price.

At Sun Auto Service, we offer a Used Car Pre-Purchase Inspection at all of our many convenient locations. Our inspection includes a test drive, a full multi-point check of the brakes, suspension and steering, tire condition, all areas of the drivetrain, lights, and belts and hoses. The vehicle will also receive a test of all electronic devices including the sunroof, windows, radio, and more. 

A Carfax maintenance history report will be reviewed to view past repair and maintenance services to let you know if the car is up to date with all maintenance services as recommended by the manufacturer. 

Our Service Advisors will review the results of the inspection and maintenance report with you and provide their honest recommendation on whether you should proceed with the vehicle purchase or not. You can trust Sun Auto Service to provide the most honest and detailed report of the vehicle. Bring the vehicle in or call to schedule an appointment today!