Used Car Inspection Worksheet
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Update: I added a link to a printer friendly PDF version at the bottom for easy printing. However, in order to make it fit on three pages I condensed the information. Therefore, read through this page and take the condensed version to the inspection.
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Used Car Inspection Check List
factory issued owner’s manual.
owner guides for any accessories (Example: Navigation).
the repair and maintenance records available?
seller has a valid title and registration with matching vehicle
Inspect the Outside of the Automobile
windshield for rock chips (stars) and cracks.
- Do the
body panel colors match? Check for overspray on weather stripping and flat
black trim around glass components.
- Will a
magnet stick to the surface of suspicious looking steel body panels? Use a
strong magnet and a piece of paper to protect the paint finish. The magnet
will not stick to body filler repaired areas.
this a new (not factory) paint finish? If yes, it could be trouble down the road.
the body seams and check the trunk and hood for alignment.
the body lines for the doors and fenders properly aligned?
the scratches in the paint finish and note the depth (repairable or not?).
for and record the dings and body dents.
- Do the
windshield wipers and blades function?
- Verify the fog lights,
backup lamps, headlights, brake lights and turn signals are in working order.
The Detailed Interior Inspection Process
the driver’s seat condition, brake pedal pad and carpet wear near the gas
pedal. These high wear areas should be consistent with the odometer reading.
- Check that the trunk,
hood and doors open and close properly.
- Is there a heavy scent of cover up air freshener? This might indicate a water leak or
flood damaged automobile.
on engine off dashboard bulb check lights and gauges work. The bulb check function assures someone didn't remove the bulb to cover up a problem.
warning lights remain on after the engine is started. Example: check engine light or reduced engine power light.
navigation and stereo systems work properly.
- Verify the heater
blows warm air from the floor vent position with the engine at operating
- Check that the car
air conditioner blows cool air at 55 degrees or less from the center vent
with the low blower fan speed selected. Results will vary slightly with
wipers and time delay function operate as intended.
- Test the windshield
washer fluid dispenses properly.
all seats are equipped with functioning seat belts. Verify the air bag light
comes on and then goes off when the engine is first started.
sure all power and manual seats adjust properly.
the power window operation from all switches not just the master switch.
the sunroof opens and closes properly and check for signs of water leaks.
locks and unlocks with keys and remote release switches. All doors lock
and unlock with the keys, remote control fobs and push button switches.
- Do the hazard warning
lights function properly.
- Operate the turn
signals and headlights, including the high beams.
Checking all Four Tires and the Emergency Spare
- It would be nice if all the tires were the same make and model. If they aren't make sure they match the factory size
and speed rating found on the driver side door jamb label. Previous owners might install cheap tires before selling the automobile.
- Verify the tires
are free of any sidewall cuts, bubbles or cracks from dry rot and have at
least 4/32 of tread depth remaining.
the tread flat and worn evenly? Uneven or choppy wear could mean alignment
and suspension problems.
- Pull out and double check the spare
tire, jack and lug wrench to make sure they are fully functional. You don't want to find out they don't work when you have a blow out.
the Spare tire fully inflated? Emergency spares are often inflated to 60
PSI or more. Check the sidewall of the doughnut spare for the inflation
Complete Engine Compartment Used Car Inspection
for proper fluid levels and then for automotive fluids or oil leaking.
the oil filler neck and the underside of the fill cap for thick milky
deposits. This could indicate an internal coolant leak from a failed head
gasket or intake manifold seal.
- Verify proper battery maintenance with
terminals free of corrosion. Check the date of the battery installation. A
good quality battery of the proper size will last for about five years.
at the oil dip stick for thick dark oil. This could indicate a lack of
engine maintenance or additives installed to cover up problems.
for unusual noise or odors while the engine is running.
sure the exhaust emissions are not blue (indicates burning oil) or heavy
white smoke could indicate steam from water in the combustion chamber.
Check for black soot around the tailpipe and the bumper above it. This
could indicate excessive oil consumption or fuel system issues.
Road Test for Automatic Transmission Problems
look at the automatic transmission fluid on the dipstick (if applicable).
Does it look clean, not dirty or feel gritty? Hold it up to the light;
does it have metal particles suspended in the fluid? This might indicate a
possible internal transmission problem.
the road test look for transmission slippage or flair up (slip) between
shifts. Check for delays when shifting into drive or reverse. This could
indicate leaking internal seals or poor front pump pressure. A loud clunk
noise when shifting could indicate broken engine or transmission mounts.
and Manual Transmission Inspection
clutch engagement for smooth take off and signs of a worn clutch (late
engagement). Clutch chatter when letting out the clutch can signal an
engine rear main seal leak onto the flywheel. Make sure each gear shifts
smoothly and is no noisier than the other gears while driving.
for throw out bearing noise. Check with the car in neutral while engaging
and releasing the clutch pedal (should sound the same). Don’t forget to
check the reverse gear.
Inspection for Used Car Steering and Suspension Problems
the vehicle ride height. Compare measurements from the center of each
wheel well. Different measurements from left to right could indicate
sagging or worn springs.
a rebound test by pushing down on the automobile in each corner. It should
rise and then settle. Make sure there are no creaking noises from bushing or
ball joint problems.
- Do all
four corners respond the same way when bouncing?
test the car to check for drifting to one side (alignment issues). Check
for low speed wobble in the steering wheel that could indicate a bent rim
or tire problem.
highway speeds is the automobile stable and responsive? Check for shaking
or vibration at highway speeds (wheel balance).
resistance or noise in the steering wheel when turning the vehicle at low
speeds and parallel parking.
clicking or clunking when moving the vehicle from a stop with the wheels
turned. This checks the CV joints.
Automotive Braking System Inspection and Road Test
the vehicle stay generally straight when applying the brakes? If it pulls
to one side or the other there could be a binding brake caliper issue.
that the parking brake engages and holds the vehicle firmly. Also make
sure it disengages properly and doesn’t drag after releasing.
- On a
road test be on the lookout for squealing or grinding noises when applying
the brakes. Also verify no pulsation or up and down movement from the
brake pedal when stopping.
possible shine a flashlight through the wheels and use an inspection
mirror to see how much brake pad remains. Also look for disc rotor
problems. Deep groves in the rotor face could indicate worn-out brake
pads. Bluish or purple glazed rotors could indicate caliper problems or
driver abuse from extreme braking maneuvers.
Full Frame and Sub Frame Used Car Inspection Procedure
under the hood for front collision damage. Look for signs of repair and
repainting including over spray on engine system components like coolant hoses and wiring harnesses. Look for
unpainted bolts on fenders and spot welds that look different then the clean
factory robot welds.
for signs of crumpling, distortion or straightening inside the trunk and
under the hood. Keep an eye out for areas of seam sealer without factory
the front and rear bumpers, mounting holes and hardware for collision
damage. Pay particular attention to where they attach at the frame or sub
- Since detecting frame damage is so important you might want to see what the CarFax people have to say on the subject.
Here's the printer friendly version of the Used Automobile Inspection Checklist.
Take a minute and see the other articles related to upgrading your old ride. Learn when it's time to cut and run from that tired old car before you spend more than it's worth.
See what happens when you fail to check out a used car and take a chance that everything will be fine. My neighbor got in way over their head with a car that looked like a good value. Spoiler alert: It wasn't a good car.