Used Car Inspection Checklist

Used Car Inspection Checklist Cover Photo

Are you shopping for a used car? Yes? Then you definitely need this list of things to inspect before you buy!

Making sure you’re getting a good deal when shopping for a used car isn’t always easy — especially if you’re not so car-savvy yourself.

But don’t worry. Motobyo is here to help with an easy-to-understand list of used car inspection essentials. And whether you’re buying a pre-owned car from a dealer or direct from a private seller themselves, the inspection will be the same, and it’ll make getting a used car SO worth it!

Consider this your quick and dirty used car inspection checklist. Let’s get into it!

The Car’s Mileage

Depending on the model year of the car, the mileage will vary in both yearly average and reasonable expectations. The average driver puts between 13,000 and 15,000 miles on their car each year.

Vehicles with higher mileage should always be less expensive than vehicles with lower mileage. Anything above what the average mileage should be for the model year you’re looking at either warrants a nice discount or should be avoided altogether.

You also want to ensure that the mileage on the odometer matches the mileage reported by a reputable vehicle history report provider.

drawing of a car and speedometer

The Vehicle’s History

The history of a vehicle is probably the single most important thing to consider when starting your search for a pre-owned vehicle. Verifying the vehicle history is also a very easy way to eliminate cars from your list of contenders very quickly.

If the seller doesn’t already present you with a vehicle history report, then you can find it online via CARFAX or AutoCheck for a small fee.

Why is the history so important? Not only does this greatly affect the value of the vehicle today, but a negative vehicle history follows the car for life. It will affect the value down the road and even make it harder for you to sell in the future.

In addition to affecting the vehicle value and your prospects of selling in the future, certain vehicle history issues can affect the performance and overall integrity of the vehicle today. For example: a major accident that wasn’t repaired properly can affect the way the vehicle drives right now and if the repairs weren’t done correctly it could mean that the structure of the vehicle is compromised. These are cars to avoid early in your shopping journey.
the word history

The Tires

Make sure the tire tread depth is even, that there are no cracks or punctures, and that all the tires are from the same brand.

Worn down tread is a sign that you’ll need to replace the tires shortly and uneven tread could mean that there’s an alignment issue. Make sure you check the spare tire for these things as well.

Also, make sure that the jack, lug wrench and factory tools are present.

four black tires

Check Under the Hood

Before popping open the hood, check the ground and undercarriage for any signs of leakage. Once you open the hood, make sure to assess the following:

  • Oil levels and color. Light-colored oil indicates a recent service (which is good) while dark or muddy oil indicates neglect. For transmission oil, it should be a clear-reddish color.
man looking under the hood of a car
  • Rust and corrosion. If there’s a significant amount of rust and corrosion under the hood, it’s an indicator of further neglect and the car’s life expectancy (which will more than likely be short).
  • Wear & Tear: If any of the belts are frayed or torn, they’ll need to be replaced.
  • Brake Fluid: Low brake fluid levels mean the brakes are likely in need of repair. The pads could be very worn or the brake system may have a leak.
  • Antifreeze: Check the level. The color should be clear, or a bright green or red. If it’s brown and dirty, it could be a sign that the radiator is on its way out or that it has some internal rust issues.
  • The Battery: Check for leaks, poor contacts, corrosion, and damaged cables.

The Lights & Electrical Features

Small details like this need to be covered in every used car inspection checklist. So start the car and test every light: headlights, high beams, hazards, turn signals, taillights, brake lights, interior lights, etc. Make sure all of them are bright and functioning properly.

Also check the other electrical features, such as the radio, Bluetooth, and so on. Everything should be working as described.

headlight of a black car

The Suspension

The last thing you want is to hear creaks and rattles when you’re cruising around in your new ride. These are items you can generally detect on a short test drive. 

Make sure to take some turns while braking and accelerating and find some speed bumps if possible to test the suspension travel.

Turn off the radio, roll up the windows and listen closely while driving.

vehicle suspension

The Cold Start

Don’t just start the car once during your used car inspection — start it three or four times, to be sure everything sounds right. This is to check the response and to make sure the seller didn’t do a makeshift battery reset so that the check engine light wouldn’t come on.

After the fourth start, listen for strange sounds as the car idles to warm up and then gently rev the engine to hear the throttle performance and to make sure the engine doesn’t misfire or backfire.

From there, take the car for a drive and pay attention to the steering wheel, making sure it doesn’t vibrate, wobble, or turn to one side. 

Be sure to drive around on different road surfaces, and pay attention to whether or not the car pulls to one side while you brake. 

Don’t forget to make sure the parking brake works as well.

Get an Expert’s Opinion

Lastly, it’s always a good idea to have a professional shop perform an independent third party inspection of the car. They know exactly what to look for and they have the necessary equipment, including car diagnostic scanners to make sure that the used car you’re looking to buy is operating as it should be.
Now that you know how to inspect a used car, it’s time to start searching for yours. Browse our inventory today. Rest assured, we offer certified inspections and more to make sure that you always know what you’re buying on Motobyo.
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