Used Car Buying Checklist

Used Car Buying Checklist
Used Car Buying Checklist

Unlike when buying a new car, when you buy a used car, there are a lot of things you should check or have checked before you make the purchase.

Interior, exterior, and under the hood all have items to be checked no matter how new the "used" car is.

There are three options for doing the checks. You can use a professional inspection service that includes mechanical and cosmetic inspection, you can do the cosmetic inspection yourself and have a trusted mechanic look at the engine and mechanicals, or you can do them all yourself if you are able.

Believe me, you don't want to skimp on any of these. I've seen too many used car buyers look at a car that seemed to be in great shape, only to find that it needed major work done soon after they bought it.

If a seller, whether private or dealership, refuses to allow you to have the car mechanically inspected; run away as fast as you can! There's probably a reason that they don't want you to inspect the car.

The couple of hours that it may take you to have the car inspected is certainly worth the hardship and cost of having to have a lot of work done later on.

Don't ever feel rushed when you're having a car inspected. The seller may complain that you're inconveniencing them. Tell them you can come back at a more convenient time to take the car to be inspected, but you won't buy without having it done.

The checklist below is a good way to insure that all of the items (and there are many) that need to be inspected, get done. You can simply have them crossed off when done or make notes next to each of them as they are being inspected.

Make sure to do an overall analysis after the inspection is done. Checking off and making notes is important, but the overall impression based on the notes is most important. Compare the notes to the price that the seller is asking for and make a judgment based on that.

For example, if the car checks out well based on the miles and age, but the 4 tires need to be replaced, make sure that the cost of 4 new tires is taken into account in the price. If it's not, make that suggestion when negotiating.

At, our Used Car Buying Kit contains a copy of this checklist as well as some other forms you'll want to insure that you have when buying a used car.


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 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


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)


Vehicle rests levelly
When bouncing the vehicle's corners, no creaking noises are made
All corners respond the same when bouncing


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
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


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

Automatic Transmission

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

Each gear shifts smoothly
No grinding noises when in reverse


Vehicle steers straight and does not pull to one side when applying brakes
Parking brake engages and disengages freely
No grinding noises when applying brakes
Wheels do not lock when applying antilock brakes (if applicable)


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


Car manual located in the glove compartment
Instructions included for any accessories
Service and repair records available
Owner has title
Don't buy a used car without going to first!

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