Back to Top

Vehicle Inspection Check List

Buying a used car can be one of the more stressful and nerve-wracking things to do on this planet. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you properly plan for this potentially life-changing and oft hysteria-inducing event. To assist, we compiled a really comprehensive checklist that lets you easily know if the vehicle you are fixated on is wobbly-kneed or not, blind and crippled, or otherwise unsuitable for anything else other than to peacefully rust in the nearest junk heap for the next 10, 000 years.

Do rigorously check out the listed checklist to avoid painfully having to join the had-i-known symphony orchestra later on. And oh, to really make the best use of this checklist we soundly recommend going through our expertly shot and really extensive videos. This will give you a peerless look at the facts and figures to look out for, and as well educate and polish up your whole automotive knowledge.

Here goes the checklist. Print it out and tick as you go.

Exterior

Crack-free windshield: Nothing much can be more off-putting than a windshield you are nearly unable to see out of. While this might not crack your eyeballs like an egg, it does has the potential of really leaving you in a foul mood, as you stare at it and imagine cheerfully strangling the seller. So, do make sure that the windshield is as clear as the summer sky and that you can see the right hand side of God from it if you peer closely through enough.
Matching manufacturing dates on windshield: Should the manufacturing dates on the windshield appears mismatched it ‘s not due to your short sighted eyes, a factory mistake or an act of nature. Rather, it points resolutely to the fact the the windshield was replaced. So, be sure to ask the seller why the windshield needed replacing. His/her answers can reveal quite a lot.
Engine bay check: Do perform a thorough check on the engine bay for rust. The place is a certified dust/rust magnet, a beloved home for homeless nasty critters and everything else save grandma’s lost handkerchief. Don’t be shy about getting your hands dirty and do energetically probe and push to be sure the engine bay has not been so corroded that only the fervent prayers of the seller is holding it up together.
Body panel colors match: Don’t go around thinking that cars with differently coloured body panels are cute. Rather, such multi-coloured vehicles were most probably involved in an accident. And then inexpertly repainted by a lazy, half-blind, and arthritic penguin. When you see such cars it’s best to run like you mean it.
Fresh paint job: Has the car been freshly painted? It sure does look sweet and gleams as if light was poured onto it. But don’t be too easily impressed. That fresh layer of paint might have been carefully applied to conceal serious issues like rust, scratches and dents. So, don’t be too easily deceived by a beautiful woman, sorry car and look with a more critical eye.
Ill-fitting trunk and hood seams: Ill-fitting seams can cause a lot of pain and heartache. And well might send the hood flipping up and blocking the windscreen during your drive. So, be sure to check that both the hood and trunk close properly and stay closed till they are be required to open up.
Properly aligned door and fender seams: Improperly aligned doors and fenders can cause you a lot of pain and leave you feeling like the world’s greatest fool. If not given a thorough going over you might find yourself holding your improperly closing door with one hand, while driving and steering with the other. For obvious reasons this is not recommended  and is a delish recipe for disaster.
Check the underbody for corrosion: The underbody is easily the most exposed part of the car. As a result, it’s best friends with the road and the very harsh environment. These factors corrupts it and can leave it rustier than the wreck of the Titanic. So, be sure to go down on your hands and knees and really look this area over.
Body scratches: Like a solicitous lover run your hands all over the vehicle, caressing and whispering endearments to it as you go. This might look and sound weird, but it’s one really sure way to find out what kind of scratches the car collected from its ceaseless struggles and fights with other metallic occupants of the road.
Body dents: Some used cars look like they underwent a really savage pounding by a housewife armed with a pestle. Others appear to have barely survived a ten-round match with Muhammed Ali back when he was The Greatest. It’s really in your best interest to speedily identify and then avoid such cars.
All locks are totally functional: Things can’t get much worse for you were you to buy a car you can’t easily enter and exit from. Splashing your birthright on a seemingly awesome car only to have to wriggle through the windows like a nosy eel is certainly foolhardy. Which is why it makes a whole lot of sense to check each and every lock in the vehicle and be sure it can perform its assigned function with no waffling or blame-shifting.
Windshields wipers and blades are fully functional: In case you hadn’t noticed you do live in the tropics. Which makes monsoons and the like about as commonplace as a pimple on the nose of a gangly and peanut-loving teenage boy. During these outbursts of nature you will need something to keep the windscreen clear of the sheets of water that will relentlessly pour onto it. Only 100% functional windshield wipers and their blades can do this. So, make sure they work and easily reach to the necessary nooks and crannies of your windscreen real estate.
Fully functional headlights, taillights, indicators, fog lamps and directional lights: You might be tempted to cut costs by opting for a car with faulty headlights, taillights and indicators, but that’s being really penny wise and pound super foolish. Sooner or later while driving you might be forced to light up some firewood, hold the flaming mess above your head and use the light to illuminate your path down the gloomy city streets. And non-working indicators are some of the best invitations for trouble we’ve ever seen. The solution- these light-giving sources are essential to the proper functioning of your car and your enjoyment of it. So, make sure they work before you even start discussing pricing with the seller.
Cracks-free lights/lamps: Cracked lamps and bulbs will sooner rather than later need to be replaced as a whole system. And guess who will have to foot the ginormous bill?  It is thus much cheaper, better and efficient to check that these work and have no cracks that can be seen before you get in and drive off with the vehicle.

Tyres

Tyres of a reputable brand name: It goes without saying that the set of tyres to which you entrust your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be from the major tyre-making firms. Rather than say an obscure group with no address, that not even the angels in heaven have heard of. Yes, buying branded tyres might be more expensive. But the peace of mind, quality, longetivity and all the other desirable traits you are undoubtedly looking for in a tyre are possessed by them in spades. Unlike tyres from unknown firms.
Tyres of the same make: Tyres of different make but of the same size are rarely identical in performance parameters. Some will thus wear faster than others. Or perform better under certain climatic conditions. Having all four tyres of your car working together to keep you rolling, rather than fighting with each other is obviously the best move. So, do make sure the tyres are all of the same make, of the same parents and with the same easily recognizable quirks and foibles.
Tyres free of any cuts, bubbles or cracks: Cut tyres, or those looking like a very toothsome dragon had been chewing and then blistering it with its breath are not obviously a good idea. Such tyres are unsafe and a ticking time bomb that can blow at any time and send you to kingdom come. So, never be too tyred to squat and check over the tyres the car you are buying came with.
Evenly worn treads: While checking out the tyres keep a sharp look out as to how even or not the tyre wear is. Should a tyre be showing more wear in certain areas than in others, such favoritism come with a terrible cost- potential suspension, alignment and steering problems. These will cost your eyeteeth to pinpoint and a king’s ransom to fix.
Fully functional spare tyre, jack and lug wrench: Spare tyres, lug wrench and jacks that don’t work are about as useful in a car as a Pagani Huayra would be to a dysentery-afflicted Eskimo. Don’t wait till you get stranded at the end of the world before discovering that these emergency aid systems are not functional.
Spare tyre mechanism: If the car is equipped with a spare mechanism, check if it is functioning well. If it isn’t either seek to replace it immediately or look for another car that won’t let you down when you most need it.

Engine

Free of fluid or oil leaks - The engine bay is not an incontinent toddler cheerfully leaking his/her bodily secretions anywhere and everywhere. So, if it’s incapable of keeping a tight hold on the fluids and oil being poured into it, it’s a signal from heaven for you to walk away from the deal.
Oil filler neck with no thick, black deposits: A grungy oil filler neck that seems to have an incestuous relationship with a thick sludge invented right in hell generally translates to an ill-maintained car. When you come across one, run for the hills. 
Corrosion free battery terminals: Corrosion-free battery terminals are a prerequisite for excellently maintained cars. An owner fastidious enough to keep the battery terminals free of corrosion will in all probability be so dedicated to the car as to equally take very good care of other vital parts of it.
A timing belt that needs replacing: The timing belt is the heart of the engine, and should it break the car is going nowhere. So, prepare to get your hands a little greasy by checking this essential piece of car equipment. If it needs to be replaced that can be easily done. If not, you can start dancing.
Oil dipstick free of dark, black oil: Darkish, blackish and devilish-looking oil has no place in the dipstick of any car. It’s presence portends loads of expensive trouble, while its absence is indeed worth celebrating as evidence of a well-behaved and largely trouble-free automobile. So, pull out and check the dipstick.
No burnt oil odors while engine is running: The car is not a chef, so there’s no reason for it to be frying engine oil whenever it’s turned on. If this smelly problem persists, avoid the potential heartbreak and go search out a more odoriferous vehicle. Or one that’s a better cook.
No oil traces in the coolant: The coolant should normally be oil-free. But if it seems oilier than an oil rig, it’s time to look out and zoom off to a better deal.
Exhaust emissions: The exhaust emissions of a vehicle should neither be blue (which indicates that the engine burns oil like a fishwife) or black (which indicates excessive oil consumption). Instead, it should be as colorless as possible. Otherwise you’ll eventually get stuck with an expensive maintenance and repair bill.
Excessive engine vibration: An engine that shrieks, roars and tries to shake your brain loose from your skull is clearly possessed. One day it just might pull free from it’s mounting and come eat you up. Seriously though, there are no good news to excessive engine vibration. Do your best to avoid a car that suffers from it. Let another poor shmuck get stuck with the vehicle.
Properly functioning cooling fan: The cooling fans help keep the engine at an acceptable temperature. If it’s not working the engine is bound to be blowing its top at regular intervals. Therefore, do fan out and check it out.
Engine head cover with glue marks: An engine cover with glue marks is is obvious sign that it has been opened up and then surreptitiously put back together. There are a lot of reasons as to why this sort of thing might have happened, with none that means good for you and your wallet. So, if you do see an engine cover with glue signs, just sniff and walk away.
Damaged radiator fins: Damage to this very sensitive part of the car’s anatomy is time-consuming and expensive to fix. Best thing to do is to walk away. Or prepare for a repair bill that will require you to sell your kidney to finance it.
Missing nuts or bolts: It’s all too easy for a car’s nuts and bolts to get loose and wind up in the next planet. So, if you can count up to four, ensure that you tabulate all the nuts and bolts the car is supposed to possess. A missing one might mean more than extra expense and trouble to fix. It might also be the difference between life on this lovely green planet or transitioning to the great beyond in a rather messy and unplanned manner.
Correct battery size and type: When it comes to batteries the one-size-fits-all motto definitely does not apply. Therefore, the battery in the automobile you are looking over must be the correct manufacturer specified one. It must also have been installed properly and performing its desired functions like a pro rapper with a lot to prove. Otherwise, you will have to replace it.

Suspension

Vehicle rests levelly: On a level ground gently park that vehicle that has been sending your heart fluttering. Now, check that it sits level, with no leaning forward, backwards, or sideways like a drunken old fool. If it’s level, the suspension is probably in great shape. If not, run for your life. As the suspension repair bill will make you go blind.
All corners respond the same way when bounced: When performing the bounce test, do make sure that each corner of the vehicle bounce up and down in essentially the same way. If some bounce more than others, or bounce in unusual way different from the norm, that’s a warning sign you would do well to heed.
Look for any strut leaks: Strut leaks are a miserable pain in the ass to fix. So, why not be proactive by searching for any leaking struts. If you find them it’s time to move on to the next car.

Interior

Unworn and cracks-free seat: Apart from sitting on pitted stone or a sharp spear, there’s not much else more uncomfortable to sit on than cracked seats. These are pretty unsightly and indicate extreme wear and tear.
All doors open and close freely: The doors of any vehicle should be capable of opening and closing to their full extent. If this is not the case you might do well to seek for another car that doesn’t imprison you like a hardcore convict and require painful contortions and grimacing to exit from.
Overpowering air freshener scent: Yes, cars should smell nice. But when a vehicle smells like it was dipped in a vat of perfume you have to ask yourself why this is so. Did a woolly mammoth die inside it? Or was the body of Jimmy Hoffa stored in the backseat for decades? Vehicles with an overpowering scent require thorough investigation. Not with the nose, but with the eyes and the other senses to discover what the overpowering smell is trying to cover up.
All gauges work: A vehicle with no working gauges won’t do you much good. Having to guess the speed you are currently traveling at and the amount of fuel remaining in the vehicle is not the best way to make it in life. Except of course if you love courting disaster. If you don’t, carefully check that all gauges are fully functional.
No dashboard warning lights remain illuminated: When the car is started the dashboard warning lights should light up. But they should go off after a couple of seconds. If they however stubbornly remain on, this can only mean trouble.Trouble you are better off avoiding by checking out another car instead.
A working stereo: The stereo helps time pass rather sweetly and can help improve your singing skills. If it doesn’t work it will have to be replaced by you. So, check the stereo before you purchase the vehicle.
Heater that works: So, it’s snowing outside and your brain feels like an ice box. You turn on the heater and it just hisses at you and does nothing but puff out ineffectual breaths of warm air. This can be avoided by beforehand carefully checking out the heater in the vehicle under review to ensure it does what it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t and you really love the car, perhaps you might consider purchasing it and then kindling a fire in the back seat to keep warm whenever you are using it.
Working air conditioner- For those who like it cold and chilly the AC system helps out. It should work cheerfully and efficiently, with no puffing and bellowing like a man trying to push a planet-sized boulder up a steep hill. If it’s faulty, expect hefty repair bills.
Air conditioner with no foul smells- An AC system that works like a peach but outputs air that smells like the bottom of a sewer can only be a curse from the gods. Such smelly AC’s happen for a variety of reasons and mercilessly flog and thrash the nostrils without mercy. It’s therefore not enough that the AC should be working. As well, it must also provide clean air that’s not in the least offensive. So, before you buy that car, turn on the AC and inhale deeply.
Working front and rear defoggers- A car’s defoggers can really be life-saving and help you clearly see what’s out there in good time. So, turn them on and make sure they do what they are supposed to- which is saving you from yourself.
Working windshield wipers: Windshield wipers that don’t work are as useful as an extra navel. In the rain, the windshield wiper is essential and will shortly make you crash your vehicle were it to be non-functional. Working windshield wipers are essential for automotive safety, so, rigorously check out the pair on the vehicle you are about to purchase.
Windshield wiper fluid that dispenses properly: The windshield wiper fluid helps keep the windscreen sparkling clean. But before that can happen the fluid dispenser must be up to its task. A dispenser that sprays fluid everywhere except where it’s supposed to isn’t of much use to anybody.  So, check to make sure the fluid dispenser knows its job and is prepared to lay down life and limb to perform themselves flawlessly.
All seats are equipped with functional seat belts: Seat belts might tie you down. But they also save your life. So, unless you are intent on suicide do ensure that all seats in your prospective purchase have properly functioning seat belts that do what they were designed to.
All seats adjust properly: Believe you me you don’t want to be stuck with seats that cannot be adjusted for better comfort. These will become back-breaking, irritating and as enjoyable as an enema that’s  performed with a spade. The solution is to simply sit yourself in all the seats of the vehicle and explore their full range of motion. If you are satisfied, well and good. If not, walk away to a better deal.
Properly operating power windows and mirrors: These save you a lot of stress and endless manual fine-tuning for the perfect view of your surroundings. So, do make sure they are not merely ornaments, but instead let you see the world like you like it.
The seat belt is not sagging and fits correctly: For the best possible effect, seat belts must be firm, solidly attached to the roller and fit as it’s supposed to. If that is not the case it’s not likely to be of much use and will have to be replaced.
Properly functioning hand stalk: The handstalk controls some important vehicle functions. Therefore, it should be in prime condition. Check to see if this is really the case in the vehicle.
Sunroof that opens and closes properly: An open sunroof under the awesomely magnificent night sky -what could possibly be more romantic or impressive? But what if once opened it cannot be closed? Or vice versa. If a sunroof is stuck in the open position, expect the elements and myriads of pesky critters to come calling. If it cannot be opened of what use is it? Therefore, check out the sunroof before you buy the vehicle.
Working car alarm: The car alarm helps safeguard the vehicle. Without it car thieves would be really feeding fat and getting rich quick. If it’s functioning it will do a good job of protecting your expensive purchase. If it’s not it’s just a matter of when you will be forced to bid your vehicle adieu. So, check the car alarm and ensure that it really is up to performing its guard duty.
Properly functioning hazard lights: Properly functioning hazard lights help keep you and other road users safe by alerting you -and them- to emergencies. It’s better than your having to wave a flare by the road side or shouting over a mega phone to other road users to slow down and avoid ramming into your stationary vehicle. So, turn on the hazard lights and ensure they blink enthusiastically enough, before you start discussing terms and conditions with the car seller.

Frame

Chassis that is neither bent nor cracked: A bent or cracked chassis is unattractive in the extreme. And will require considerable expenditure of time and money to fix. Why settle for such when you can get better deals at other dealerships.
No signs of crumpling or straightening inside the trunk:  Does the trunk appear to have been crumpled like it got on the wrong side of an elephant? Well, that’s a sign the car was in a fender-bender. Or even a more severe accident. So, when you see such cars walk away.

Automatic Transmission

Clean-looking transmission fluid: Before you make the purchase, do open up the hood and eyeball the transmission fluid. We are not suggesting that you lick it up, but make sure it doesn’t look dirty or gritty. If it’s clean as a whistle then you are good to go.
A transmission that neither slips nor delays while driving: Having to wait an eternity for the transmission to engage, can be pretty frustrating. So, do your stress levels a world of good when you meet such transmissions by waving farewell to them and going hunting for a better car.

Manual Transmission

Smooth-shifting gears: Gears should normally shift fluidly, with no jerking, twisting, pulling or praying required on your part. If you find you have to physically fight the gear anytime you need to shift, it’s time to walk off.
No grinding noises, especially in reverse gear: Apart from shifting smoothly the transmission is supposed to be pretty silent too. If it seems to grind its teeth like you just asked it to excrete whole coconuts, that’s a sign of trouble.
Check for slipping gears: Slipping gears cause all manner of problems. Both to the car concerned and to you should you purchase them. So, do check for slipping gears before you go home with the vehicle. Miss this check and your wallet is bound to take a hit sooner rather than later.
No excessive play in the clutch pedal travel: A clutch pedal with excessive play in it is like a very worn pair of underwear.  It thus needs to be replaced soonest. Otherwise it will seek to embarrass you in the worst way possible.
A clutch that is neither too hard nor too smooth: Shifting the clutch should not be smoother and easier than licking honey off a spoon. Nor harder than persuading the moon to turn to cheese.  Rather, there should be a perfect balance between both extremes. Finding this balance requires much experience. And putting it into practice comes really sweet and beneficial.

Brakes

Vehicle steers straight and does not pull either side when braked are applied: In some cars, you will find that applying the brakes makes the vehicle slew to one side like a kid being tickled. This is dangerous. So, be sure the car you are eyeing does not perform such crab-imitating stunts before making it all yours.
Parking brake engages and disengages freely: The parking brake like a good leash helps keep the vehicle exactly where it’s supposed to be- stationary. But to perform it’s duties it needs to be functional. So, try to utilize it as much as you can, making sure that it engages and disengages smoothly and easily.
No grinding noises when applying the brakes: Brakes that make grinding noises are defective and dangerous. At any time they might suddenly decide to stop working and really ruin your life. So, if it feels like you are sitting on Atlas as he grinds his teeth in frustration whenever you use the brakes, beware of the potential repair cost. And reconsider purchasing the vehicle.
Slam the brakes: To check for any unusual sounds and car behaviour during your test drive be sure to slam on the brakes multiple times. This brake-slam test will really help to detect any peculiar and unusual sounds or braking peculiarities. But before you perform this “slam test” do get permission from the seller. Else the sudden deceleration might give him/her a heart attack!
Wheels that do not lock when applying the antilock brakes: Antilock brakes are pretty magical. These beauties help ensure that your wheels do not suddenly lock up and possibly make you crash your ride. Be sure they work just fine before finalizing the details of the deal.

Steering

The vehicle does not drift to any side without driver input: A vehicle that constantly staggers to one side or the other like an injured duck without your asking it to is clearly up to no good.  In all probability it’s afflicted with suspension and steering problems that might well steer your wallet into having a stroke were you to purchase it.
The vehicle is stable, with no shaking or vibrating: A stable vehicle is the ideal to aim for. It should also not be shaking and vibrating like a kid who just saw an anaconda swallow an elephant. The ride in effect should be smooth and pleasing like an oil massage. If not, dump the car and find another.
No steering wheel resistance: A steering wheel that appears possessed and fights you when you want to turn it in either direction is bad news. It’s also unsafe and the perfect recipe for cooking up perfect accidents. If you do encounter such a steering wheel, just shake your head at it and seek another more amenable vehicle.
No clicking or clunking when turning: Peculiar noises when turning the steering wheel are as welcome as a boil on the ass. Left alone, these noises will intensify over time and are indicators of a problem that has to be fixed as soon as practical. So, do ensure that such noises are totally absent and that the steering wheel is generally as well behaved as the Swiss Guards.
Working steering wheel-mounted switches: Steering wheel mounted switches are rather convenient and help ensure that you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road while driving.  But before they can do their magic they have to be fully functional. And it’s up to you to check these little buttons one by one and ensure they do everything they are supposed to.
Check for excessive freeplay: A steering wheel with excessive freeplay can be dangerous. So, do check if the car you are loading your future dreams into possesses such a loathsome trait.

Miscellaneous

A car manual that is located in the glove compartment: The glove compartment is not just for storing a bazooka or two, a herd of zebras and cartons of sinfully rich chocolate. It’s also the place where the car manual should be. Operating a car without the manual is pretty much like stumbling around in the dark in a mined warzone. While you can always download a manual online, it being placed in the glove compartment for your convenience is rather nifty.
Instructions included for any accessories: Most cars come with extra added accessories. These can often sport what seems to be a gazillion buttons and might even require special operating conditions. If these accessories are present in your purchase, kindly get clarification and instruction as to how to best employ them in living life to the full.
Service and repair records available: The service and repair records of the vehicle since it came into existence needs to be made available to you. Feel free to study these as if you are preparing for an important exam. This is because these records will show you in black and white all that the vehicle has been through. As well as its idiosyncrasies and personality.
Owner has title: Be sure you are purchasing a vehicle to which the owner has a clear title. Purchasing a vehicle without a title is one of the best ways to get locked up or fined for receiving stolen goods.

Other Insights

Walk away if the seller objects to your inspection- Buying a car is never a do-or-die affair. So, if the owner refuses to let you thoroughly inspect the vehicle, there’s no harm or shame in walking away. Remember, in the car market sellers vastly outnumber buyers. So, you are sure of eventually getting your dream car and living the dream life.
Take your time and perform a thorough inspection: Inspecting the car should never be done in  a hurry, as that is a good way  to miss a lot of warning signs. So, be sure to take your time and minutely examine every inch of your prospective purchase.
Test drive the car for at least an hour (Fill up with fuel if you have to): Before you splash out money on your new ride, it’s really a must to test drive it for an hour or so. This will let you see how she handles and let you know whether or not it’s the rolling paradise of your dreams.
Make sure you get the spare keys: Getting the spare keys from the seller is often neglected.  Till the car is stolen hours after purchase. Or worse. Once you buy the car all parts of it are fully yours, including the spare keys. So, you are fully within your rights to demand that the seller hand it over or else.
Picture Me Rolling: If you do decide to purchase the car, take pictures of all the swappable parts. This includes the tyres, stereo system, seat covers etc. And when you do take the final delivery refer to the pictures. If any item looks to have been replaced with cheaper versions or have been tampered with, either walk away from the deal or beat the seller to a pulp.
Use any flaws against the asking price: All cars, especially used ones come with flaws of some sorts. These can range from the minor to the significant and will require fixing. When you find these in your prospective purchase, feel free to use them to bargain with the seller so as to reduce the asking price for the vehicle.

In case what you just read went down easy like iced mango juice on a hot summer day, we got lots more detailed checklists, blogs, videos and other awesome stuff you really need to check out.