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Used Car Checklist: What To Check When Buying a Used Car

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Free Printable Used Car Checklist

When it comes to buying a used car, we all want to get a great deal. But at the same time, we don’t want to purchase a car that has any hidden problems. Last year when my husband and I went car shopping, we made sure to take a used car checklist with us so we didn’t miss any key factors when looking at vehicles for sale. That list helped us to know what to look for and to be more objective.

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Having a checklist can help you buy a used car with confidence. Here are some of the things you should check when buying a used car. Print this used car checklist HERE, and take it with you when you go looking to buy your next car.

Used Car Checklist Exterior

  • Is there evidence of an accident, or flood, fire or other major damage to the body panels?
  • Are there any bangs, scrapes, dents or rust spots?
  • Are there any windshield cracks?
  • Are the side mirrors free of cracks or other damage?
  • Is the frame straight?
  • Is the paint fresh and unfaded?
  • Are there any signs of corrosion, scrapes or other damage under the car?
  • Are there any signs of oil or other fluid leaks under the car?

Used Car Checklist: Tires

  • Do the tires have plenty of tread?
  • Are all of the tires the same size?
  • Is there a decent spare (and a jack and lug wrench)?
  • Do the front tires have more wear than the rear tires? If there is a big difference, it could be a sign that the previous owner wasn’t consistent in rotating the tires.

Used Car Checklist Interior

One of the first things to check on the inside is the mileage, including the average number of miles the previous owner put on the car per year. To find this number, take the total number of miles and divide it by the age of the car. Look for a car that has been driven between 10 and 15 thousand miles per year; which is average, but of course the lower the better.

  • Is the upholstery in good shape, free of any tears or scrapes?
  • Is the carpet clean and tear-free (be sure to pick up floor mats and check)?
  • Are the seats and seat belts in good shape?
  • Are all of the car’s lights, controls and gauges working?
  • Do the windshield wipers work?
  • Does the horn work?
  • Does the air conditioning, heater, and defroster work?
  • Do all power options (seat, locks, windows, mirrors, antenna, etc) work?
  • Is there plenty of room for you and your family (and cargo)?
  • Is the fabric in the trunk in good condition? Is it clean and dry?

Used Car Checklist: Engine Compartment

Pop the hood and take a look at the general condition of the engine compartment. Are there any signs of fluids or leaks around the engine? Dark or dirty marks on the engine and the body surfaces under the hood are usually signs of leaks and can be a sign that there may be problems.

  • Check the oil using a paper towel. Does the car have plenty of oil? Is it clean?
  • Do the cables/hoses look frayed?

Used Car Checklist: Test Drive

When taking the car for a test drive, choose your own route, preferably one that will take you through city streets, fast freeways driving and any hills in the area. Keep the radio off during the drive and your ears open for any unusual noises.

  • Does the car start easily?
  • Are there any smoke or burning smells when running?
  • Does it run smoothly?
  • Does it “rev high” when idling?
  • s the check engine light or any other lights appearing?
  • Shift the vehicle through each of the gears, including reverse. Does it shift smoothly? Do all gears function properly? Does the transmission make any odd noises when shifting?
  • Does the car accelerate evenly? Is it slow to accelerate?
  • Do you hear any unusual noises while driving?
  • Does the car stall if you take your foot off the accelerator?
  • Does the car have enough power to climb hills and pass safely? What about when the air is running?
  • Does the car shift smoothly?
  • Is there any vibration in the steering wheel while driving?
  • Is there any vibration in the steering wheel while braking?
  • Are there any noises such as rattles or squeaks?
  • While driving, does the car pull sharply to one side?
  • Does the car pull to one side when braking?
  • Do brakes work smoothly when performing a fast stop?
  • Are there any noises coming from the front wheels when you make slow, tight turns? This could indicate CV joint problems.
  • Does the car provide good steering response?
  • Is the car quiet when the fan and heater or AC are on?

Used Car Checklist The Extras

  • Does the stereo work?
  • Do the electric windows work properly?
  • Check the GPS or navigation system, as well as any MP3 or cell phone charger outlets to make sure they work.

Questions To Ask the Dealer/Seller When Buying a Used Car

After going through the checklist and test driving the car, make sure you ask the seller any questions including:

  • Has the car ever been hit or in any type of accident?
  • Does it need any work?
  • Do you have paperwork on the car including receipts, manuals, and inspection records?

Last, but not least, ask the dealer for a copy of a vehicle history report from a service such as CarFax or similar.

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