Used Car Pre-Purchase Checklist
Use this checklist to evaluate any used car you are
considering buying. Following this checklist, prepared by Automotive
Information Systems, assures you will cover all the bases when checking out
Wear old clothes. Bring a rag for handling greasy or dirty items. If desired,
also bring clean paper towels and a container of hand-cleaner for cleaning up
after performing the inspection.
Other items to bring:
- small magnet
- pen or pencil
- copy of this checklist
- copy of CarPoint's AIS reliability report and inspection tips for the
vehicle you plan to inspect
- If you are meeting a private party to look at a vehicle, try to get there
15 to 20 minutes early. You may discover the vehicle being prepared for your
- Try to get the seller to set a time for you to see the vehicle when it has
been sitting overnight. You want to see how it will start first thing in the
- Always try to inspect vehicles during the day, when you can see better
than at night.
- Don't be afraid to ask the seller to help or show you something.
- Take time to perform an inspection to your satisfaction. Don't hurry or
let yourself be rushed.
- At some point during a test drive, try to drive at 20 to 30 mph beside a
solid center median or beside a solid side wall. Open the window halfway and
listen for sounds of the vehicle echoed by the hard surface. You should only
hear the sound of the tires on the roadway.
- For practice, inspect a vehicle you already own. Doing so will familiarize
you with the process and also provide a reference point for vehicles you are
considering for purchase.
Are seams where doors and
fenders meet even and straight?
- Are seams where the hood and
trunk meet the fenders even and straight?
- Does a magnet cling to all
steel body panels? (Be sure to test fenders, the lower corners of doors,
and rocker panels—the areas below doors. If a magnet doesn't cling,
suspect body filler was used to repair rust or accident damage.)
- Are all body panels the same
- Has the car been recently
repainted? (Look for signs of spray paint on moldings; also check the
edges of the doors, hood, and trunk to be sure they are all the same
color. Fresh paint may cover rust that will continue to progress.)
- Do all tires have the same
amount of tread?
- Are all tires the same size?
(Check tire size markings on tire sidewalls.)
- Are all tires the same brand?
- Is there a spare tire, jack,
and lug wrench? If the vehicle has locking hubcaps, is there a key for
- Is the spare tire inflated
(Press hard against the side with your thumb; the tire should be firm.)
- Does the vehicle sit level?
- Bounce each corner of the
vehicle. Do all corners respond the same? (Corners should only bounce
once or twice before stopping.)
- Do you hear a creaking noise
when bouncing the vehicle's corners?
- Examine inside trunk, wheel
wells, and under hood. Do you see areas that look like they have been
crumpled and straightened?
- Look underneath each side of
the vehicle for a row of holes in the frame just inside the vehicle's
outer edge. Do holes appear scratched or recently cleaned? (If so,
suspect the frame has been straightened after a crash.)
Gas Cap and Filler
- Is there a gas cap? Does it
fit correctly? (If the cap locks, is there a key?)
- Remove the gas cap and check
inside the filler neck. Is there a fuel-nozzle restrictor to prevent
adding leaded fuel? (Most states require them.)
- Is upholstery in good
condition? (Look for tears, stains, and burns.)
- Are the dashboard and
headliner in good condition?
- Do seats adjust easily?
- Are any window cranks, door
locks, handles, dash controls or similar items missing?
- Do all interior lights and
dash bulbs work?
- Does carpet condition match
the age of the vehicle?
- Does carpeting smell of
mildew or stale water, suggesting moisture underneath (or worse, flood
- Check under the dash at the
top of the carpet. Are there stains suggesting heater core or air
- Do all accessories, such as
the heater, air conditioner, audio system, and alarm system, operate
fully? Test all functions of each.
- Are there signs of oil or
- Run the engine at full
operating temperature. Are there abnormal smells that might be due to
leaking fluids on hot engine parts?
- Are there unusual noises,
such as clattering or metallic sounds, or sharp hissing, in the engine
compartment when the engine is running? (Normal sound is smooth whirring
of belts and fan.)
- Does anything appear to be
missing? (Look for shiny or clean areas where parts may have been
Under the Vehicle
- Are there fluid leaks on the
underside of the engine and transmission, at axle ends, at brake line
connections, or on the ground beneath the vehicle? Green fluid is
usually antifreeze; reddish fluid is usually power steering or
transmission fluid; dark brown or black fluid is usually oil or brake
- Are any parts loose, with the
exception of exhaust parts slung from flexible rubber
- Does anything appear missing,
such as bolts, clamps, brackets or cables?
- Are exhaust system parts
- Are there marks from scrapes,
indicating the car has bottomed out on rocks or pavement?
- Examine exhaust when the car
is operating at normal temperature. Do you see white or blue smoke?
(Both can indicate an engine problem, especially if the smoke burns your
eyes. A small amount of steam is normal, especially in cold weather.)
- Does the engine start easily?
- Does the engine stall at any time?
- Does the engine idle smoothly?
- Does the idle speed seem too slow or fast?
Does the engine hesitate or stumble on
- Does the engine run smoothly during operation?
Does the engine seem to lack power?
- If the vehicle has cruise control, do all
features work correctly?
Do engine or other system warning lights appear?
- Does the engine diesel (continue running) when shut off?
Transmission and Clutch
- Is automatic shifting smooth?
- On a manual-shift vehicle, is take-off smooth,
without grabbing or jerking?
- On a manual-shift vehicle, accelerate hard in a
higher gear (third or fourth) or while going uphill. If engine rpms rise without
a corresponding increase in vehicle speed, the clutch could be slipping. It may
need to be adjusted or replaced.
- On a manual-shift vehicle, try shifting to a
lower gear when going slowly. Does the transmission shift easily, without
- Engage 4-wheel drive only on soft surfaces
unless the owner's manual specifically says the feature can be used on
hard-surfaced roads. On a suitable surface, test-drive the vehicle in forward
and reverse with 4-wheel drive engaged. Does the vehicle shift smoothly in both
- Turn tight corners to the right and left. Are
there clunking sounds or other noises?
- Do the wheels bind or pull, whether turning or
- Apply the brakes several times at different
speeds. Also try a sudden stop. Does the vehicle pull to one side when brakes
- Do brakes stop the vehicle adequately?
- If the vehicle has antilock brakes (ABS), try
stopping suddenly. Do wheels lock? (A pulsing brake pedal is normal.)
- Does the parking brake hold firmly and release
- Does the vehicle pull to one side during normal
- Is steering difficult at any speed?
- Turn sharply in both directions. Do you hear
clunking or other noises, or feel rubbing or binding?
- Does the vehicle shake or vibrate while moving?
(Take the vehicle up to freeway speed for this test.)
- Is the steering wheel centered when the vehicle
is traveling straight ahead?
- Is there evidence of flood damage? By law, this information should be on
the title. Signs are upholstery and carpet stains, odor, rust in normally
dry areas such as beneath the dashboard and inside the glove compartment,
powdery green or white residue inside lowest electrical connectors.
- Is the owners' manual in the vehicle? How about the operating instructions
for any accessories, and any warranty information that still applies to
items like tires and exhaust?
- Are previous repair and service records available? (Complete records are a
sign that the owner has taken good care of the vehicle.)
- Does seller have clear title to vehicle?
Courtesy of MSN CarPoint