Car Inspection Checklist. Richard Stern;
History and paperwork
- Are the details correct? If not, walk away
- How many previous owners are there?
- Call the most recent one and ask them to verify the car’s history
- Check the engine and chassis numbers match those on the car
Checking the car
Look along the car’s flanks for dings and dents, check the bumpers for scrapes, and scrutinise the wheels for kerb contact. Is the paint a consistent shade all over? Any of these can show a careless owner and offer a bargaining point to help lower the price.
Does it look too shiny? What’s the seller trying to hide. Honest grime is no bad thing, but look for excessive oil or fluid leaks – from the car, not the seller.
Some rust will be obvious to spot, but feel under the wheelarches, doors and bumpers for rough edges – a ginger finger will give the game away. While you’re crawling around, look at the tyres for excessive or uneven wear.
Inside, does it reek of a chain smoker? Does the general wear and tear tally up with the car’s mileage? Worn seats and shiny steering wheel and pedals on a low mileage car are giveaways.
Make like a curious child and press every button to see all of the electrics work, and listen out for any rattles or unusual noises on the test drive.
Take a lengthy test-drive. Look, listen and smell for anything untoward. And don’t fall into the trap of paying for fuel for a seller because the needle is further south than Antarctica.
Used car inspection checklist
- Scratches or scuffs?
- Do they line up with surrounding panels?
- Do the panels all line up evenly?
- Do the headlights/foglights line up evenly?
- Do the lights work properly?
- Are the lights chipped?
- Do all of the doors open without any creaks?
- Do the doors close smoothly without being slammed?
- Do the locks work properly?
- Are there any scratches on the outside paintwork?
- Rips, scuffs or stains on interior of doors?
- Do the windows go up and down smoothly?
- Are there any scratches on the glass, or front and rear ‘screens?
- Are there any scrapes on the bottom edges of the doors?
- Do all of the panels line up evenly?
- Do all of the lights work properly, including the foglight?
- Are there any dings in the boot?
- Is the exhaust damaged from poor reversing?
- Excessive soot on the bumper from the exhaust?
Wheels and tyres
- Are they all the same type of wheel?
- Are they the standard wheels for the car?
- Any kerbing?
- Are the tyres evenly worn?
- Any nicks or cracks in the edges of the tyres?
- Are the tyres all the same make or mix and match?
- Tears or rips?
- Stains or scuffs?
- Any rattly or loose seats?
- Are the seatbelts in good condition and run smoothly?
- Do the seatbelts hold tight when given a firm pull?
- Is the driver’s seat excessively worn for the indicated mileage?
- Are the steering wheel and foot pedals excessively worn?
- Is the indicated mileage backed up by MoTs and service records?
- Are the carpets damp from leaky doors or sunroof?
- Holes in the dash form mobile phone holders?
- Holes in trim from aftermarket speakers and stereo?
- Does it smell of cigarettes?
- Are there any cigarette burns?
- Does every button work as it should?
- Is the steering wheel straight when wheels are aligned ahead?
- Are all of the keys present?
- Is more than one key needed for ignition, doors and boot?
- Does the air-conditioning, if fitted, work properly?
- Is the hood of a convertible in good condition and leak free?
- Is anything hanging loose or caught on the underside?
- Any leaks?
- Does the engine start easily and settle to an even idle?
- Does it rev freely when you press the accelerator?
- Are there any obvious noises from the engine?
- Any leaks?
- Are all of the fluids to the correct levels?
- Remove the oil filler cap with the engine off. Is the oil clean?
- Is there any white sludge – this could mean water contamination?
- Do all of the pedals work smoothly?
- Does the gear lever engage smoothly in all gears?
- Does the gearbox or clutch make any unpleasant noises?
- Does the clutch take up smoothly?
- Does the clutch slip? Accelerate hard in a high gear to test this
- Does reverse gear engage and work smoothly?
- Do the brakes work strongly?
- Do the brakes pull to one side when the pedal is pressed?
- Any noises from the suspension?
- Push down hard on the suspension. Does it settle quickly?
- Does the car roll too much in bends or feel too firm?
- Is the exhaust quiet? Are there any rattles from it?
- Is there any smoke from the exhaust?
- Are all of the documents present? If not, why?
- Is there a full service history including MoTs?
- Do the MoTs run concurrently? If not, why?
- Does the seller’s name match the details on the logbook?
- Is any work on the car backed up by receipts?
- Are viewing the car at the address on the logbook?
- Do the chassis and engine numbers match those on the car?
- Does the colour, fuel type and engine capacity match?
- Ask to see all paperwork and documentation.
- Make sure the VIN matches other VIN’s on the vehicle and paperwork (original/no alterations)
- If the car has been restored, ask for any pictures taken before, during and after
- Check service history for repairs, oil changes and scheduled maintenance
- Start the car.
- Check for smoke coming from the exhaust
- Listen to the engine idle quality when cold and hot
- Rev the engine; is it smooth? Document any noises
- Keep it running until the engine is hot and check for exhaust smoke again
- Take the car for a road test.
- Inspect engine performance and acceleration
- Listen for engine noise at high/low speeds
- Listen for automatic transmission/transaxle noise
- Is the automatic transmission shifting smoothly
- Listen for drive axle and transfer case bearings or gear noise/vibration
- Check the manual clutch for engagement, chatter or slippage
- Test the steering for responsivness/smoothness/play
- Test brakes for effectiveness/operation/noise/pulling
- Check gauge operation; Speedometer/Tachometer/Odometer
- Document temp/oil/battery gauges when hot and cold
- Check the suspension on a rough road
- Visually inspect the exterior.
- Check everywhere for rust
- Visually inspect for repairs or damage
- Check body panels for dings, dents, alignment, mismatched paint and overall paint condition
- A magnet can detect any filler used in repaired dents
- Inspect for chrome damage, alignment and improper repairs
- Open and close doors/hood/trunk/tailgate for proper operation
- Inspect grill/trim/molding for bends, dings, missing parts and proper attachment
- Inspect the windshield and side and rear windows for damages, pitting, repairs, wiper marks or cracks
- Check the mirrors condition and hinge operation
- Check to make sure all interior/exterior lights are operational.
- Head lights, high and low beams
- Tail lights
- Brake lights
- Parking lights
- Hazard lights
- Reverse lights
- Turn signals
- License late lights
- Fog/Driving lights
- Interior lights
- Dashboard lights
- Check for cracked or clouded lenses
- Inspect the interior.
- Are the seat belts operational
- Test audio/alarm/speaker systems
- Test heating/ventilation/AC/defogger/defroster
- Is the clock keeping time
- Check the horn
- Inspect the lighter/power outlets condition/operation
- Inspect glove box/glove box light/hinges
- Inspect armrest/console condition/operation
- Is steering tilt/lock operational
- Check rear view mirror condition
- Check fuel filler door release
- Check that all door handles operate
- Inspect interior trim/carpet/floor mats/door panels/headliner/sun visors
- Make sure that the automatic/manual door locks are functional
- Inspect all leather/vinyl/material.
- Check the condition of seat upholstery for wear/rips/cracks/fading/stains
- Check the dashboard/door/headliner for splitting or water damage
- Inspect sunroof/moon roof/convertible top
- Inspect convertible tops condition/operation/fit
- Check convertible top boot
- It’s time to open up the hood.
- Check for oil leaks
- Inspect air filter for oil
- Check the oil for water/sludge/clarity/level.
- Inspect timing belt/chain.
- Check all fluid levels.
- Inspect belts for wear and fraying.
- Check hoses.
- Inspect wiring.
- Inspect engine mounts.
- Look for water pump leaks.
- Pressure test radiator cap.
- Look for fuel pump leaks.
- Inspect fuel filter.
- Kicking the tyres.
- Inspect tyres for correct size/tread depth/pressure
- Check the tyres for abnormal wear
- Inspect condition of valve stems
- Do all the tyres match
- Does the spare match
- While you’re checking the spare, inspect luggage compartment for rust
- Is there a jack or tools
- Don’t forget the car’s rubber parts
- Check windshield wipers condition
- Inspect interior and exterior rubber trim for splitting