Classic Car Inspection checklist

Car Inspection Checklist. Richard Stern;

History and paperwork

MoT certificate;


  • 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

Service history:

Service book:


Checking the car

Step 1
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.

Step 2
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.

Step 3
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.

Step 4
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.

Step 5
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.

Step 6
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

Front/rear bumpers

  • Scratches or scuffs?
  • Bumps?
  • Do they line up with surrounding panels?


Front wings/bonnet

  • Scratches?
  • Dents?
  • 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?


Rear wings/boot

  • Scratches?
  • Dents?
  • 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?
  • Rust?



  • 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?


  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. Don’t forget the car’s rubber parts 
    • Check windshield wipers condition
    • Inspect interior and exterior rubber trim for splitting


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