40 used car inspection checklist

Every intending car buyer will like to buy a car that will not give problems but serve him or her well.

Thorough check before purchase is necessary because some buyers don't fully disclose the actual health state of the car which they advertise to sell.


What to do during vehicle pre-purchase inspection:

1. Vin check

Do a VIN check to know the ownership history, maintenance history, accident history and condition of the car.

2. Diagnostic scan

It is important to scan the car with a diagnostics scanner to know the fault codes. Through this, you should be able to know if the present issues are the ones you will be ready to fix or to forgo the purchase of the car. Care should be taken not to clear codes before you pay for a car as the behavior of the car might change once codes are cleared. It will be an added advantage if live stream data can be monitored through the scantool. It's always good to employ the service of a professional.

3. Check the mileage.

This can be tricky at times as some mileages are fraudulently rolled back. Thorough VIN check can help.

4. Check engine sound

Listen to sounds from the engine, transmission and suspension to ensure that there is no bad sounds.

5. Check all the fluids

Fluids like automatic transmission fluid should not be dirty or dark. Brake fluid should be clear and not mouldy, greenish, dark or brownish.

6. Watch out for engine sludge

Open oil fill cover, look into the cylinder head for sign of sludge. Sludge is an engine killer and sludged engines should be avoided.

7. Watch out for previous head gasket change

Check where the top cylinder mate with engine for sign of head gasket change. Check other seals like the cylinder cover seal for integrity.

8. Check for oil leakage

This includes checking for oil leakage around the front and rear main bearing seals.

9. Check for coolant leakage

Check radiator, hoses, radiator cover, engine area and coolant level.

10. Check alternator voltage output

You should be skeptical when output is less than 13.6 volts. It can be a sign of a weak alternator.

11. Check the instrument cluster for warning lights

Put the car on IGNITION ON and ENGINE OFF and check that all indicator lights are ON. Start the car to see that there are no warning lights. Also check for warning indicator bulbs that are removed or covered with dark tape.

12. Ensure that electrical cables are not cannibalized or bypassed

Thoroughly check engine electrical wires, fusebox area, lightings area.

13. Check cooling fan

Check electrical cooling fan to see that it works in the correct operation mode. Incorrectly working cooling fans can cause overheating, high fuel consumption or shorten engine lifespan.

14. Check thermostat

Check if cooling system thermostat is still present and working.

15. Check the suspension and chassis

This is to ensure that it is not bent. I advise that you look at the vehicle while another person drives it towards you and away from you. At times, one can discover a bent chassis through visual inspection while watching the car moving.

16. Watch out for overheating

Run the vehicle till it gets to normal operating temperature so that you will know if it is overheating.

17. Check battery health

You can leave the car on IGNITION ON, ENGINE OFF for at least five minutes then try to start the car. If the battery is not strong enough to start the car, it is weak.

18. Inspect drive belts

Check the drive belts for wear or cuts.

19. Inspect exhaust

Check the exhaust to ensure that catalytic converters are present and the oxygen/AF sensors are connected.

20. Inspect lights

Inspect headlights, brake lights, signal lights and every other lights.

21. Look at airbags

Check if there is any airbag malfunction light.

22. Watch out for rust

Check the body for rust.

23. Ask about the engine oil that was being used to service the engine. This can give a clue about the condition of the engine. Avoid a car that was being serviced with oils of incompatible grade or viscosity.

24. Check electrical accessories like wipers, horns, air conditioner, radio and heater.

25. Check if the heater core has been bypassed. If it has been bypassed, you won't get heat from the engine to the cabin.

26. Check the coolant to ensure that the coolant does not mix with engine oil or transmission oil. A mixture of coolant and oil signifies faulty engine or transmission heat exchanger, bad head gasket, cracked cylinder head.

27. Check for the presence and color of exhaust smoke. Exhaust smoke can signify worn rings, faulty valves, internal coolant leak, PCV fault.

28. Check engine oil level. Too low might mean that engine shorts oil and too high might indicate engine flooded with fuel.

29. During test drive, check for vibrations in the wheels and steering. Check brake operation, vehicle power and acceleration.

30. Check the tires for the presence of any wear pattern.

31. Check under to ensure that all brake lines are connected and not blocked.

32. Test AC for at least 20 minutes continuously to ensure that it was not just filled with refrigerant and will leak away soon.

33. Listen to engine sound. A slapping chain noise might indicate a stretched timing chain than csn damage the engine if not replaced soon.

34. Check the operation of doors and central locking system.

35. Check whether the car is converted from right hand drive to left hand drive or vice versa. Check if it is converted from hybrid to non-hybrid.

36. If it is a hybrid car, check the integrity of the high voltage supply battery, the brake actuator and the high voltage air conditioner compressor. There is special pre-purchase inspection checklist for used hybrid cars.

37. Drive long enough to test the transmission through all the gears.

38. Check glasses especially the front wind shield to ensure that it doesn't suffer from glare.

39. It's good if possible to begin pre-purchase inspection in the morning when the car has not been started and is still cold. This is the time that many hidden faults surface.

40. Check shock absorbers for leakages, springs for breakages.

41. Check the legal documents of the car to ensure that they are updated and that the vehicle belongs to the seller.

Checking all that are listed might not be possible on a car but this list gives a good clue on things that ought to be checked before purchasing a used vehicle.

Due diligence is very important in order to avoid regrets and unnecessary spending on repairs after buying a used vehicle.