Shop Safer with a Used Car Checklist

Buying a used car can be financially satisfying but requires caution. Buyers need to protect themselves by knowing what to look for when making the purchase decision. Below is a checklist to help spot potential problems with a used vehicle. Shoppers should read through the list and examine each of the items. If an issue arises, note it and consider walking away. A pretty car with lots of features won’t be much of a buy if the features include a host of future problems.


  • No dents in the body
  • No cracks in any of the windows
  • Panels all match in color
  • Seams around doors and fenders match up nicely with an even gap
  • All exterior lights function properly


  • The gauges all work
  • Four-ways or hazard lights are functioning
  • Media system works
  • Heat and AC work properly
  • Doors open and close properly
  • Windows go up and down easily
  • Trunk opens without issue
  • Wipers work properly
  • All doors lock and unlock with the key
  • The alarm system works properly (if present)
  • Seats in good condition


  • Good brand
  • Tire jack and spare tire or donut are included
  • Tires match
  • Even tread wear
  • Tires are at the proper pressure
  • Tires free from cracks or bubbles
  • No wobbling while traveling down the road

Steering System

  • Vehicle drives straight and doesn’t drift to the side
  • No difficulty when turning the wheel
  • No sounds when turning
  • No shaking or vibration while driving

Brake System

  • Does not pull to the side when braking
  • No pulsing or grating noises when stopping
  • Wheels don’t lock when applying anti-lock brakes
  • Parking brake functions properly


  • Oil filler tube is clean
  • Dipstick not coated with black oil
  • No oil or fluid leaks
  • No off-putting odors while running
  • Exhaust emissions are not blue or black
  • Battery free of corrosion


  • No creaking occurs when going over bumps
  • Bounces distributed evenly around vehicle
  • Vehicle sits level

Automatic Transmission

  • Fluid is clean and free of grit
  • Gears shift smoothly

Manual Transmission

  • Gears shift smoothly
  • No grinding when switching to reverse
  • Minimal play in clutch pedal


  • Frame holes are clean and show minimal rust
  • Trunk is straight and doesn’t have signs of crumpling or wrinkling
  • Chassis is straight and not cracked in any area

Getting Closer to Closing

If the car checks out after this inspection, there are a few more questions to ask that will serve to increase your confidence.Is the owners manual present? Are any service records available? Is there a clear title?

Buying used is often a good option, but be careful. If you are not comfortable working through this checklist yourself, invite a mechanic to come along. If the seller objects to this type of inspection it’s probably a good indication that he is offering a car you shouldn’t be interested in anyway.