Things to check when inspecting a used car

This list was posted below by ok4450 in another post I started - thought it was worthwhile to build a comprehensive list for checking a used car starting with this one - is there anything else you’d add?

“ok4450 05/12/2008 9:22:53 PM

Re: Should I buy this 2000 Subaru Outback based on inspection/expected repairs? Advice please!

I’ve done a lot of car inspections for dealers to aid in their decision as to whether to keep a car or run it off to the auction. It was a methodical process I was trained in and has worked very well. It goes like this.

1. Test drive car and pay special attention to the auto trans shifting or manual trans/clutch if equipped.

2. If ok, then a compression test and oil pressure test of the engine is done along with listening carefully for any abnormal noises.

3. If ok, then one puts the car on a rack where the underside can be inspected. The following areas are checked:

Any noticeable frame or body damage.


Suspension components and tires


Check for any leaks of any sort; engine oil, trans fluid, coolant, etc.

Then all belts, hoses, etc. are inspected followed by operation of all lighting systems, horn, wipers, heater/A/C

operation, etc.

Body panel fit or any obvious body damage or damage to the strut towers, inspection of all glass/window operation, etc.

The process is a bit deeper than what I’ve listed but it’s really not horribly time consuming. A couple of hours should get just about everything (and if everything is done it’s really not that big a money maker for the mechanic).

Even with a thorough inspection there is no 100% guarantee that things won’t go wrong. The basic building blocks are good but some of that little stuff could become a problem.

I performed an inspection for someone one time on an older model Ford T-Bird and this car was near immaculate. I could find no problems at all except a pair of half worn tires on the rear and even those were not too bad. The people purchased the car and about 6 months later went out one morning to start it, a gas line leaked,and the resulting fire burnt the car from the windshield forward.

The gas lines appeared fine during the inspection and it was never determined if the gas line split, blew off, or had been tampered with by Jr., who it appears had been given a little freedom to tinker under the hood.

Hope that helps.”

Anything you would add to the list?

A good checklist. I have bought 8 used cars over the years, and always checked out the trunk as well. Water leaks can cause corrosion, and lifting up the trunk mat can reveal some real problems in the rust belt.

Also, any repainted areas are immediately suspect; accident or rust repairs.

Run a Carfax. A car may appear solid, but I wouldn’t want one that’s had a lot of owners or been in an accident.

Find something to stick up heater vents under dash, look for dirt,mud- flood damage.
In a parking lot turn wheels all the way to the right and in drive give it gas and let off then put in reverse and do the same thing. You are listening fot clicking or grinding sound from axles. Turn wheel to left and repeet.
When axles start to go this is the first way you can hear them getting bad.

Carfax is good only if the car has complete dealer maintenance (from day 1). It won’t show all the repairs, oil changes, etc…from an independent mechanic or from DIY.

Make sure this car is painted a safe color. Safety first!

I didn’t mention a word about maintenance.

make sure body gaps are aligned/ see if you can see tape lines in the jambs/ see if a-c, coolant, emmission labels are under the hood. If not not it could have been in a wreck.