A Must-Have Checklist for Every Smart Used Car Buyer

Posted on Sep 30 2013 - 11:34am by Adam Prattler


One of the best ways to avoid being ripped off is to get to know the person selling the car is what expert bloggers suggest. But, what if you don’t the luxury of time? Scrutinize the car, instead.

How will you know if the car has been hit by a major accident? Is the engine heavily damaged? Do you know that odometer can be tampered so that it would show low number of kilometers the car has run?

Here is a 10-point checklist that would help you get to know the used car you are buying.


This is the part where you need your eyes to be extremely detail-oriented. If you are in doubt that you can do the inspection on your own, find a buddy who knows better.

When examining the exterior section, look for cracks on the windshield first. You should also check for body scratches, dents and intact headlights and directional lights. Seams (trunk and hood, and doors and fenders) should all be properly aligned.


Decent tires should be free from bubbles and cuts. Tread worn is normal. However, uneven wear means that there could be a problem with suspension or alignment.

If the seller has a spare tire, check if it’s fully inflated. The jack and wrench should all be working fine.


The general well-being of the engine is very important. Dirt and crackling are signs that proper maintenance and servicing may have been neglected. However, don’t get easily tricked with sparkling clean engine. The owner may have had this washed to disguise oil leaks and other problems.

Carefully check exhaust pipe emissions. A blue color is an indication that the engine burns oil, while excessive oil consumption is represented by black emission.

The engine should also be free from any odors when running. Corrosion in battery terminals is not a good sign. Oil filler neck should be clear of thick black deposits.


Bounce the vehicle. When doing this, carefully observe for creaking noise. The car should also rest steadily.


The interior is perhaps the part where you need to check a lot. It takes time. So, you need to be extremely patient and critical.

Check for wear and tears on seats. All seats should have functional seatbelts and are properly adjusted. Power windows should also be properly opening and closing.

The trunk and doors should open freely. Also see if the following are working fine: stereo, steering wheel, heater, air conditioner, GPS tracker (if there is any) and gas meter.


Examine checks or bent on chassis. There should also be no sign of crumpling or straightening inside the trunk. Clean and scratch free frame holes indicate that it was well-maintained by the previous owner.

Automatic and Standard Transmission

An automatic transmission problem is likely when transmission fluid looks dirty. There should not be any delays or slips in transmission when you test drive the car.

For manual transmission, gears should shift seamlessly. Grinding noise when trying the reverse can be a sign of damage.


Brakes are fundamental. When it fails, accident is inevitable.

Brakes should engage and disengage freely. The vehicle should steer and does not pull to one side when you hit the brakes.


There is something wrong with steering when the car tends to drift to one side with prodding. Vibrating and shaking indicate a problem with steering.

It should also be resistant-free when turning.


Check for NCB or no-claim bonus on car. It is a reward given to car owners who have not made any claim of their auto insurance during the policy period.

If an NCB was issued, it means the car has met an accident. If this is the case, ask how much was spent for repairs. Rule of thumb: the higher the bill, the serious the damage was.

You must also verify if the car passed vehicle emission testing. This is a requirement for most states while if you check region-wise, say for example Auto inspection stations in Annandale issue certification for vehicle they have tested.

Your intention of buying a used car to save money may be dodged if you get cheated. You don’t want to end up telling yourself at the end of the day “you should have bought a brand-new car instead, dude!”. It is your responsibility to know whether you are being conned. Don’t feel rushed when doing thorough inspection.

It’s Your Turn

What’s your last second hand auto purchase like? Have you experienced being tricked because of lack of expertise in cars? Any great find in the last couple of years?

We’d love to hear your stories, tips, opinions and insights on smart car buying. Park your thoughts at the comment box below.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Axion23

About the Author

Adam Prattler is downright “gung ho” with his advocacy towards teaching people about ethical guest blogging. Join him and his community at Postme and help make a difference in the online community.