Looking to buy a used car? Then a thorough pre-purchase inspection is important. It takes more than just a quick look to make sure you get your money’s worth. In this article, CARCHEX shares the details of a comprehensive car inspection checklist.

General Data

The first step in car inspection is gathering general data. This helps you especially when comparing multiple vehicles. Data includes:

  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Make, year, model
  • Mileage
  • Engine cylinders, size, and type

CARCHEX can send a qualified inspector to perform a 155-point inspection on any car in the country. Order an authorized CARCHEX inspection now.

Exterior Inspection

  • Body – look for scratches, dents, and dings. Look at paint scuffing and overall condition. Carefully inspect the front, hood, bumpers, doors, rear, roof, trim and quarter panels. Use a flashlight to look under the wheel well. Body killing rust often starts there in the darkness.
  • Glass – look for cracks, chips, or discoloration. Check the windshield, door windows, rear window and mirrors.
  • Tires and wheels – look at the wheels and tire tread. Measure tire tread and look for curb damage.
  • Wipers – Check the blades and wipers. Make sure they work properly. Check front and rear washers as well.

Bonus Tip 1: Do the panel, fender, and door lines appear smooth? If not, it may mean shabby past bodywork. If a section look suspicious, see if a magnet sticks to it. If not, then filler repair was done on the car.

Bonus Tip 2: Low mileage? New tires? Great, right? Maybe not. Some scam artists roll back the odometer and slap on cheap new tires to make it look like the car has low mileage. Make sure all the tires are the same brand and size.

Interior Inspection

Now check the inside of the car. Look for:

  • Evidence of smoke odor.
  • Interior items – check the glove box, air conditioner & heater, hood release, cigarette lighter, headrests, door panels, dash pad, and vanity mirrors.
  • Gauges – speedometer, tachometer, temperature, oil pressure, and amp meter.
  • Audio system – test the radio, CD player, and USB port.
  • Carpet and upholstery – look at front and rear seats, front and rear carpeting, headliner.
  • Trunk – inspect the carpeting, tools, jack, and spare tire.
  • Electrical system – test headlights, high beams, tail lights, brake lights, parking lights, turn signals, electric windows, sunroof, and electric seat controls.
  • Under the hood – look for oil leaks, exhaust leaks, and exhaust smoke.

Bonus Tips: Smell moldy inside? Could be a water leak. Lift up floor mats and look for signs of water damage. Sit in every seat and test every seat belt. Make sure you can adjust the driver’s seat to fit your height and driving position.

Under The Hood

When the engine is cool, squeeze and touch the hose and belts. They should feel soft and supple. Hardness means age and wear.

Check the oil. It should be brownish black. If it is clear/yellow then it was recently changed. Gritty oil, water droplets, or foam can all be warning signs of a cracked engine block. The transmission fluid should be pink and not smell burnt.

Road Test

When you take a test ride, take note of the:

  • Brake system – noise, vibration, effort; parking brake operation
  • Suspension – performance, noise, rough road test
  • Idling noise
  • Engine or acceleration noise
  • Horn
  • Wind noise
  • Starting ease or noise
  • Steering – effort, drifting
  • Transmission – shift quality, smoothness, effort, slippage, or noise
  • Engine operating temperature and performance
  • Transaxle noise
  • CV joint or drive axle noise

Bonus Tip: Look at the car from a distance. Is it tilting to one side? This might mean the shocks are shot. Bounce each corner of the car and see how the suspension responds. Finally, grab a front wheel and give it a strong back-and-forth pull. Any tapping or clunking may mean problems with the suspension or wheel bearings.

Additional Inspection Points

Don’t forget to look at the:

  • Door handles
  • Gas door and gas cap
  • Grille
  • Tailgate or liftgate
  • Door locks and keyless entry system function
  • Roof rack stability
  • Fog lamps


Take lots of photos, especially of defects. This also helps if you go back to look at the car and you suspect there is new damage.

Leave It To A Pro

A thorough car inspection takes time. A professional car inspection service can supply a detailed written report to you. They will also provide valuable comments about any detected abnormalities. A thorough pre-purchase car inspection gives you peace of mind for any used vehicle purchase.

Order a complete CARCHEX pre-purchase inspection today.