Car Care Auto Repair

Used Car Inspection Check List



  • Look for unmatched paint or poor body fit (may indicate collision damage).
  • Check for body filler (use a refrigerator magnet on suspicious spots, unless body panel is not made of metal to begin with).
  • Look for rust all around, especially at wheelwells, under doors, in trunk.
  • Musty smell or dampness in trunk may indicate collision damage.
  • If car appears newly painted, why?


  • Push down and release each corner of car. If it bounces more than once, car may need struts or shocks.
  • Push and pull on each wheel from beside the car. If wheel moves in or out, bearings or CV joints may be in bad condition.
  • Remember that uneven tire wear may indicate suspension problems.
  • If car has new tires, be extra careful in checking suspension.
  • Check for “dog-tracking” by having a friend follow you while driving the car. If rear end of car seems to be sliding to the side, car may have serious frame damage from a collision.
  • If front-wheel drive, check CV joint boots on either end of front axles (should be a total of four). If torn or missing, expect to have trouble with expensive joints!

Under the Hood

  • Check for proper fluid levels.
  • Oil should not smell burnt or contain water.
  • Coolant (antifreeze) should be green, not rusty. (Note that Texaco now makes an coolant that is orange.)
  • Automatic transmission fluid should be red or pink and not smell burnt.
  • Look for leaks around radiator and hoses.
  • Spots on ground under the car may indicate leaks. To be sure, place a clean newspaper on ground under the car after driving it. Check in a few minutes for spots.


  • Wear of seats, steering wheel, etc. should be consistent with odometer mileage.
  • Pay special attention to amount of wear on pedals.
  • Musty smell or new carpet may indicate flood damage.
  • Make sure windows, safety belts, etc. all work.
  • Check glove box contents. You should have an owner’s manual.
  • Look for repair orders which may show the car’s mileage.
  • Make sure mileage makes sense with current odometer reading.


  • Wear should be even on each tire and among the set.
  • Tires must be same size.
  • Wear should be consistent with odometer mileage.
  • Insist on a spare, jack, and lug wrench.

The Final Steps

  • Inspected by mechanic. If car passed your inspection, take it to an independent mechanic for a more complete inspection.
  • Test drive the vehicle