The 52-Point Checklist: A Buyer’s Guide to Inspecting a Used Car

In the market for a (new) used car? While used cars can give you lots of bang for your buck, they may be prone to a slew of issues that aren’t apparent at first glance. To ensure you get a vehicle that’ll be with you for the long haul, use this comprehensive 52-point checklist when inspecting the vehicles you have your eye on. Being thorough during the purchase stage can save you a world of headaches and expenses further down the road.


  1. Is the windshield free of cracks?
  2. Do the body panel colors match?
  3. Does the magnet adhere to all steel body panels?
  4. Are there signs of rust or corrosion?
  5. Are the seams where the trunk and hood close properly aligned?
  6. Are the seams where the doors and fenders meet properly aligned?
  7. Is the car free of scratches?
  8. Is the car free of dents?
  9. Do the windshield wipers and blades operate smoothly?
  10. Are the headlines and directional lights fully operative?


  1. Are the seats unworn and free of cracks?
  2. Do all doors open and close properly and smoothly?
  3. Does the trunk open and close properly and smoothly?
  4. Are all the gauges fully operative?
  5. Does the dashboard light point to check engine or another problem?
  6. Does the stereo work?
  7. Does the heater work?
  8. Does the ac work?
  9. Do the windshield wiper fluids dispense properly?
  10. Are all seats equipped with seatbelts?
  11. Does the sunroof open and close properly?
  12. Does the car alarm sound when prompted?
  13. Does the trunk and driver-side door lock and unlock with a key?
  14. Do the hazard lights work?
  15. Are the headlights fully operative?
  16. Are the brights fully operative?


  1. Is the engine free of fluid or oil leaks?
  2. Is the oil filler neck free of thick, black deposits?
  3. Are the battery terminals free of corrosion?
  4. Is the oil dipstick free of dark, black oil?
  5. Is the engine free of odors while running?
  6. Are the exhaust pipe emissions not blue (that means the engine is burning oil) or black (that means bad fuel efficiency)?

Automatic Transmission

  1. Does the transmission fluid look clean (it should be bright red or pink if clean)? If not, that might mean there’s a problem with the transmission.
  2. Does the transmission slip or delay when driving and shifting gears? The answer should be no.

Manual Transmission

  1. Does each gear shift smoothly?
  2. Is there a grinding noise when you reverse? The answer should be no.


  1. Does the car drift to one side even when the steering wheel is straight?
  2. Is the vehicle stable? Is there any shaking or vibrating when in motion?
  3. Is there any resistance when turning the steering wheel?
  4. Is there any clicking or clunking when turning? There shouldn’t be.


  1. Does the parking brake engage and disengage freely?
  2. Are you applying a lot of pressure just to brake the car? That might point to worn brakes that need replacing.
  3. Is there a grinding noise when braking? There shouldn’t be.


  1. Are tires consistent in terms of same make/brand?
  2. Are tires free of cuts, cracks, and other damages?
  3. Are tires evenly worn? Uneven wear can signify problems with alignment and suspension.
  4. Is there a spare tire? Does it pass the above questions?


  1. When steering the vehicle, does it drive straight or drift?
  2. Does the vehicle rest evenly?


  1. Has the seller provided the owner’s manual?
  2. Has the seller provided service and repair records of the vehicle?
  3. Does the owner have a free and clear title?

This checklist should give you the confidence to weed out high- vs. low-quality used cars on the market. Enjoy your used car hunting, and remember to do your homework on used car inspection and care now, to avoid issues later.