What to look for when buying a used car: Samarins.com printable checklist

Updated: December 21, 2017
For more information, read our "How to inspect a used car - illustrated used car checklist" first: https://www.samarins.com/check/simplecheck.html

Any "bad" records in the vehicle history report?
Are the service records consistent with current mileage?
Has the car been serviced in regular intervals?
How many previous owners? Any reported accidents or major repairs?
Has the car passed the last Emission Test?

Exterior inspection:

Do any of the vehicle panels (doors, fenders) look misaligned?
Is any door difficult to close?
Do the gaps between different panels look different on one side of the car compared to the other side?
Are there any rust spots on the body, on bottom edges of the doors, around wheel arches?
Is there a lot of rust underneath the car?
Does the frame (in pickup trucks) look rusted through in some areas?
Has the car been rustproofed? (important in areas were salt is used on the roads in winter)
Do some of the body panels appear to be of different color or shade?
Can you see traces of paint overspray on mouldings, weatherstrips or other parts?
Are any of the body panels appear to have a fresh, more shiny paint?
Any other signs that some of the panels have been repainted?
Does the paint gauge (if available) show different paint thickness?
Do any of the headlights or taillights look like they have been replaced recently?
Does the windshield appear to have been replaced?
Are there any scratches, chips or cracks on the windshield?
Has the vehicle been used for towing a trailer? (Does the vehicle have a trailer hinge and electrical connector?)

Tires and rims

Are there any cracks or bulges in the tread material or sidewall?
Do all 4 tires match?
Are the tires of a well-rated reputable brand or cheap "no-name" product?
What is the tire manufacturing date imprinted on the tire DOT signs?
Do any of the tires look worn out?
Do any of the tires show uneven wear or cupping?
Is the tire size matching the specified tire size indicated on the vehicle tire sticker?
Do any of the rims appear badly corroded, scuffed or bent?

Interior inspection

Is the visibility good all-around? Are you able to find a comfortable seating position?
Does the driver seat / steering wheel look excessively-worn?
Is there a damp, moldy smell inside or dampness under the carpet or under the trunk cover?
Do the heater and air conditioner work well?
Are the power locks, windows, mirrors, heated seats working properly?
Does the sunroof open all the way and close tightly?
Do all audio system functions work well? Does the vehicle Bluetooth pair with your phone? Does the touchscreen and commander switch work?
Does the navigation system work?
Is there a usable spare tire, jack, wheel lock key (if wheel locks are installed) and a lug nut wrench?

Under the hood

Does the vehicle have racing modifications?
Is there a burnt oil or coolant smell under the hood?
Are there any visible leaks?
Does the battery terminals look corroded? Does the battery look old?
Are there any signs of shoddy repairs?
Does the engine oil dipstick look dirty or covered in dark carbon deposits?
Does the engine oil look clean and at the proper level?
If there is a transmission fluid dipstick, does the transmission fluid look dark or dirty? Does it smell burnt?

Before test drive

Does the engine have trouble starting?
Does it make a rattling, slapping or knocking noise when started cold?
Is there a blue smoke (even a small puff) from the exhaust?
When the engine is started cold, is there a loud exhaust noise from the engine compartment that gets quieter after a few seconds? (possible manifold or exhaust leaks)

Test drive

Are there any warning lights staying on after the engine is started?
Does the brake pedal feel "spongy" or goes down to the floor?
Does the automatic transmission engage right away or with a delay?
Is there an excessive vibration felt inside the car when shifted into Drive?
Is there a notable "clunk" or jolt when shifted into Reverse?
Is there any hesitation or stumbling on acceleration?
Does the transmission shift smooth or with a jolt or shudder?
Do you feel the automatic transmission slipping?
Do you feel any vibration from the drivetrain when accelerating?
Is the steering wheel centered when driving straight?
Does the car pull to one side?
Does the car feel stable on the highway or wanders left and right?
Is there a vibration at highway speeds?
Do you hear a humming or growling noise at highway speeds?
Do you notice a brake pedal pulsation or shaking of the steering wheel when braking at high speed?
Does the vehicle pull aside while braking?
When driving over bumpy road, are there any noises from the front end or rear suspension?
Do shock absorbers absorb road bumps well?

4WD system

If there is a switch that engages 4WD or locks one of the differentials, do all modes work?
When accelerating on a slippery surface in 4WD mode, do all 4 wheels engage?
Does the 4WD mode disengage easily or stick?

Manual transmission

Do you feel clutch slipping?
Does the clutch release in the middle of the clutch pedal travel or too high (or too low)?
Does the clutch pedal pulsate when pressed?
Can you shift between gears easily or do some of the gears grind?
Does the shifter pop out of any gear while driving?
Is there any noise when accelerating or decelerating in any gear?