What to Check When Inspecting a Used Car

By Emily Sakzewski. Updated: January 16, 2017
What to Check When Inspecting a Used Car

When purchasing a used car, you want to make sure that you're getting a good deal. The last thing you want is to pay for a car that is defected or worse, stolen. If you're buying a car from a private seller, you aren't covered by the legal protections as when you purchase from a dealership, so you have the responsibility to do a thorough check before you hand over the money. In this OneHowTo article, we will set out a checklist of what to check when inspecting a used car.

You may also be interested in: How to Know if The Car You're Buying is Stolen


It's important to identify that the car is not stolen. For a detailed explanation, make sure you read our article on how to know if the car you're buying is stolen. Basic paperwork and documents you will need to check are:

  • Check the vehicle registration papers to make sure the seller is the also the registered owner. Check that the document is legitimate, usually by checking for a watermark, spelling mistakes and any other inconsistencies.
  • Check that the car's details match the the registration document. This will include the vehicle registration number (VIN), engine number, car make and model. These details will also let you know if your car has had a recall.
  • Obtain the car's service history

Inspect the Exterior

When inspecting a used car, you should check for any clues on the car's exterior that can tell you whether the car has been tampered with. Here is a list of what to check when inspecting the car's exterior:

  • Scratches around the key hole in the driver or passenger doors, or the trunk
  • Check that window seals or plastic mouldings have not been tampered with
  • Any unusual welding under the bonnet or trunk
  • If the fuel tank looks like it has been forced or replaced
  • If the mileage of the car seems to match it's age and appearance
  • Inconsistent gaps or mismatched car panels
  • Any worn screws or other signs of tampering
What to Check When Inspecting a Used Car - Inspect the Exterior

Inspect the Engine

You should inspect the engine before you buy a used car to know whether the car has any serious defects. The best way to inspect the engine is to start the car. Some of the things you should take note of when inspecting the engine are:

  • Strange noises
  • Excessive exhaust fumes - white smoke, dark blue or black smoke coming out of the exhaust is a sign of a serious problem
  • If the warning light comes on
  • If the clutch works - check this by pressing the pedal and listening for any strange noises as this could mean the clutch is in need of repair
  • Check the fuel filter (consult our article on how to tell if your fuel filter is bad)

Test Drive

One of the best things to do when inspecting a used car is to take it for a test drive. When test driving a car, here are some questions to answer:

When you are inspecting a used car, we recommend bringing a mechanic with you, or maybe a friend who knows a thing or two about cars. A second set of eyes may just pick up on something you missed!

If you want to read similar articles to What to Check When Inspecting a Used Car, we recommend you visit our Cars category.

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