Used Car Checklist: What Dealers Inspect

If you are looking to buy a used car, it’s likely that you will end up buying one from either a new car dealership or a dedicated used car dealer. Both types of dealerships have a decent variety of used cars available for sale. Before a vehicle is marketed, dealers follow a detailed checklist that includes the following items.

used vehicle checklist

Documentation and Records

  • Verify clear title
  • Validate vehicle’s history report
  • Check for open service bulletins
  • Review recall status
  • Validate odometer reading
  • Check for lien information
  • Confirm compliance with state safety and emissions standards

Exterior Condition

  • Check body panels for dents and scratches
  • Inspect the paint job for fading or damage
  • Check for signs of rust or corrosion
  • Inspect the condition of the windshield and windows
  • Check door and trunk hinges and locks for proper operation
  • Test operation of all exterior lights
  • Inspect condition of tires, including spare
  • Check wheels for alignment and damage
  • Inspect condition of brakes and brake pads
  • Verify presence and condition of mirrors

Interior Condition

  • Verify operation of all seat belts
  • Check condition of seats, including upholstery
  • Test all interior lights
  • Test operation of power windows, locks, and other controls
  • Inspect the condition of the dashboard and steering wheel
  • Verify operation of the sound system, including speakers
  • Check the operation of the HVAC system, including heat, A/C, and defrost
  • Inspect condition of the headliner and floor mats
  • Test operation of windshield wipers and washer fluid dispensers
  • Confirm all gauges and warning lights are functioning properly

Under the Hood

  • Inspect engine for leaks
  • Check oil level and condition
  • Verify coolant level and inspect for leaks
  • Inspect the condition of the battery and cables
  • Check brake fluid and power steering fluid levels
  • Inspect condition of belts and hoses
  • Check air filter and cabin air filter
  • Verify operation of the throttle and fuel systems
  • Inspect condition of spark plugs, wires, and distributor cap
  • Check for proper insulation and absence of damage in electrical wiring
  • Inspect the condition of the exhaust system

Mechanical Inspection

  • Inspect condition of the suspension system
  • Verify condition of the steering system
  • Check condition and operation of the transmission
  • Verify operation of the clutch (if manual transmission)
  • Inspect the drivetrain components

Road Test

  • Test acceleration and deceleration
  • Check for smooth gear transitions
  • Assess brake responsiveness
  • Test steering responsiveness and alignment
  • Listen for unusual engine noises or vibrations
  • Verify operation of all dashboard instruments while driving
  • Test operation of navigation and infotainment systems
  • Check operation of driver assist features (if applicable)
  • Test Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity (if applicable)

Questions to Ask

Besides the checklist, consumers should ask the following questions regarding the vehicle.

What is the vehicle’s mileage?
Has the vehicle been involved in any accidents?
What is the vehicle’s service history?
Has the vehicle undergone any major repairs or modifications?
Is there a warranty or any remaining manufacturer’s warranty?
Can I see the vehicle’s maintenance records?
Has the vehicle passed any recent inspections?
Are there any known mechanical issues or concerns with the vehicle?
Can I take the vehicle for a test drive?
What is the asking price for the vehicle?
Are there any additional fees or charges?
Can I have a copy of the vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN)?
Are there any outstanding recalls on the vehicle?
Can I get a Carfax or similar vehicle history report?
Is there any financing or leasing options available?
Can I have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle?
What is the dealer’s return or exchange policy?
Are there any hidden costs or fees associated with the purchase?
Can I negotiate the price?
Is there a trade-in option available?

Checklist: Checking it Twice

Is it advisable to rely solely on the dealer’s checklist when buying a vehicle? No, but if the checklist is supported by a warranty, it should provide assurance that the vehicle has been inspected and any necessary repairs have been addressed. However, it is crucial for consumers to exercise due diligence by personally inspecting the vehicle. This may involve a thorough examination or seeking the opinion of a trusted mechanic. Once you are confident that the vehicle meets your requirements, you can make an informed decision.

See AlsoThe Perks of Buying a Used Car Instead of a New One

Photos under license from Adobe Stock.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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