Save Some Loot with Our Used Car Checklist

Used Car checklistYou need another car. Your old one broke down again. It was stolen, wrecked and stripped all in one night. It met the wrong end of a delivery truck in an alley. Whatever the case, transportation is easy to find, if you look through the selection of used cars online. Here are some tips to consider when you go look at that used car in person.

Body and Chassis

Your first priority is to determine if somebody has wrecked the car. If it has been wrecked, walk away. Too many cars are undamaged to spend money on one that has been wrecked. A car as close to its manufactured condition as possible is the goal.

Follow behind the car while it is driven to see if it appears skewed to one side, or if one side rides higher than the other does. See if you can spot places where panels don’t meet properly. Do the headlights seem out of place? Are the bumpers or plastic trim slanted at odd angles? See if you can spot a curve or a wave in the reflection down the side of the car. All of these items are indications of major repair work on the chassis or body of the car. Walk away and find an undamaged car.


You should obviously listen to the engine running to see if something doesn’t sound right. A persistent squeaking noise from the front or side of the car may indicate a water pump that needs replacing. It may also indicate an alternator with a bad bearing. In the case of the water pump, be alert for the sweet odour of antifreeze, a signal of coolant leakage from the pump. Check the hoses, belts and other rubber parts to see if they are in good condition. If these items appear clean and new, grasp them while they are cool. New rubber doesn’t show fingerprints from clean hands.

If fingerprints show up quickly on rubber parts, it’s likely that a dressing, wax or other substance was used to improve the appearance of the rubber after steam cleaning. Another classic tactic is to spray a clear varnish or urethane over rubber and paint after a good steam cleaning. You can usually spot this by examining the undersides of rubber parts, or in areas where it would be difficult to reach with a spray gun or spray can. It will be easy to see where the sprayed shiny varnish fades out and the finish becomes dull.

Check the engine oil. Smell it and see if you can detect gasoline, antifreeze or a burnt odour. Look for any milky strands that indicate the presence of water or antifreeze. Examine it in the sun to see if you notice any powdery, glittery particles that mean worn metal inside the engine. Check the overall appearance of the motor. Is it caked in grease? Look for moist areas where parts join that indicate leakage. Run the car with the heater on and check for the smell of antifreeze. See if any oil drips onto the ground. For additional info, check out the video on how to check an engine here.

Drive It

You must drive the car to determine the condition of the transmission. Check the fluid for proper level and condition. It’s likely it will be fresh, indicating a recent change. The same checks outlined above for motor oil also apply to transmission fluid and gear oil in the driving axle. As you drive, listen for unusual clunks, humming or squeaks.

What’s It Like Inside?

If gauges or lighting don’t work, the dashboard is cracked or any glass is broken, these are clear signs of neglect and a lack of maintenance. Operate the electric accessories, including headlights, power windows, the radio, air conditioning, heater and wipers. Start the car several times to see if the battery holds power.

Reputation and Warranty

If you aren’t personally knowledgeable about cars yourself, hire an expert appraiser or inspector. The second way to protect yourself is by buying used cars from a longstanding and reputable dealer, one that offers substantial warranties. Any dealership, large or small, should be able to produce a checklist that shows specific checks made to prepare your vehicle for sale. If you search carefully, pay attention to detail, and take an expert with you, buying a used car online can be a fruitful and satisfying experience.

If you are currently on the look-out for a used car, visit Motor Car Pages for the latest vehicle listings.

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