Purchasing a used vehicle


This assumes you’re looking a moderately priced used vehicle. For anything under $3K the seller will likely be irritated by your intense scrutiny that this list entails.

If at all possible schedule the test drive during the daytime.

Start with the basics and the obvious, work your way to the more detailed and complicated things to check. Thoroughly inspect the vehicle before a test drive and do not test drive the vehicle if you’re not going to make an offer, don’t waste your time or the seller’s.

Things to tell the owner

Things to bring to inspection:

Starting the inspection

Walk around the vehicle for any sorts of obvious corrosion dents, paint failures, flat tires etc. We will come back to all these items as we go through the list so don’t worry about missing something.

Then proceed to check under the hood:

Proceed to check vital emergency equipment:

If all of the above checks out you can move on to the next step. If not, it might be a good time to walk away.

Obviously you should limit the exterior checks to how much you actually care about the vehicle’s looks. You look cheap driving a rust-bucket. You look frugal and intelligent if you’re driving an older but well-maintained vehicle. If you care about your appearance to others. This is obviously conjecture so take it with a grain of salt, not everyone gives a shit about what you drive.

Exterior checks:

I highly recommend inspecting as much of the vehicle as possible before starting it or taking it for a test drive. I understand this isn’t always possible, and some will even scrutinize such things, especially dealers. It’s up to you whether you do this before/after the test drive. I recommend before.

With the vehicle on jack stands and stable

Before crawling underneath of the car:

At the front of the car

At the back of the car

Crawl underneath and begin inspecting from the front to the back of the car:

If the vehicle checks out at this point remove the jack stands and place it back down on the ground. If necessary clean up for the interior and functionality check of the vehicle.

Functionality check:

Before taking a vehicle for a test drive it’s imperative that all of your lights, signals, etc at least appear to work properly.

Start the Car.

Under the hood:

Test the Lights:

Check the wiper and washer functionality:

Check the radio functionality:

Interior electrical & Engine check:

Main interior condition check:

Test drive

During the test drive you’ll want the radio off. Check for any strange noises pulls, wind noise, etc.

You’ll want to drive the vehicle lightly until it has warmed up. Once the vehicle is warm you may wish to find a highway on ramp or a stop light to test hard acceleration.

I highly recommend running the vehicle at highway speeds ( 70+mph ) for at least 5 minutes if possible.

When safe to do so, and traffic is clear behind you slam on the brakes with all your force. Check to make sure that the ABS system activates and operates properly.

Itemized list to check:

After test drive:

Questions for the owner: