Used Car Work Sheet

Because private sellers are not bound to the same strict oversight as dealerships, you, to protect yourself, must adopt a scrupulous mindset when inspecting a used car of interest. To help you discern if the vehicle is worthy of buying, bring the following items with you for inspecting the vehicle:

  • A notebook and pen for taking notes and recording the vehicle identification number, mileage and asking price
  • Paper towels for checking the engine oil
  • A small flashlight for looking under the car for leaks and corrosion
  • A small magnet for detecting concealed body work
  • A CD for testing the car stereo
  • Inspection checklist (detailed below)
  • If possible, an auto history report

With these tools in hand, run down the following checklist. To make sure you hit everything, print this page and take it with you when conducting your inspection.


Windshield free of cracks
Body panel colors match
Magnet adheres to all steel body panels
Fresh paint job (if yes, it could be to conceal rust)
Seams where the trunk and hood close are properly aligned
Seams where doors and fenders meet are properly aligned
Free of body scratches
Free of body dents
Windshields wipers and blades fully functional
Headlights and directional lights intact and fully functional


Tires are a reputable brand name (Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear)
Tires are all of the same make
Tires are of free of any cuts, bubbles or cracks
Tread worn evenly (uneven wear indicates alignment and suspension problems)
Spare tire, jack and lug wrench on car and fully functional
Spare tire inflated


Free of fluid or oil leaks
Oil filler neck not coated with thick, black deposits
Battery terminals free of corrosion
Oil dip stick free of dark, black oil
Free of odors while engine is running
Exhaust pipe emissions are neither blue (indicates engine burns oil) or black (indicate excessive oil consumption)


Vehicle rests levelly
When bouncing the vehicle's corners, no creaking noises are made
All corners respond the same when bouncing


Seats unworn and free of cracks
All doors open and close freely
Trunk opens and closes freely
Lacks a heavy scent of air freshener (may indicate something is being concealed)
All gauges work
No dashboard warning lights remain illuminated
Stereo works
Heater works
Air conditioner works
Windshield wipers work
Windshield wiper fluid dispenses properly
All seats equipped with functional seat belts
All seats adjust properly
Power windows operate properly
Sunroof opens and closes properly (if applicable)
Car alarm works (if applicable)
Trunk and driver-side door lock and unlock with key
Hazard lights function properly
Headlights, including brights, work properly


Chassis is neither bent nor cracked
No signs of crumpling or straightening inside the trunk
Frame holes just inside outer edge clean and free of scratches

Automatic Transmission

Transmission fluid looks clean, not dirty or gritty (no indicates possible internal transmission problem)
Transmission neither slips nor delays when driving

Manual or Standard Transmission

Each gear shifts smoothly
No grinding noises when in reverse


Vehicle steers straight and does not pull to one side when applying brakes
Parking brake engages and disengages freely

No grinding noises when applying
Wheels do not lock when applying antilock brakes (if applicable)


Vehicle does not drift to one side without prodding
Vehicle is stable; no shaking or vibrating
No resistance in the steering wheel when turning
No clicking or clunking when turning


Car manual located in the glove compartment
Instructions included for any accessories
Service and repair records available
Owner has title

Other Insights

  • Walk away if the seller objects to your inspection
  • Don't feel rushed while inspecting
  • Try to get a mechanic to assess checklist results
  • Use any flaws against the asking price
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