31 Point Used Car Mechanic Inspection Checklist For Beginners

Buying your first car requires a close inspection!


Because of all the bad roads and the high temperatures cars are driven on/in.

Extreme weather and road conditions cause abnormal wear and tear on most cars.

Even cars with low miles can be damaged…

Remember, whether you’re in the Phoenix heat or New York City snow, weather can lead to higher than normal auto repairs.

Here’s Gotchas 31 point used car checklist that goes slightly deeper than making sure your next car has a good stereo and speakers.

And one more thing, before you start asking where the closest DIY auto repair shop near me, don’t forget to take a notebook and something to write with so you can take lots of notes.

Used Car Inspection Checklist

I. Pre Test-Drive Inspection

This 31 point used car checklist will help make sure your next car is relatively problem free…

What’s covered:

  • Exterior inspection of the car
  • Engine compartment inspection
  • Interior inspection of the car
  • Looking for damage in the trunk
  • Clean used car title

Used Car Inspection Checklist

Exterior Inspection (extremely important due to Phoenix heat)

1. Begin your inspection by walking slowly around the car and looking closely at how the car looks. Does it lean or tilt to one side? Does it look like something’s out of kilter? If so this could be due to a bad shock-absorber, or spring, or worst, a wreck. Take a note if you notice anything.

2. Check all the windows for cracks or chips. If the windows are tinted do all the windows have similar tint? Sometimes windows get re-tinted after accidents and the tint will be darker because it’s new or even will be left un-tinted to save money on repairs. Take a note.

3. Check all the lights and lenses. Headlights, brights, tail-lights, stop lights, blinkers, backup light, and the small light above the licenses plate. Take a note if anything is broken or not working.

4. Check the side-view mirrors for cracks, damage, and operation.

5. Check the tires and wheels closely for damage and uneven wear. Cars with bad alignment or that have been in accidents will have tires that are wearing more on the inner or outer half of the tire.

Sometimes shady dealers will rotate the badly worn tires to the rear so check all 4 tires carefully.

Also, check the wear on the tires because a new set of tires can cost $600 with mounting and balancing. I also like to make sure all 4 tires are the same size and type. (Pro tip)

Another thing you might notice is the front tires have more wear than the rears which is normally due to the owner not rotating the tires during recommended mileage. This is normal in most cases – but note it.

And finally, check the rims and lug-nuts for damage and/or missing pieces or chunks. Take notes.

6. Inspect under the car for signs of radiator coolant, engine oil, or transmission fluid leakage. Any signs of fluid leakage should be questioned as it could be why they are selling the car.

7. How do the paint and body look? Is the paint fresh like it was recently painted? Or worst, recently repaired due to a wreck!

Or maybe it’s just very faded from the Arizona heat beating down on it and has lost its shine. Arizona heat will do a job on car paint and seals so also check the seals around the doors and windows for dry-rot or missing chunks. Take a note.

8. Check the windshield wipers, antenna, and gas cap. Yes gas cap, because sometimes they are missing…

9. Check the body, doors, bumpers and paint for anything that might appear like it was replaced or repaired.

II. Engine Compartment Inspection

With the engine turned off, lift the hood. (Do not put any part of your body near a running engine)

10. First start by looking for damage, missing, or broken pieces. Caps, plugs, wires get cut or broken during accidents and because they’re costly to replace sometimes they are left as-is.

11. Look for leaks. Anything wet with brown, green, or red liquid can be a problem.

12. Look at the battery. Does if have acid build-up on the posts? Is it wet and leaking acid? Is it missing the bracket that holds it in place?

13. With the engine off, carefully check the radiator coolant by removing the cap.

Note: this can cause injury so be very careful not to remove the cap if the engine is hot or over-heated. Especially on a hot sunny day.

14. With the engine off, check the fluid levels: engine oil, power steering, brake, transmission (engine needs to be on for tranny fluid check). Any level that is low could mean there is a leak or problem.

15. Look at the belts and hoses for wear and leaks.

III. Interior Inspection

16. Does the interior smell like cigarette smoke? If you’re not a smoker this could be a bad thing even if the car is in mint condition.

No amount of air freshener will remove cigarette smoke smell once it’s cooked into the plastic and car interior fabric.

17. Sit in the driver’s seat and adjust the seat. Does it adjust? If it’s motorized do all the buttons work?

18. Adjust the mirrors. Do they work? Take notes.

19. Check the seat belt. Does it work? Remove the seat belt. Does it retract? These are the little issues that annoy people so note them.

20. Now sit in the passenger seat and do the same thing. Look for broken and damage objects that may indicate the car was in an accident or broken into.

21. Once you’re done inspecting all the seats (back and front), liners, visors, and dash control it’s time to start the engine.

IV. Engine Ignition & Controls Inspection

22. Start the engine. Listen closely for anything that sounds off. Did the engine start-up easy or was there a dragging going on?

Was there a click like the battery was low in charge?

Arizona heat is bad on batteries and can drain a battery charge if the car is sitting for too long.

Now rev the engine and listen to how it sounds. Is it smooth? Do you feel any hesitation or imbalance?

Are there any check engine lights?

23. Turn on the A/C and put it on max cold. If it’s summer it may take a few minutes to get cold.

With the blower on full does it cool the car with all the windows rolled up? If not, there is an air conditioning problem that could cost hundreds of dollars to fix.

Warning! Do not buy a car in Phoenix with an A/C problem unless you have lots of money and time to be taking it back and forth to a the garage for A/C repairs.

Does the blower work on all the speeds?

Are the controls broken or damaged?

Do the vents work and stay fixed? Take notes.

24. Now you can check the stereo and speakers! Turn on the stereo and put it on your favorite radio station. Crank up the volume and listen to how the speakers sound. Do the speakers crackle or have distortion from being blasted?

Arizona heat is also rough on speaker membrane, the membrane will crack and rip.

If the stereo has been modified with an aftermarket until and custom speakers, and sub-woofer, make sure the installation is not causing electrical problems. Powerful amplifiers are known to kill car batteries.

25. Test all the electronics. Turn on the heater. Test the electric windows and mirrors. Does the dome light work?

Check the fuses for burned fuses that might indicate a problem.

Open the glove compartment and check for the button to open the trunk.

Pop open the trunk and gas cover.

Turn on the windshield wipers, test all speeds and use the sprayer.

V. Inspecting the Trunk Compartment

26. Open the trunk and make sure the trunk hood stays open by its self.

27. Check for a spare tire and a jack.

28. Check for damage that might indicate a rear-end accident.

29. Look for signs of fresh paint.

Do not buy a car without driving it!

If you’re using this used car mechanic inspection checklist and have been taking notes then by now you have a long list of items you’ll need to consider before making an offer.

And before rushing into an offer consider this is only a pre-test-drive checklist and no good used car inspection is complete without a full test drive.

Do not buy a car without driving it or having someone do a thorough test drive for you.

It’s easy to cover damage from a wreck with paint but not so easy to cover an acceleration, alignment, or transmission problem caused by wear and tear that happens while driving on Phoenix roads in 120-degree heat.

30. Test drive the car.

Check the steering, does it pull to the right or left. This could be bad tires or front end problem.

Test the acceleration. What happens when you press the gas pedal down, does it hesitate, or immediately pick up speed. Poor acceleration could mean the car needs a tune-up, or it could mean the engine has problems. Note it.

How does the car shift, it is smooth, or does it jerk changing from gear to gear? Also, put the car in reverse and check to see if reverse works.

How about the ride? Is it smooth, or does the car shake and shimmer, which could mean shock or struts are worn out.

Test the brakes. Don’t be afraid to press the brakes hard. Does it stop without making grinding metal sounds?

VI. Clean Used Car Title vs Salvaged Title

31. I don’t want to make a big deal about this topic but I am going to anyways.

Please resist buying a used car with a salvaged title. I know it’s hard to resist the like-new car or truck that is priced $1000s cheaper than the clean title vehicle…

…But be advised, there’s a reason it’s cheaper.

A salvage title means the vehicle was in a wreck! Fender-bender! Crash! Roll-over! Totaled! (You have been warned!)


Use common sense when buying a car, especially a used car. It doesn’t take reading a Cars for Dummies book to see a scam.

If there is anything you don’t like about the car before you buy it – speak up. Because once the car (or LEMON) is yours, it’s too late to start complaining. Sure, you can take the dealer to court, but that’s time and money you waste when you don’t need too…

DIY Tip:

If it doesn’t feel right, look right, or drive right – walk away – there will be many other ‘good’ cars to pick from…

Did you get value from this used car inspection checklist? Then share this checklist with friends and family.