Things to Check When Buying a Used Car

Things to Check When Buying a Used Car

Updated on July 23 2024

There’s an old saying that finding a trouble-free used car is like finding a needle in a haystack. That adage might be true if you’re buying a used car from a stranger you met online, but you won’t have such problems if you buy a used or repo car from Automart.Ph. Still, finding the vehicle of your dreams is only the beginning. There are many things to check when buying a used car, and we mean a LOT.

There’s a reason why Automart encourages buyers to bring a mechanic when physically inspecting a used or repo car at the warehouse. Admittedly, not all car buyers know a lot about cars – especially first-time drivers – but we’re here to help. Here is a short checklist of the things to check when buying a used car.

Used Car Inspection Checklist

1. Exterior/Body Condition

Repossessed vehicles are sold on an “as is, where is” basis, which is perhaps a minor drawback of choosing a used or repo car. You can’t expect a used vehicle to be as perfect when it leaves the showroom floor, so it’s only natural to find scratches, nicks, dents, and small bumps on the doors, bumpers, and fenders.

But then again, you need to go beyond minor body imperfections. Whenever possible, it is best to inspect a vehicle under direct sunlight. Park the car on level ground before making an assessment. Here are other things to check with regards to the exterior:

  • Check the roof and look for deep dents, scratches, fading paint, or rust.
  • Check the body and look for misaligned panels or unsightly gaps.
  • Open and close each door to check for loose hinges.
  • Check the rubber seals and look for signs of wear, tear, or rot.
  • Inspect the windshield and windows for stone chips, cracks, or scratches.
  • Check the paint condition and look for signs of oxidation, faded areas, rough patches, or discoloration.
  • Open and close the hood and trunk and check for misalignment or hinge issues.
  • Check all exterior lights and look for cracks on the housing. Ensure all lights are working, including the brake lights, position lamps, hazard lights, headlights, and interior lights.
  • Check the wheels and tires. Make sure all tires are the same brand, and make sure all wheels are the same, too. If the car is wearing different branded tires, it could be a sign of neglect or possibly an undeclared accident repair.

2. Under the Hood

With the engine OFF, pop open the hood and make a visual inspection of the engine bay. Bring along a flashlight if possible to see the darker areas under the hood.

  • Check for oil leaks, coolant leaks, and other fluid leaks. If you see thick patches of dark sludge or oily dirt around the engine, you may be dealing with worn-out gaskets at the very least.
  • Check the drive belts for cracks or damage.
  • Pull out the engine dipstick to visually inspect the level and condition of the oil. Remember that discolored or foamy oil is a sign of an expensive repair bill.
  • If the car has an automatic transmission, pull out the transmission dipstick to check for burnt smells or discolored fluid. The ATF (automatic transmission fluid) or CVT fluid should be pink or red.
  • Check the car battery and look for cracks or leaks on the casing. Next, check the battery terminals and look for signs of corrosion. If you find flaky layers of powdery white or green gunk on the battery terminals, it could signify an old battery or leaking battery fluid.
  • Check the rubber hoses for signs of fraying or deterioration. Broken coolant hoses are the primary cause of engine overheating.

Tip: After checking under the hood, start the engine and listen for grinding noises, screeching belts, or problematic idling.

3. Interior

While the engine is idling, focus your attention on the interior. While sitting in the driver’s seat, check the instrument panel and ensure all the gauges are working. Also, watch out for illuminated warning lights or a check engine light on the instrument panel.

  • Check the odometer reading.
  • Try out all the seats and check the upholstery for rips, tears, or stains.
  • Use your nose. Take a sniff to check for musty or moldy odors. If you smell anything suspicious, remove the floor mats to check for wet spots on the carpets. Next, check the roof liners for signs of water intrusion or leaks. Remember that a strong, musky odor is a primary indication of a flooded car.
  • Open the trunk and use both your eyes and nose to check for signs of water intrusion. Check the spare tire well for signs of water, moisture, and rust.
  • Check to ensure all the controls and buttons are working.
  • Turn ON the air-conditioning to check for proper operation.
  • Check the radio or infotainment system.

4. Underneath the Car

Yes, you can check the undercarriage without lifting or hoisting the vehicle in the air. There are basic checks you can do without getting down and dirty.

  • Check the vehicle stance. The car should be level on all four wheels. If one or two sides are slacking, it could point to worn-out or leaking shock absorbers, worn-out springs, or both.
  • Check the wheel alignment. Mechanics use lasers to check the wheel alignment, but if you notice the wheels and tires are pointing excessively outwards or inwards, you could be dealing with suspension or steering issues.
  • Check the tailpipe or exhaust tip. If you find black and greasy residue or excessive smoke, the engine could be burning oil, coolant, or both. Also, excessive rust on the tailpipe could mean the vehicle needs a new muffler or exhaust system.

5. Test Drive

Unfortunately, test drives are forbidden when buying a repo car to avoid adding more kilometers to the odometer. But then again, you can start the engine, turn ON the air-conditioning, and inspect the vehicle all you want. You can even let a mechanic check the car or hire an Automart-certified mechanic to check the car for you.

But if you’re buying a used car from someone else, you can request a test drive and see how the car runs. Turn the radio OFF when performing a test drive so you can hear vital warning signs like rattles or knocks on the suspension, unusual engine noises, and transmission faults.


Searching or buying a used car has never been easier in our modern and interconnected world, but there’s more to used car buying than just looking at pictures or chatting with previous owners. Performing a visual inspection is a must when buying a used car, and it helps to know what things to check before forking over your hard-earned cash.