Vehicle Inspection Checklist

When buying a car, or even if you’re renewing your tags, you’re almost always going to need to get an inspection. The good news is they are not expensive. However, if you buy a car, and you haven’t given it a thorough inspection, it can lead to you having to bear the costs of the repair.

If you use a checklist like the one we are going to provide, it should help prevent missing red flags. Also, this is for current car owners who are going to get a car inspected. Inspections can be a big pain if you abandon the maintenance on your car for two years then try to get it to pass inspection.

We’ve put together a pretty impressive, comprehensive list of things you can do a pre-check on to make sure you drive out of the mechanics without the hassle of having to come back after something has been fixed. Also, you don’t want to be stuck with the bill after you buy a used car and realize something unexpected had to be fixed. So we’re just going to dive right in!

A Guide: Your Vehicle Inspection List!

First, we’re going to talk about what to bring with you while you go to check out your new car, or when it’s time to inspect your existing car. Even if you think you wont need these things, for the sake of giving the car a comprehensive look, we would strongly advise you to bring everything we are going to list.

  1. Just for fun, bring a favorite CD. If the car is billed as having a CD player, and that’s something that is important to you, pop a CD in there and check it out. You don’t want to be stuck having to buy a new CD player when you thought you were getting one already.
  2. Bring a good wad of paper towels. You will need this for checking engine oil. Take the oil rod out, wipe it down, dip it back in, then pull it out again. If the engine oil is too low, it might be a sign the person didn’t take very good care of the car by getting it serviced regularly. It’s always something to look forward to. Bad oil care usually equals to a burnt up engine at some point. Don’t foot the bill yourself.
  3. Take a small flashlight along with you. This will allow you to see under the car and check for corrosion, leaks, and any other discrepancies that may be hiding under your vehicles under carriage.
  4. Bring the auto history report if you can get one. If you can’t, it’s not a deal breaker. But it’s good to pull the report off of a site like, check it out, highlight anything that might not look right, and ask the seller questions if anything doesn’t look right.
  5. A notebook is always something handy to bring along. This will allow you to notate the VIN, the miles, and take notes on anything that you have questions about or you will have questions about in the future. Taking notes is never a bad idea.
  6. Bring the inspection checklist we are going to outline for you below.

Now that you have all your tools to check out this car, we are going to give you a list of things to check for when you give this vehicle a pre-inspection.

Tires: we always recommend tires to be one of the first things you check. They can literally mean the difference between life and death on the road. Some of these will be common knowledge, but we will assume at least a few readers wont know exactly what to look for in this scenario. Here are some things to check for.

  1. Are all of the tires the same make? They should be. That way you know they were bought as a set, and they are correct for that model.
  2. Do you recognize the name of the tires? Look for well known brands like Michelin, Goodyear, etc. If you don’t recognize the brand, look it up and find some reviews. You can usually tell pretty quickly if they are a cheap knock off. If they are, make the seller deduct the price of new tires, or make them replace the tires.
  3. Make sure the tires don’t have any cracks, bubbles, cuts, nails, anything that might lead to a potential blowout down the road.
  4. Check out the spare tire. Is it road worthy? Does it come with a jack and all the necessary accessories to change it if you need to on the side of the road? Also, make sure it’s inflated properly.

Exterior: some of these are important, some aren’t so important, but depending on what you’re looking for, it’s usually good to run through the entire list. We are going to give you a comprehensive check-list of things you should look for if you want a car in mint condition. Feel free to forfeit some of the more petty cosmetic issues.

  1. You want to make sure the panels under the car matches its exterior paint job. If it doesn’t it’s an immediate red flag. A complete paint change could mean this car was in a wreck, they “fixed” the damages, and gave it a paint job. This should be one of the first things you check, and it’s important.
  2. Bring a magnet with you. If the magnet is drawn to all of the steel portions of the car, then you’re in the clear. If not, the steel panel might have been replaced with a cheaper material. This isn’t what you’re paying for, so make sure it’s addressed.
  3. Does the windshield have any chips or cracks? If yes, you should have the seller deduct the price of a new one off of the cost of the car. Why, you ask? Because when you get the inspection done, they will require you to replace the windshield before passing inspection. This can cost hundreds, and you shouldn’t have to pay for this out of pocket.
  4. Check the paint job. If the paint job appears fresh, then it’s best to immediately ask for the car report, if they do not have the car report, then we advise you to walk away from the deal. This is bad for two reasons: 1) it can likely be from covering up damages from a wreck, or 2) it can be to conceal rust. This happens a lot that we’ve seen, and it’s always good to give the car a close inspection if you see fresh paint. It’s there for a reason.
  5. Check for any miscellaneous cosmetic issues. If you wish to have a car that looks new and nice, check for dents and scratches. If you see any, express to the owner that you aren’t interested in cosmetic issues, and use it as a bargaining tool to take a few hundred dollars off the price.
  6. Do all the seams on the car line up? How about the truck and doors? Check to make sure everything is lines up correctly. This can keep you from having to fail an inspection.
  7. For obvious reasons, make sure the frame isn’t cracked. This could lead to a world of hurt. If no one notices it, it can leave the car unsafe. If you don’t notice it and buy the car, then you will have a 2 ton paper weight. Nobody will pass that on inspection.

Engine: this is arguably the most important part of the inspection. If we miss something here, it can cost us hundreds or thousands in repair costs on top of the cost of buying a car.

  1.  Remember that flashlight we told you to bring. You should grab it and check under the car. if you see any sport where it might be leaking, note it and make sure to address it later. Also, check for spots on the ground under the car.
  2. Check the oil filter. It shouldn’t be spotless, but it also shouldn’t be coated with thick silt either. If it is, you might have a transmission issue, or any number of issues that is causing the engine to deposit black residue in the filter.
  3. Also, take the paper towels and pull out the oil stick, wipe it, and re-inject it into the engine. When you pull it back out a second time, it shouldn’t have any abnormally black oil on it. Oil is an amber or brownish color, not black. If it is black, we might have an issue, and it should be looked at by a professional.
  4. Fire up the engine! You’re going to have to go with your gut on this one if you’re not a professional. Make sure the engine isn’t letting off any odors of anything burning. If it is, get it checked out immediately before you go any further.
  5. Lastly, check the exhaust emissions. They should burn a solid grey color. If they are letting out a blueish color, that is not a good sign. Blue indicated the engine is burning oil. If they are letting out a black color, that means the engine is consuming an abnormal amount of oil. Neither of these are a good thing, and they can quickly translate into bigger problems and higher costs.

Interior: interior issues are usually more of a comfort thing, but they are important to us, so we’ll assume they are important to you.

  1. Remember that CD we asked you to bring? Pop it in. Does it play? That’s a good thing, give it a few minutes, if it can get through an entire song, we’ll assume it can get through the rest.
  2. Check and make sure the air conditioning and the heater works. There is really nothing worse than having no air conditioning in the summer or no heat in the winter. However, don’t let the car sit there for too long with the air conditioning blasting, this can cause the car to overheat, and then you will be responsible for it!
  3. Check all of the power settings: windows, seats, sun roof, mirrors, etc. Getting the tracks on these things fixed are very costly, and you don’t want to bear that cost yourself when you can use it as leverage against the final price of the car.
  4. Check for a heavy scent. This seems odd, but if there is a heavy scent in the car, that could mean something is being covered up.
  5. it’s also important to check all of the lights in and on the car. The mechanic who inspects your car certainly will, so make sure this is addressed before you bring it to them.

Finals Thoughts

Inspections can be a big pain. This article is designed to take some of that burden off so you can go into car buying and inspection scenarios as a well educated consumer. When it comes to the cosmetic stuff, you can be a little more relaxed if that’s not something you’re very worried about. However, when it comes to the engine or structure of the car, we would advise you to be overly cautious.

Unfortunately, there will always be someone who is trying to scam you because they have a car they can’t fix, and they are trying to off load it onto someone else. We have given you the check list, it’s your decision to use it effectively and ultimately save money in the long run.

We hope this article helps you in your car buying and car inspection experience. If you have any experiences that you may way to share, or anything you would recommend for other readers, please feel free to share it in the comment section below! We really appreciate you reading. Happy hunting!