Used Car Checklist and Guide

February 23, 2012

A used car checklist keeps you from missing key factors in used cars for sale. This used car buying checklist makes evaluating used cars more objective.

Using A Checklist

It's helpful to have a used car checklist of things to look at when you're trying to find your next vehicle. Car shopping tends to make most people nervous. You want to get the best deal, but you don't want to make the mistake of buying a car with hidden problems. Having some kind of notes to fall back on is helpful. Here are a few things to check when you're out on the lot.

Check the Mileage
This is an obvious factor in your decision. As a car increases in mileage, it tends to develop more mechanical problems which are expensive. But the total miles shouldn't be the only consideration. Calculate the amount of miles the previous owner(s) put on the car each year by taking the total miles and dividing that number by the age of the car. Look for a car that has been driven between 10 and 15 thousand miles per year; that's average, but of course the lower the better. Cars that have been driven more than that may be more likely to have problems.

Check the Cleanliness
Pop the hood and take a look. You may have no idea what any of that stuff does, but just take in the general condition. Look for a car that has been kept clean over time. Check for fluids and leaks around the engine. Dark, dirty marks on the engine and the body surfaces under the hood are usually leaks and a dead giveaway there may be problems. Sit in both the front and back seats and take in the general cleanliness of your surroundings. Remember, someone who keeps their vehicle clean is probably more likely to keep it well-maintained as well.

Check the Oil
The life of any engine is the oil. When buying a used car, the oil can tell you a lot about the car. If the oil has contaminants such as coolant or metal shavings, there are mechanical issues with the vehicle that could be very costly to repair. If the oil is very dark, tyou can assume that routine maintenance was not a priority for the previous owner. If the oil level is low, it may be an indication of mechanical issues such as worn rings or seals.

Check the Transmission
Automatic transmission fluid should be checked before driving any used vehicle with an automatic transmission. Fluid that is dark in color or smells burnt is an indication of mechanical failure within the transmission. Low transmission fluid levels are another sign of improper maintenance or leaks. After checking fluid levels, try shifting the vehicle through each of the gears, including reverse, to be sure that it shifts smoothly and that all gears are functioning properly. If the transmission makes a clunking noise when shifting, it could indicate mechanical issues.

Check the Details
Look for the little things; like if all the tires match and if all the bulbs and switches work. If a car has been kept in good shape by its previous owners, it will show in the details. Matching tires are especially important because that is a clear indicator of proper maintenance.

Compare the wear on the front tires with the that of the back tires. If there is a big difference between the two, that means that the previous owner probably wasn't consistent in rotating the tires. This is an indicator of neglect.

On the inside, look for missing trim pieces and check the condition of the trunk. Is it clean and dry? Is the manufacturer's tool kit still there? Are all the original carpeting and trim pieces in tact? These are things that less conscientious car owners tend to lose over time. A complete car shows pride in ownership. Check the headlights, tail lights, turn and reverse signals, horn, door handles and window operation.

Check the Extras
A used car checklist should also include air conditioner and heater function, sound systems and accessory functions, such as electric windows or heated seats.

Check the Paperwork
A car owner who kept a record of service and repair is a great sign. Check and make sure that the repair records match the vehicle's VIN (located in the bottom corner of the windshield on the driver's side). Also look at the dates of any service records the car may have. How old are they? Have there been any long gaps in service? You can also obtain a vehicle history report for potential problems.