Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Pre-purchase inspection checklist on a used car

Pre-purchase inspection checklist on a used car

Why you need a pre-purchase inspection

No matter how much you know about cars, if you don’t get the vehicle up on a lift to check for rust and structural damage, you’re really not doing an inspection. Plus, modern vehicles need a professional grade scan tool inspection to check for previously erased trouble codes and proper data from the engine and transmission.

Any shop can perform a pre-purchase inspection. Obviously, the shop won’t be disassembling the engine or transmission to check for wear, compression, or internal leaks; that would be very expensive. But the visual and scan tool inspection can give you a reasonable assurance that the vehicle is or isn’t in good shape.

Pre-purchase inspection checklist

Under car visual inspection checklist for suspension and steering systems

• Inspect struts for leaks and dust boot condition
• Inspect CV joint boots for leaks
• Inspect upper/lower ball joints for wear and boot condition
• Inspect stabilizer bar bushings and end links for wear and boot condition
• Inspect control arm bushings for wear
• Check for wheel bearing play
• Check for steering play in tie rod and tie rod ends

Under car visual inspection checklist for structural integrity

• Check for rust on frame/unibody components
• Check for signs of previous repairs/body damage

Visual inspection checklist for brakes

• Remove wheels and check brake pad wear on inboard and outboard pads, checking for even wear and  proper caliper operation/leaks.
• Check condition of brake dust shields and rotor condition (deep grooving, rust in cooling vanes, rotor cracks, excessive wear)
• Check condition of brake pads, checking for any signs of rust jacking on backing plates or friction material degradation.
• Check condition of caliper piston dust boot, caliper slide pins and boots, anti-rattle clips and noise reduction shims
• Check condition of all brake lines, looking for leaks rust and flexible brake line deterioration

Underhood visual inspection

• Check coolant using test strips for pH balance, freeze protection level and electrolysis
• Check brake fluid for moisture, copper content and pH balance
• Check engine for oil leaks
• Check vacuum hoses and air duct for integrity
• Check for signs of rodent damage: chewed wires
• Check belts and tensioner for signs of wear
• Check water pump for early signs of leakage
• Check condition of engine air filter and any signs of oil on filter

Visual inspection of trunk

• Check for presence of spare tire and jack
• Check condition and age of spare tire and presence of lug nuts if different from lugs on alloy wheels.
• Check for signs of water leakage

Visual check of power steering and transmission fluid levels and condition

• Perform a battery test for state of charge and state of health
• Check battery for signs of bulging or leaking
• Check radiator and AC condenser for signs of clogs/bent fins/leaks
• Check hood and fender fit for signs of previous damage
• Computer check at idle and during road test
• Check all readiness monitors to see if any systems are not “ready.” (Not ready can often be a sign of recently erased trouble codes)
• Check scan tool for history and pending codes
• Check scan tool for proper short and long-term fuel trim values, as well as proper O2 sensor operation and MAF data.

Pre-purchase checklist visual inspection of body components

• Check for signs of previous accidents/repair. Fit of body components. Signs of rust formation
• Visual inspection of all lighting systems
• Check for proper operation of headlights (high, low and fog lights) and headlight assembly/lens condition.
• Check for proper operation of parking, marker, license plate lights and tail and stop lights (including high mount stop light

Interior inspection

• Check for proper operation of all warning lights on dash prior to starting engine and proper “lights out” after engine start
• Check operation of accessories like wipers, heat, AC, blower, seat heater, power windows, door locks (including remote keyless entry operation), power mirrors, power seats
• Check condition of upholstery, dash and door trim components
• Check condition of cabin air filter

Pre-purchase checklist for test drive

• Engine starts and idles smoothly
• Engine accelerates smoothly with no hesitation
• Temperature gauge shows no signs of overheating or temperature fluctuations
• Transmission shifts smoothly with no slipping or hesitation and at proper speeds
• Steering is responsive with no play or wobble
• Braking is responsive and noise-free with no pedal pulsation
• Vehicle does not exhibit excessive nose dive in hard stops (sign of strut/shock wear)
• Vehicle does not vibrate at 55-65-MPH (sign of tire imbalance or bent wheel)
• Vehicle stays in own lane without excessive driver input. Does not wander, especially on bumpy roads and in curves

Pre-purchase checklist for safety features

Check for proper operation of blind spot indicators, lane centering, cruise control and vehicle following distance, automatic emergency braking (if equipped with these safety features.

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