If it’s your first time buying a used car, it’s as much exciting as it is intimidating. You’re forced to make a wise decision in making a large investment with no real prior experience to draw from. That’s why it’s always recommended for car buyers to have their used car pre-inspected by an independent mechanic. However, some dealers won’t allow pre-inspections. They wouldn’t risk taking the car off their lot only for the buyer to come back with either an unreasonable offer or a flat-out rejection. Meanwhile, there could have been a serious buyer with cash-on-hand that would have taken it away from them. It’s these situations that a vehicle inspection checklist might be very useful.

Today, we’ll share with you some questions to ask when buying a used car.



Every used car is a risk. You just want the right balance of risk for a price you’re willing to pay. It doesn’t matter what car you buy — any car is good for the right price.

A popular brand with a reputation of reliability might command a bigger price, but there’s still no guarantee that there won’t be issues with it. Conversely, a more expensive brand is more prone to mechanical problems and might cost more to fix.

If you’re thinking of purchasing from a private dealer, get ready to gamble. Deals like these are 50-50 — it could an owner of a nice car who’s trying to maximize value by cutting middleman or someone who’s getting rid of a nightmare car that can’t get to a dealer. In the end, a dealer or a used car lot provides you a better guarantee that you are not buying a problematic car. Not only do they have a reputation to maintain, but they are required to make sure they’re selling a safe car.

Once you decide on the model and brand, it’s wise to take a look at online listings for similar cars. Don’t go to a dealer without any idea what to buy. Additionally, only look at cars within your budget. If you can’t afford the asking price, you can’t afford it period.

Lastly, don’t buy a car without a vehicle history report such as Carfax. If the dealer refuses to provide a vehicle history report, leave the premises.



Popular Mechanics, a classic magazine of popular science and technology since 1902, released an extremely useful used car checklist for consumers everywhere.

It recommends bringing a flashlight, a jack, a code reader, a magnet, jack stands, and clean white rags for the inspection process. You would also need a friend to answer some questions during the test drive.

Here are some questions in the checklist that belong to the serious issues and deal breaker category.



If the answer is yes in 3 or fewer questions, make a lowball offer. If it’s around 3 or 6, proceed with extreme caution. If it’s 6 or more, however, don’t buy the car.

  • Do you suspect the mileage isn’t legitimate?
  • Are any of the tires a different brand or size?
  • Is there evidence of accident damage that has been poorly repaired?
  • Are lug nuts missing?
  • Are there any small dark spots or oily film on the bumper near the exhaust pipe?
  • Are there any small rust spots?
  • Is the brake pedal worn more or less than the mileage on the odometer would suggest?
  • Is there any rust or evidence of water in the spare-tire well?
  • Does the sunroof operate slowly, as if it’s struggling to move?
  • Is there rust on any of the underbody surfaces?
  • Check the engine bottom. Any sign of fluid leaks?
  • What about transmission and differential leaks?
  • Is there any bent or dented metal?
  • Are there shiny marks on the pinch welds?
  • Is there fluid seepage around the brake caliper or from the bottom of the brake drums?
  • Check the ground under the car. Are there any puddles of oil or fluid?
  • Look at the bottom of the radiator. Is it wet from coolant?
  • Is there seepage at the bottom of the brake reservoir?
  • Is there sludge in the bottom of the coolant reservoir?
  • If the engine has a timing belt, is it older than 4 years? If unknown, answer “yes.”
  • Accelerate briskly. Does the transmission jerk at the shift points?
  • Does the car accelerate in fits and starts?
  • Manual transmission: Put the car in top gear while driving at 30 mph. Floor the throttle. Do the engine revs climb quickly as if the clutch is slipping?
  • Check the battery for parasitic drains. Is the standby current more than 75 milliamps?
  • Check the voltage between the coolant and battery ground. Is it higher than 250 millivolts?
  • Plug in a scan tool. Are there any pending codes?
  • Pressure-test the cooling system. Does it leak?
  • Turn the key to the “on” position. Do the warning lights fail to illuminate?
  • Start the car. Do the warning lights remain on?
  • Does the airbag light stay on or blink?
  • Does the engine fail to settle into a consistent idle within a couple of minutes?
  • Automatic transmission: Put the car in drive. Does it clunk into gear?
  • Manual transmission: Depress the clutch. Does it feel stiff or jerky?
  • Is there smoke coming from the exhaust during acceleration?



If any of these questions answer ‘yes’, don’t buy the car.

  • Does the title include the word “salvage”?
  • Is there rust everywhere?
  • Is there a stale smell, like mildew or spoiled milk?
  • Is there evidence of water damage in the glovebox or under the rear seat?
  • Put a drop of oil from the dipstick on a clean, dry rag. Does it appear gooey or black?
  • Are there shiny metallic particles in the oil?
  • Does the oil look milky or smell like gasoline?
  • Remove the oil filler cap. Are there thick, black deposits in the cylinder head?
  • Sniff the automatic transmission fluid dipstick. Does it smell burnt?
  • Wipe the dipstick on a clean, white rag. Are there a lot of black particles, or is the fluid dark?
  • Do a compression test. Are any of the cylinders 25 percent lower or more than the highest?
  • Do a cylinder leak-down test. Do any cylinders leak more than 15 percent?
  • Do you hear any knocking noises from the engine that get faster with higher engine speed?
  • Does the car feel tired, as if it’s worn out?