What to look for when performing a used car inspection on your own

The demand for cars has shot up in the past few months and buyers are lining up to make purchases. Huge demand for new cars and hurdles in production due to shortages have resulted in long waiting periods and dealers are commanding markups on new vehicles. This has further led to many buyers turning to the used car market and the pre-owned car market too has seen a huge boom recently.

Automakers have even started to offer better APR deals on used vehicles than new ones. So if you’re in the market looking to buy a used Toyota 86 and if you can find it in pristine condition, looking at the current market trends and scenario, that could very well prove to be a great financial decision. However, you need to be very careful when you’re purchasing a used car.

You must thoroughly inspect the car before you buy it. On the flip side though, many people do not know what things they should be keeping an eye on while making a used car purchase. For them, we’ve compiled this guide on things that one should look out for while performing a used car inspection on their own.

Exterior inspection

The very first thing that you should do when you’re planning to buy a used car is to check the condition of the body. Look out for dents, scratches, rust spots, and chip marks on the body. Check the gaps in the body panels. If the panel gap is unusual, then perhaps the car might have had some repairs done on it after an accident. Also, check the rubber seals around the doors and the windows. Make sure the rubber seals are not torn.

Carefully inspect the glasses as well. Minor scratches are fine but check for any cracks or cratered areas. Most of the time damage to the glass is unrepairable while replacement can prove to be expensive. So, you ought to thoroughly inspect the condition of the glass.

Ask the owner of the car for frame damage. Avoid buying a car with frame damage. Generally, cars with frame damage are not all that safe and can be very risky if you meet with an accident. You can check if the car has frame damage by changing it by popping the hood and checking the bolt heads on the top of the fenders. If these have any scratch marks, then you can conclude that the car has been in an accident and the frame was damaged as well.

Engine check

First up when you open the hood, check if there are any signs of rust and corrosion on the engine and any other parts in the bay. Check for leakages in the fluid reservoir. Also, check for any brown oil stains on the engine block; brown stains indicate gasket leakages.

Further, check the oil. If you find any foam in the filler cap, that means there’s leakage in the head gasket. Do not buy a car if you spot this as repairs later can be very expensive. Also, if the coolant is brown or dirty, it implies leakage of the head gasket. Ask the owner about when was the last time he had flushed the coolant.

Take a look at the transmission fluid as well. If the fluid is red or pink, you’re good to go. If the fluid looks darker and smells burnt, there’s something definitely wrong with the transmission. If this is the case, then you should stay away from the car.

Also, have a good look at the condition of the timing belts. The belts shouldn’t have any cracks on them. A timing belt lasts for about 60,000-100,000 miles but wears out quickly if the engine was abused by the owner. Timing belts are critical and expensive, thus it’s always essential that you check them and avoid cars that have faulty belts.

Checking on the inside

First, the basics. Check the cabin thoroughly. See if the upholstery is alright and isn’t stained or torn. Check if the plastics and other bits of the interior are alright. Broken plastic bits in the car are hard to fit and generally these broken and loose bits rattle a lot while driving. Also look for any scratches, dents, or other forms of damage on the car.

The next thing to look out for is the air-conditioner. Tinker with it and check whether it’s working properly or not. Check out the sounds when you turn the air-con on. If you find an unusual whining or humming noise, it means that the compressor is not right and you may need to replace it. Again, compressor replacement is expensive and you do not want to spend that kind of money on an older used car.

Then have a look at the gauge cluster. See if dials work properly and if all the lights in the cluster work. Check whether the wipers work properly or not. Turn the wipers on at different speeds to check whether they’re in good shape. Also, check the other electronics like music system, infotainment screen, navigation, parking sensors, and camera. Play with these items for some time and ensure whether these items are working properly or not.

Take it for a spin

When you’ve checked the exterior, engine, and interior and if everything seems alright, then it’s time to test drive it. When driving, listen to the engine carefully for any strange sounds. Also, keep a watch on the gear shifts. If you feel unusual jerks or hear anything, it means that there’s something not right with the transmission. If it is a manual car, have a good feel of the brake pedal. Ensure the pedal has adequate weight to it and it should neither feel spongy nor too hard.

Next up, check the brake. Older cars often have worn-out brakes and do not grip well on the wheels. Ensure that the brakes have enough bite on them. Further, ensure the brake pedal for any vibrations or squeaking. If the pedal vibrates, maybe you need to get new pads installed.

Also, observe for any vibrations and squeals when you’re steering the car. While making turns, if you feel any sounds, then it might be an indication of a faulty steering system. The vibrations on the steering could mean anything, right from low steering fluid to worn-out gears.


Now that you’re done with all the above-listed checks, it’s time to make some additional minor checks. Firstly, check the wear on tires. If the odometer has very low miles and if the tires seem to be worn out, that should raise a red flag. It is clear that the odo has been tampered with. Do not buy such a car with a tampered odometer.

Secondly, check for the car’s service history. If the owner has maintained the service history and records, then it’s a sign of a well-kept car and you can go ahead and buy it.

Avoid buying cars with a negative history. Avoid buying a car that was involved in accidents, thefts, or flooding. Also, keep away from cars with salvage titles. You can check a car’s history on for free. Only proceed ahead if the car is clear of all these titles.

Used car buying can be tricking and many people get fooled and end up purchasing a faulty vehicle. However, following the inspection methods that we’ve listed above can help you steer clear of cars with defects and you end up putting your money on a bad vehicle. So, next time when you head out to make a used car purchase, make sure that you inspect all the above-mentioned aspects of the car.

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