How To Inspect a Used Car: Top Tips for a Smart Purchase

How To Inspect a Used Car: Top Tips for a Smart Purchase

Ready to buy a used car but not sure how to check for potential issues? Cut to the chase with our guide on how to inspect a used car, where we’ll lead you through a buyer’s used car inspection checklist.

Here Are the Key Takes of This Guide

  • A comprehensive used car inspection is essential for identifying potential costly issues and ensuring the vehicle’s roadworthiness, including exterior and interior examination, as well as engine and transmission checks.
  • Vehicle history reports and professional inspections serve as critical tools in revealing a car’s past issues and present condition, aiding in smart purchasing decisions and serving as leverage during price negotiations.
  • The test drive is a crucial component of the inspection process, as it allows for the assessment of engine and transmission performance, comfort, handling, and overall vehicle behavior in real-world driving conditions.

Why You Can Trust Our Opinion

You’re in safe hands with Kaizen Auto. With more than 20 years of experience in the auto industry and used car sales, we’ve seen it all, done it all. Our experienced sales technicians and advisors are committed to helping you make an informed and confident decision.

We want to share our accumulated wisdom and expertise to help you navigate your used car purchase journey with ease.

inspecting a used car

The Importance of a Used Car Inspection

A used car inspection, also known as a car pre purchase inspection (PPI), vehicle inspection, or safety inspection, is not just another box to tick on your car buying checklist—it’s a crucial step in making an informed purchase. A detailed inspection can help you avoid potential costly repairs and ensure the vehicle’s roadworthiness. It’s like having a second pair of eyes that helps you see things you might overlook due to excitement or hopefulness about the purchase. Utilizing a used car inspection checklist can further assist in this process.

The Role of a Vehicle History Report

A vehicle history report is a treasure trove of information. It reveals the car’s past, including details about:

  • accidents
  • ownership history
  • safety recalls
  • average price for vehicles of the same make, model, and year

Frequent changes in ownership, odometer rollback, and detailed maintenance records are red flags that can help you steer clear of a problematic vehicle.

Plus, with both paid and free services available, getting a vehicle history report is easier than ever, especially when you buy from a dealership.

Benefits of a Professional Inspection

While a vehicle history report provides insights into a car’s past, a professional inspection uncovers its present condition. A certified mechanic can identify hidden issues that may not be evident in the history report, potentially saving you from future repair costs. They can spot:

  • engine and transmission problems
  • brake issues
  • suspension and steering issues
  • electrical problems
  • fluid leaks

These are vital in determining the vehicle’s reliability, including its exhaust system.

What’s more, the inspection report serves as a powerful negotiation tool, allowing you to discuss price adjustments based on the uncovered issues and the estimated car value.

inspecting a used car

Preparing for the Inspection

Proper preparation is necessary before you embark on the inspection process. This involves:

  • Researching the make and model of the car you’re interested in
  • Gathering important documents
  • Understanding potential costs
  • Learning about the vehicle

By doing these things, you’re laying the groundwork for a successful inspection.

Researching the Make and Model

A little online research goes a long way. Reading up on the car’s make and model can help you identify any common problems or recalls associated with it. The car’s reputation for reliability and any common issues can significantly affect your long-term ownership costs.

So, make sure to factor in any special requirements, such as the necessity for premium fuel or synthetic oil.

Gathering Important Documents

Equally important is gathering the right documents. Maintenance records, for example, reveal the extent of repairs over the vehicle’s lifetime. You can even contact previous service providers listed in the records for deeper insights.

To avoid potential fraud or theft, ensure the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches on the car and all documentation. Remember, understanding the car’s history is key to anticipating future expenses and its general reliability.

inspecting a used car

Conducting a Thorough Exterior Examination

A careful examination of the body surface and tires can reveal a lot about the car’s overall condition and maintenance history.

Body Surface Inspection

As you walk around the car, keep an eye out for scratches, dents, and rust. Check the alignment of car door panels, as well as between trunk and hood. Any inconsistencies in paint color or texture could suggest repairs or partial repainting. Also, inspect the edges of body panels and doors for roughness that could indicate past bodywork.

Tire Evaluation

Don’t forget to give the tires a thorough look-over. Check for even wear and cracks and make sure the tires match in brand and size. Uneven wear can be a sign of alignment issues, while sidewall bulges or cracks may indicate potential blowouts.

Delving into the Interior

After examining the exterior, the next step is to scrutinize the interior. Here, you’ll be assessing the seats and upholstery and inspecting the instruments and controls.

Assessing the Seats and Upholstery

Start by giving the seats a good look-over. Check for rips or excessive wear and ensure they’re comfortable and that any seat adjustments function correctly. Don’t forget to inspect the headrests for damage or stains. The condition of the seats can reflect the overall wear and care of the vehicle.

Inspecting Instruments and Controls

Next, turn your attention to the instruments and controls. With the ignition switch turned on, all warning lights should illuminate briefly and then go off once the engine is running. Test all interior controls, from lights to wipers, and ensure the air conditioning system functions correctly. Unusual vibrations, tapping, or rattling sounds could signal potential issues.

inspecting a used car

Engine and Transmission Inspection

Having inspected the interior, we now shift our focus to the engine and transmission under the hood. Here, you’ll be checking fluid levels and consistency and identifying potential issues.

Checking Fluid Levels and Consistency

Start by checking the engine oil level. A light, milky appearance could indicate potential issues, while metal particles in the oil could point to internal engine damage. Also, examine the transmission fluid level and look for any signs of leaks within the system. If you notice any issues, it might be time to address the check engine light.

Healthy transmission fluid should be reddish-pink, while brownish-red suggests it may need replacement soon.

Identifying Potential Issues

Next, you want to be on the lookout for potential engine and transmission issues. During the test drive, pay attention to any fluid leaks, unusual sounds, or burning smells. These could all indicate problems with the transmission or engine that could lead to costly repairs in the future.

Test Driving the Vehicle

This is the exciting part—the test drive. Here, you’ll be observing the engine and transmission performance and assessing the vehicle’s comfort and handling. From assessing acceleration to testing tricky maneuvers, let’s explore the key aspects:

  • Engine performance
  • Transmission performance
  • Comfort
  • Handling
  • Acceleration
  • Maneuverability

Observing Engine and Transmission Performance

During the test drive, pay attention to how the vehicle upshifts and downshifts. Smooth shifts without any jolts or kicks are a good sign. Also, keep an ear out for excessive engine roaring at steady speeds, which could indicate transmission or engine issues.

Assessing Comfort and Handling

In addition to performance, you also want to assess the car’s comfort and handling. Here are some more things to consider when buying a used car:

  • Check how the seats feel and whether the controls are easily reachable.
  • Listen for abnormal levels of engine, wind, or road noise.
  • Observe the car’s handling, especially steering sensitivity and how the suspension handles road imperfections.

inspecting a used car

Post-Inspection Steps

Once you’ve completed the inspection and test drive, it’s time to move onto the post-inspection steps.

Negotiating with Confidence

With the inspection report in hand, you’re now in a strong position to negotiate the price. Any undisclosed damage you’ve discovered during the inspection can serve as a significant point of negotiation.

Remember to stay polite yet firm during negotiations with a private seller or a dealership product advisor.

Finalizing the Purchase

Once you’ve agreed on a price, it’s time to finalize the purchase. This includes:

  • Ensuring that the title and registration are properly transferred
  • Reviewing the sales contract thoroughly
  • Arranging insurance for the car before driving it.

And don’t forget to celebrate your new purchase after all the paperwork is in order!


To wrap up, conducting a thorough inspection before buying a used car can save you from costly repairs and ensure that you make an informed purchase. From preparing for the inspection to finalizing the purchase, each step plays a crucial role in helping you find a used car that’s worth your investment. Remember, knowledge is power. And in the world of used cars, a little knowledge can go a long way in ensuring a smart purchase.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you check for rust on a car?

When checking for rust on a car, carefully inspect the paint for any "bubbling" or variations in texture, especially near the trim or around the windshield. Also, examine the underbody, wheel wells, and under the carpets to ensure there is no hidden rust.

What is the ideal kilometers for a used car?

A good starting point would be using the 20,000 km rule. This formula shows that average cars accumulate 15,000-25,000 kilometers each year. Check out our guide about what is considered to be good mileage for a used vehicle.

How much does a used car inspection cost?

The cost of a used car inspection in Alberta can vary based on the mechanic's rates, the complexity of the inspection, and whether any additional diagnostic tests are required. Typically, you can expect to pay between $140 and $220 for a standard inspection.

Categories: Used vehicles