7 Things to Do When Inspecting a Used Car

Let’s all set aside today’s crazy semi-conductor shortage inventory crunch for a moment and remind ourselves about the glory of buying a used car: it’s cheap! Of course, sometimes things cost less for a reason, so before you buy a used car, it’s important to inspect the vehicle to understand how it was driven in the past. As always, OneRequest is here to empower you the next time you go used car shopping. Here are seven things to do when inspecting a used car.

Review the Vehicle’s History

Review the vehicle’s history report to unearth information about prior accidents, title classification, previous owners, modifications, maintenance history, and recalls. These reports often show a targeted value based on the car’s history, which is a great way to verify you’re paying a fair price. This report should be provided by the dealership or seller so be sure to ask for a copy! If you can’t get one, it is a red flag!

Examine the Vehicle During the Day (in Sunlight if possible)

The best time to physically inspect a car is on a clear day. Especially with dark-colored vehicles, it is easy to hide imperfections in the evening.

Look for any signs of damage like dents, scratches, or paint mismatches. Double check that the windshield is intact and doesn’t have any chips or cracks. Check for any signs of rusting. Have someone sit inside the vehicle to help test hi-beams, lo-beams, fog lights, brake lights, emergency signals, and turn signals. These are crucial in any car and you want to make sure everything is working before you drive off the lot!

After that, look under the hood. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a mechanic. Use common sense. Are any components clearly damaged or rusted? Check all fluid reservoirs (windshield washer fluid, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid) and make sure each is filled.  Look underneath the car while it is running to check for leaks.

Check Tire Condition

Confirm that all tires, including the spare, are inflated to the recommended pressure.

If the vehicle looks uneven either from front to back or side to side, this could indicate an alignment issue which can lead to problems with the frame, steering, and suspension. This issue can also be indicated by uneven wear on the tires.

Tread is another clear indicator of a tire’s condition. Quick life hack: use a quarter to easily check the tire tread depth.  The legal limit for tread depth is 2/16 of an inch, which is somewhat miraculously also the distance between the top of Washington’s head and the edge of a quarter. Simply place a quarter upside down (Washington’s head is facing downward) between the tread. If Washington’s head is fully exposed, the tires need to be replaced.

Calculate the Annual Mileage

Most drivers put between 10,000 and 12,000 miles per year on their vehicles. To calculate the vehicle’s annual mileage, divide the total odometer mileage by the age of the car. Increased mileage means increased use, which impacts the “age” of parts. If the vehicle’s average annual mileage is high, inquire about how the vehicle was used by its previous driver(s).

Check the Interior

Look for stains, tears, and cracks in the upholstery. Don’t forget the floor mats! Brand new upholstery in an older vehicle can indicate previous damage. It’s normal for upholstery to experience some wear and tear but replacing it can be expensive and difficult to do on a piecemeal basis.

Test all electronics inside while the vehicle is parked and out driving. Test the radio, navigation systems, windshield wipers, windows and sunroof, seat mobility, A/C, heat and defrost. Although these features are easy to repair or replace, they would be an added cost to you. If one of these features is not functioning properly, ask how this is reflected in the price.

Test Drive

Taking a test drive is an effective way to determine if the car is right for you. When test driving, push the car to its limits. Go a variety of speeds on highways and side streets (within the limits of the law, of course). Test headlights, turn signals, and brake lights. Be sure to accelerate quickly, normally, and slowly to see how the car handles different driving habits. Test the brakes by braking both quickly and slowly. Keep your ears open for any unusual sounds and note what you are doing when you hear those sounds.

Consult a Professional

If you still feel weary about a used car, we understand. It’s a major purchase. You can always take the vehicle to a professional before purchasing for inspection. It might cost you a little bit of money, but peace of mind is priceless! You can also ask the seller or dealership for a mechanic’s assessment if they have already completed this process.


Choosing a vehicle can be stressful.  OneRequest Concierge can take the stress out of car shopping while you relax.

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