Automobile Inspections

Learn How To
Inspect Like A Pro

Automobile inspections...
The 7ᵗʰ of 11 essential steps in the car buying guide

Automobile inspections are a crucial part of the car buying process. Skip this step and you could end up with a total lemon that your stuck making monthly payments on for the next 5, 6 or even 7 years.

This step of the car buying guide is an abbreviated version of my complete used car inspection guide, which I'd suggest reading if you want a very thorough understanding of the inspection process.

This step is designed to give you a general overview and help you to spot major problems before paying $50+ for a mechanics inspection.

What's Covered Below:

  • General Walk Around
  • Basic Mechanical
  • Interior Inspection
  • VIN History Check
  • Test Drive

Walk Around

The general walk around is a very simple step, but important. A lot can be learned about a vehicle simply by walking around it.

Start about 15 feet away and notice how the vehicle sits...Does it lean to one side or the other? Do the wheels stick out further on one side of the vehicle or the other? Does the car look crooked? If yes, this can be a sign of a bent frame.

Peer down the sides while moving your head side to side...Do you notice any dents, dings or creases in the body?

Get Up
Close and Personal

Inspect Tires -
Is the tread depth good? Are the tires wearing evenly? Are the tires the same brand?

Take A Closer Look At The Paint -
Do you notice any peeling, flaking, bubbling?

Compare the texture on the different panels of the vehicle -
Is the texture similar, or is one panel smooth, while another has an "orange peel" texture? This can be a sign that some type of repair has been made.

Check The Glass -
Are there any cracks or chips? Also check the condition of the windshield wipers.


Before you take a look under the hood, be sure to take a quick peek under the car for any fluid on the ground that has leaked from the car.

The Hood

Look for
obvious signs of:

  • Leaks
  • Dry rotted hoses.
  • Dry rotted belts.
  • Smell of gas.
  • Frayed electrical wires.
  • Frayed spark plug wires.
  • Corrosion on battery.


Engine Oil -
Should be brown with no signs of water and/or gas mixed.

Transmission Fluid -
Should be a reddish color with no signs of metal shavings. If transmission fluid smells like burnt toast, then do not buy this car unless you are prepared to replace the transmission in the near future.


When you're looking at the interior, you'll want to observe the obvious things:

  • Sagging headliner
  • Smell of cigarette smoke
  • Smell of mold
  • Burns in the seats (look under seat covers)
  • Tears in the upholstery
  • Radio and each individual speaker
  • If it's a CD player, then play a CD
  • GPS/Navigation
  • DVD player
  • Air conditioning
  • Heater

In addition,
inspect anything power:

  • Locks
  • Seats
  • Moon roof
  • Windows (each one)

History Check

Automobile inspections can oftentimes end before they begin after reviewing a VIN history check.

If you find that the car has been wrecked, flooded, caught fire, well then there may not be anymore reason to inspect further. Simply, move on to another car.

Get a VIN Check

See the basic information about your vehicle and how many records we have. Enter your VIN to get started!

Don't have a VIN? You can still get a report on a car!


On the test drive be sure:

  • The car accelerates smoothly with no clunks while shifting
  • The car does not pull to one side or the other
  • The brakes are good and no screeching when braking
  • There are no obvious noises from under the hood
  • There are no smells of gas or exhaust in the car
  • There are no warning lights on...Check engine, ABS, etc.

After the test drive it is wise to double check for leaks under the hood and/or on the ground under the car.

Now that you're an automobile inspections pro...
What would you like to do next?

< Go Back To Step 6
New & Used Car Cost
|Move On To Step 8 >
Four Square Negotiating

Or you can...

Review the Car Buying Guide table of contents by returning from -
Automobile Inspections to the Car Buying Guide

Go to Insider Car Buying Tips home

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