Inspecting a used car

Always inspect a used car thoroughly before taking it to a qualified mechanic for a final inspection. There is a great deal you can learn about a used car by systematically and patiently looking it over. If you can find some of the problems yourself, you can save a great deal of time. If you find some areas of concern on this used car, point them out to your qualified mechanic during the final inspection. It is much less expensive to discover problems now than on some rainy night in a place you would really like to leave. You don't have to be a car expert to save yourself money and aggravation.


  • Paper towels
  • Hand cleaner
  • Magnet
  • Flashlight
  • Small mirror
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)
  • Vehicle History Report
  • Small section of the newspaper (to help detect oil leaks)
  • Cell phone and the number of your local dealer for this type of vehicle
  • This list and a pen to check things off and make notes

Inspect your own car for practice. This will do two things:

  • You will have something to compare your observations to.
  • You will look like you know what you are doing, putting you in a stronger negotiating position.

Get the VIN from the used car listing or call the owner and ask for it. If they are uneasy about letting you run a vehicle history report, be wary of the seller's honesty. Dealerships run this report if you want to trade your used car in. The VIN number is conveniently located on the sellers insurance card, which most states require be carried in your wallet.

Go to to view the Vehicle History Report, select an AutoCheck report purchase option. The Unlimited report will save you money since you will probably want to check several used cars. This report will tell you about problems the used car has encountered which may include odometer rollback, salvage, rental usage, police vehicle usage, stolen, or other problems with the used car's history. If the used car has a serious problem, consider moving on to the next one on your list, or continue to search see Buyer's Marketplace section.

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