Used Car Evaluation Checklist

March 30th, 2019 by

Used Car Evaluation Checklist

When you’re out shopping for your next used car purchase, it helps to know what to look for when you find one that interests you. To do a good evaluation of the car, there are so many things to consider and inspect that it’s easy to lose track of important points. At Auto City, we’re on a mission to help everyone be more successful at used car shopping, which is why we’ve put together this handy checklist to help you do a thorough assessment of any used car you might be looking at. We’ve grouped a total of 70 items together into four different categories that will help you decide what to do depending on what you find. It may be helpful to download the PDF version of the Used Car Evaluation  Checklist to have it handy when you start shopping for a used car.  Here’s to your success!

The Deal-Breakers


If you check YES on any of these, walk away from the car and don’t look back!



1. Title includes the word “salvage”
2. There is rust all over the vehicle
3. It smells stale, like mildew or spoiled milk
4. Evidence of water damage in glove box, under rear seats, or trunk
5. Oil from the dipstick is gooey or black and/or has shiny metallic particles
6. Automatic transmission fluid smells burnt or is dark or has particles
7. Engine makes knocking noises that get faster with engine speed
8. When you drive the car, it just feels very tired and worn out


Download the Used Car Evaluation Checklist PDF


Serious Issues

common serious issues in used cars

If you check off YES for 1-4 of these items, you could make a low-ball offer with the understanding the car likely has some serious issues. If you check off 5 or more of these items, go find a different car to buy.



9. You suspect the odometer reading isn’t right
10. Tires are mismatched in brand or size
11. Evidence of accident damage poorly repaired
12. There are missing lug nuts
13. On the bumper near there exhaust pipe, you see black spots or oily film
14. There are some rust spots here and there
15. Brake pedal is shows too much wear for the number of miles
16. Spare tile well is rusted or shows signs of water damage
17. Sunroof/moonroof struggles to operate or is very slow to open
18. Underbody shows a good deal of rust
19. Bottom of engine shows signs of fluid leakage
20. Signs of fluid leaks on the ground under the car
21. Underbody has bent or dented metal
22. Underbody pinch welds have shiny marks
23. Bottom of radiator is wet from coolant
24. If more than 4 years old, the timing or serpentine belt been replaced
25. When turn key to “on” position, warning lights do not come on
26. When the car is started, warning lights stay on
27. After starting the car, airbag lights stay on or blink
28. Engine does not settle into a consistent idle within a couple minutes
29. Automatic transmission clunks into gear when shifted into drive
30. Manual transmission clutch feels stiff or jerky when pressed
31. When accelerating, gear shifts feel jerky or acceleration is not smooth
32. Smoke comes out of the exhaust as the car accelerates


Download the Used Car Evaluation Checklist PDF


Causes for Concern

evaluate these concerns

A few of these are to be expected with a used car, but not too many. Fewer than 5 is fine. Even 6-9 might be okay if you have some DIY care repair skills. But if you check YES to 10 or more of these items, it’s time to move on.



33. No service/repair records, or there are large gaps
34. Paint shows signs of fading and cracking
35. Panel gaps are inconsistent in similar areas
36. Some trim pieces are loose or missing
37. A magnet doesn’t stick to some areas of sheet metal
38. Some windows go up and slower than others, or make noise
39. Climate control fan squeaks or rattles or doesn’t work on all settings
40. Some of the power accessories don’t work properly
41. There is uneven wear on some or all of the tires
42. Engine has evidence of mice or other vermin
43. The oil change sticker date is long past
44. Seats have some tears or excessive wear
45. When car is started, there are strange noises or belt squeaking
46. When driving a tight circle, there is rubbing or clunking
47. When braking firmly, pedal feels soft or mushy
48. The feel of the brake pedal changes from one time to the next
49. When braking, the car veers to one side
50. When going over bumps, the car bounces a lot
51. At highway speeds there vibrations
52. Steering wheel is off-center when driving straight
53. There is excessive wind noise at reasonable speeds
54. When you go over bumps, you hear internal rattling
55. The car feels like it pulls to one side
56. When first started, there is sustained visible smoke from exhaust pipe
57. After driving, the engine makes a hissing noise


Download the Used Car Evaluation Checklist PDF


Not Serious, but Noted

other issues to pay attention to

This group of items are not a cause for any real concern. If anything, they’re just normal wear and tear on a used car, depending on how old it is. Checking YES to fewer than 5 of these is no big deal. 6-9 of them can probably be addressed for not a lot of money. 10 or more of these means the car needs some work, which may or may not be worth it to you.

Other Issues


58. There is no owner’s manual
59. Some of the interior trim is broken, cracked or has blemishes
60. There is some curb damage on the wheels
61. Windshield wiper blades are in bad shape
62. One or more hubcaps is missing or loose or damaged
63. Tire pressure is not set properly on one or more tires
64. Spare tire, jack or other tools are missing or damaged
65. One or more inner fender shields is missing or damaged
66. Some of the engine hoses feel stiff or brittle (careful, may be hot)
67. Battery terminals show corrosion
68. Battery is more than 4 years old
69. One or more headlights or other lights fail to come on
70. In the engine there are loose clamps or belts with cracks


Download the Used Car Evaluation Checklist PDF


Great Cars at Auto City: No Checklist Required!

used cars at Auto City

If you’re in the market for a newer used car in great shape with low miles, we invite you to take a look at the superior selection available from Auto City. And you’ll love the way we do things, including no-haggle, up-front competitive prices and a 3-day money-back guarantee. Financing is also available for all types of credit, good or bad, including customers with a recent or open bankruptcy. When you’re ready for a whole new kind of better used car shopping experience, it pays to discover the Auto City advantage!