Used-Car Test Drive Checklist

Print this checklist, grab a flashlight, a magnet, a rag, and a pencil, and you're ready to inspect.

 Vehicle: _____________________

 

Interior

 

Seats, door panels, headliner, rugs, and mats

 

Seat belts, front and rear

 

Door locks, power windows, and power seats

 

Radio, tape player, or compact disk player

 

Horn and steering column

 

Windshield wiper and automatic fluid

 

Dash lights, interior lights, and everything you can get your hands on

Before starting the engine

 

Stand behind the vehicle and look for smoke

 

Barely visible (just a little white is normal)

 

Blue smoke indicates burning oil

 

Black smoke indicates engine too rich (too much fuel)

 

Heavy, white smoke indicates a blown head gasket or cracked head

Test drive

 

On your test drive, find some rough pavement, go over a few bumps and listen for rattles, squeaks, and loose suspension.

 

Test to see if car pulls to one side or the other (sudden veering may indicate car needs front-end alignment).

 

(Front wheel drive only) Find an empty parking lot and turn sharply to the right and left in a tight circle and listen for knocking sounds (may need CV joints).

 

Brake performance: Brakes should stop smoothly and quietly (no squeaks or pulsations or pulling from one side to the other).

 

Brake pedal should feel firm--not spongy.

 

Try the air conditioner and the heater to make sure they work.

 

Engine performance: Engine should run smoothly and quietly. Listen for pings, rattles, knocks, grinds, vibrations, squeals, engine hesitation, or stumbles on acceleration.

 

Transmission performance: An automatic transmission should shift smoothly without jerking, slipping, or hesitation on upshift. With a manual transmission shift gears and listen. A grinding sound may indicate needed clutch plate or internal repairs.

Under the hood

 

Leaks

 

Fluid levels

 

Oil (should be light brown)

 

Antifreeze (should be green)

 

Power steering (should be clear)

 

Transmission (should be red)

 

Belts (check for cracks)

 

Hoses (should be firm, not soft or hard)

 

Battery and connections

 

Electrical connections and wiring

 

Old oil buildup or sludge inside the valve cover--where the oil filler cap is (signs of neglect)

Under the vehicle

 

Leaks

 

Undercarriage for damage

 

Exhaust system

 

Tires for uneven wear

 

Loose parts hanging from body

 

Rear suspension for leaks

 

Rust on body

 

CV boots (corrugated rubber boots, usually black) that surround the CV joints on front-wheel drive vehicles

Body/chassis

 

Operation of hood, doors, door glass, all latches, and keys

 

Exterior body paint (look for overspread on weather strips, molding around windshield, rear glass, inside fenders, near hood or truck lid, rear panels, and door handles)

 

Vehicle's body for waviness, irregularities on both sides

 

Magnet check on panels (if doesn't stick, panel is not metalómay have been replaced)

 

Mismatched colors and uneven textures

 

Poorly fitted panels that suggest body repairs

 

All lights, headlamps, taillights, turn signals, brake lights, back-up lights, and license plate tag lights

 

Spare tire, jack, and tools

 

Water or water damage in trunk

 


 

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