Skip to Main Content

Used Vehicle Inspection Guide


Purchasing used vehicles are an excellent choice for us budget friendly shoppers but the process is not without its challenges.  Use this guide to help you make an informed decision during the inspection and test-driving phase.

Long before you are at this point, though, it is wise to consider what your needs are and exploring your options.

To kick things off, think about what you will use it for. Do you have a growing family? Consider a van or SUV. Always borrowing your friend’s truck to haul furniture? Maybe it’s time for your own. Other things to consider are fuel efficiency, reliability ratings, and safety ratings.

Next, set a budget. If you finance, many used car dealers offer immediate financing but you may pay higher rates – local credit unions often provide very competitive rates.

Now it’s time to narrow it down by make and model. Ask friends for recommendations and look at long term reviews on and resale values on Once you’ve settled on a range of years and mileage, look at used car lots near you as well as used inventory at dealerships. For those who are okay negotiating, you can search private sales on Craigs List and sites such as Exercise caution when doing this because while the price may be attractive, you won’t get professional perks such as a warranty.

Finally, you’ve found the exact vehicle and are scheduling a test-drive. Your main concern here should be making sure you are getting a good value and not inheriting someone else’s issue.

We divide this phase into three steps: documentation on prior history, your inspection, and the professional inspection.

Documentation on Prior History

It is important to ask for prior service records from the seller so you can see the work performed. While always keeping in mind the age and mileage of the vehicle, check to see if preventive maintenance has been performed. Look to see if there were any major repairs done and compare that to factory recommended service intervals.

We also recommend ordering a history report from a provider such as CarFax, which provides the vehicle’s history on accidents, owners, open recalls, service history, and more.

Lastly, review the title to ensure there are no liens (it will say it on the title) and be weary if it is salvaged. This means it was rebuilt following a major accident.

Your Inspection:

When you show up to test drive the vehicle, you should be prepared to do a brief but through review.

Your Inspection

Let’s start with the exterior:

  • Overall cosmetics – Walk around the exterior to identify rust, scratches, and other defects. Mismatched paint and uneven body panels may indicate an accident. Make sure to open, close, lock and unlock all doors and the trunk to make sure they function.
  • Tires – Do the quarter test to measure tread life (place a quarter upside down in the tread – if George Washington’s head is covered, there is considerable life left). Are the tires wearing evenly? If they are cupped and the sides are lower than the middle, it may indicate alignment issues. Lastly, compare the tread life of all tires to each other and if they are the same models.
  • Lights – ask the seller or friend to confirm all lights are working (headlights, high beams, blinkers, reverse, backup lights, and license plate lights). Review the housings themselves for cracks, water damage, etc.

Next is the interior:

  • Smell – this one should be obvious. If musty or moldy, there may be a leak or a history of flood damage. If cigarettes or animal smell, these are notoriously difficult to remove.
  • Seats – whether powered or not, check the seat functions to make sure they function properly. Test all seatbelts to ensure they retract, lock, and release. Also note any wear and tear on the upholstery.
  • Instruments – take note of any warning lights that stay on (e.g. check engine light). Test the heating and air conditioning as well as any audio functions. There are a wide variety of accessories found in vehicles so take your time being thorough here.
  • Under the hood – you may not be a mechanic, but there are some basic things to review here. Look for belts that are fraying or hoses that are cracked and leaking. Look at the radiator for signs of damages. Check for general signs of fluid leaks surrounding the engine and on the hood. Review all fluids for levels and leaks – transmission/oil dipsticks as well as brake fluid and power steering reservoirs.

Now you’re ready for the test drive. The key here is to drive in several different conditions. Start the car and let it idle for a moment and note any odd noises. Make sure it accelerates smoothly with no lags either from a stop, going up a hill, or entering the highway. Feel for any pulsing sensations or odd noises when braking.

This concludes your part of the inspection. If you feel comfortable with the condition so far, bring the vehicle into a professional garage such as Bona Brothers for a multi-point inspection.

Professional Inspection

This is where the scrutiny really begins. At Bona Brothers, we perform a multi-point inspection by an ASE certified technician. It is similar to what you performed but we lift the car on a hoist and can inspect with increased precision. We can run diagnostics on engine codes, inspect the underbody, and test electrical components, among others. Additionally, we are able to provide quotes on mechanical and body work, if any is needed.

At the end, one of our service advisors will present you with a report of our findings and give a professional opinion as well as the reasonableness of the vehicle’s asking price.

By the end, you will have likely uncovered several issues. This is not uncommon with used vehicles and should be weighed against the overall age and condition of the vehicle. You are ultimately looking to receive a good value, so if you feel uneasy, try asking for a lower price and don’t be afraid to walk away if needed.

Hopefully, though, you are able to arrive at a price you are happy with and a vehicle that will serve you well into the future.