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Buying a second hand car checklist

Buying A Used Car Checklist

Whether it’s your first car or your second, it seems like buying a second-hand car never gets any easier. While you’re hoping to spend less than you would normally on a new car, you’re still after something safe and reliable.

Unfortunately, buying a used car isn’t always what it seems, as it comes with the risk of buying an absolute dudd riddled with hidden mechanical problems. To avoid buying a spud of a vehicle, we’ve come up with a simple checklist to help check the condition, value and history before buying a second hand vehicle.

How to inspect a used car

There is a lot to cover when inspecting a used car and it can be quite easy to accidentally miss a dent or scratch, so we recommend taking someone with you as an extra pair of eyes. To give yourself the best possible chance at spotting any defects, organise a vehicle inspection during the day where all scratches, dents, or any other marks are fully visible.


  • Inspect the paintwork for any bubbles, cracks, peeling or colour differences, which could indicate there has been a respray or the part has been replaced. If the part has been resprayed or replaced, this could mean the vehicle may have been in an accident.
  • Inspect the windscreen and windows. if the windscreen is chipped, you might have to repair it or replace it so don’t be afraid to bring this up while negotiating the price of the car. This article should help you figure out whether you’ll be able to fix it or have to replace it altogether.
  • Run your hands along each panel of the car, if the doors, boot lid, or windows don’t align or open/close properly, this can indicate the car has been in an accident.
  • Check the treading on all tyres, including the spare, for at least 3-4mm of tread. If you spot any uneven wear this could mean there may be a problem with the suspension or steering.
  • Check under the car for any oil leaks, as well as the original place it was parked for any oil stains on the ground. This will give you a clear indication if the engine has an oil leak.

Under the bonnet

  • Remove oil dipstick and run it along an old rag. If the oil appears grey, black or milky, it could indicate some serious engine problems.
  • Make sure the engine has been cooled off before removing the radiator cap and inspecting the coolant. It should look like a fluro coloured green and clean. If you notice oil or any discolouration there may be an engine issue.
  • Keep an eye out for any oil, coolant or any other odd coloured stain around the engine bay as this could indicate there may be a leak or something had burst/overflowed. 
  • Look out for any corrosion in the engine bay, especially on the radiator cooling fans and battery mounting platform.


  • Check every seatbelt to make sure they are in good condition. Pull each seatbelt abruptly to ensure the safety mechanism is still functioning.
  • Inspect the upholstery, trim, carpets, and roof of the vehicle for wear and tear, and stains.
  • Ensure the seats are comfortable, the last thing you’d want is uncomfortable seats that are bad for posture on long drives.
  • Turn on and off every single function on the dashboard including the air conditioning/heater, windscreen wipers, windows, side mirrors, sunroof, central locking, radio, indicators, hazard lights, park lights, head lights, and any other function available. Make sure the windows can go all the way down and back up without any issues.
  • Look out for any signs of rust under the carpet.
  • Open and inspect the boot, make sure there is a spare tyre, jack and toolkit, and that the upholstery is in good condition. If there are any strange damp smells this could indicate the boot is not sealed and water is leaking through.
  • Be vigilant for any strange smells or odours when inside the vehicle.
  • Check the dashboard for any warning engine lights.
  • Inspect the windscreen for any cracks or chips.

Start up the engine

  • Keep the bonnet open from the previous step and start up the engine, leaving the car to idle.
  • During start up and idling, inform your second set of eyes to stand at the back and watch the exhaust for any fumes.
  • Listen out for any noises inside the engine bay such as rattling, ticking, knocking or irregular running sounds.
  • Again, look out for any signs of leaks when the engine is on.

Go for a test drive

  • Ensure the engine runs smoothly when accelerating, slowing down, and cruising on flat and, incline and decline roads.
  • This will give you a chance to make sure all gears change up and down smoothly.
  • Check the temperature gauge and dashboard for any engine warning lights.
  • Listen out for any strange body noises or rattling sounds when going over speed bumps or up and down the driveway.
  • Lock the steering wheel completely to one side and listen out for any strange noises. Try going around a roundabout or attempting a 3 point turn in a carpark. This could indicate there is an issue with the steering or suspension.
  • On a straight and clear road, release your grip on the steering wheel a little and see if the car drifts off to one side, if it does this means there is a wheel misalignment.
  • Test the brakes out at various speeds with an emergency stop or two. The brakes should feel nice a firm and the vehicle should not pull off to one side as you brake. Listen out for any high pitch squealing sounds as this is an indication they may need replacing.

Check all vehicle paperwork

  • Before buying the vehicle, make sure the seller is the owner of the car and ask to see their driver’s license to compare with the rego papers.
  • Run a VIN check and get a used vehicle history report to make sure the car is not stolen, does not have any unpaid debts, and is actually registered to the seller. There is usually a small cost but it’s well worth the check.
  • Ask for the vehicles logbook and run through the services that has been completed, as well as comparing the total kilometres listed on the dashboard to the logbook.

Get it inspected

Before purchasing a used car, it’s always a good idea to have the vehicle inspected by an expert. They will look at the cars exterior, engine, brakes, tyres, radiator, belts, hoses, and fluids. This is especially important if you’re not a mechanic and can help you avoid buying a car with major problems as well as give you bargaining chips. Seeing a patch of oil where your car used to be parked while your garage door is closing is not a good way to start your day.

When purchasing a used car it is important to make sure your car meets safety standards and is roadworthy. This includes making sure your windscreen doesn’t have any chips or cracks. Deans Auto Glass Perth can help repair and replace windscreens of all car makes and models in Perth, Kalgoorlie and Newman.

Contact Deans Auto Glass for a free quote.