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Checklist For Buying A Used Car (2023)

Checklist For Buying A Used Car (2023)

Vehicle History Check

Enter the VIN number of the used car to unlock its full history report.

Approved NMVTIS Data Provider

Purchasing a used car can be cost-effective. But the sources of the used cars are so various and random, most people can only count on the dealer’s reputation to avoid frauds or hidden problems. What are the things you can do yourself to guarantee a worthy purchase? This post provides you with the full checklist for buying a used vehicle.

1. Choose a car with CPO

CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) is a certification program issued by vehicle manufacturers. Basically a used car with CPO proves the car to be of high quality with a clean history. Different manufacturer set up different standards and service packages for their own CPO programs. But normally the line draws at a vehicle that’s within 5 years of age and under 75,000 miles.

Example: Ford CPO

When you check the vehicle offline, you can find the CPO logo on the window stickers. But it’s suggested to study the manufacturer’s CPO program policies of your chosen car beforehand and identify the CPO carefully. Some dealers would use their private certification to mislead you into believing the car is officially inspected and approved, just to sell their vehicles for a better price.

2. Run a vehicle history check

CPO is all good but leads to a palpable higher price. If you only seek for a good price and don’t care about buying an older car, it’s important to do your own research before inspecting your chosen car on the spot. And of course, even if you select a car with CPO, you can never be too careful to double check its validity.

What are we looking for in this step?

  • MSRP and market value
  • Ownership records
  • Recalls and Title check
  • Insurance and warranty
  • Accident and theft report
  • Vehicle specs in record

Below are the methods we tested to find authentic records on all these things.

BeenVerified – Versatile vehicle & people search

BeenVerified is a versatile people search tool that features vehicle search. It’s NMVTIS approved and grabs data both from governments and industry top sources to locate the up-to-date information on the car you search. Apart from the points listed above, it also offers the vehicle photos and detailed safety records for components and systems.

1) Open the vehicle search page of BeenVerified.

2) Enter the VIN number or license plate of the used car and click SEARCH.

3) Wait a few seconds for BeenVerified to search its database. Then you’ll get a report listing available safety records and detailed cost and market records of the vehicle you’re to purchase.

4) You can download the PDF or turn on the monitor to receive updates as preparation for your on-spot check.

Bumper – $ 1 for unlimited vehicle reports

Bumper is a professional tool for investigating vehicle histories. It’s also in the list of NMVTIS data providers and provides you with 15 categories of information about a vehicle, including all the necessary points listed above like accidents, salvage records and recalls, etc. Moreover, it allows you to search in 3 ways: through VIN number, license plate or year, make and model.

1) Open the Bumper vehicle search page.

2) Select a search type and enter the VIN / license plate / year, make and model you get, and click SEARCH.

3) Wait until Bumper returns you the report. In the 15 categories you can explore all the information about the used car that you care for.

3. Detect computer problems with OBD2 scanner

When you made sure that there’s nothing wrong with the vehicle’s history, you may make your appointment to finish the deal offline. But before offering your money and picking up the car, it’s very important to check the car again on spot, in case there’re problems not showing in the history report or in the online descriptions.

It’s better to have your vehicle history report printed handy for the offline double-check.

First thing you can do is to buy an OBD2 scanner. It can decode the computer system of the used car. If there’s any problem in the systems, there should be recorded codes left for investigation.

Open the door and look under the driver’s seat. The scanner port usually lies beside the brake pedal. Just plug in the scanner and start the car, then check your phone if any codes appear in the app. The best situation is when no codes appear.

4. Inspect the critical parts

Critical parts that you can inspect by yourself are the engine, the oil tank and so on, basically the components in the hood.


As you’ve started the car for the computer scan, make sure to look at the dash board and see if the “check the engine” light is on. That could be a serious condition, when you don’t even need to consider doing the rest of your check and decide to refuse the deal.

Ask the seller to start and rev the car for you and check the exhaust pipe. If blue smoke pumps out, it might be signs of major problems in the piston ring.

Keep the engine running and warm it up, now open the hood and see if the engine vibrate significantly. Open the oil cap and see if white and yellow cream gathers on the inside of the cap. When that shows up, don’t consider buying this car. If not, use your hand to feel if there’s air pressure through the opening. Strong pulses felt can also mean the engine is worn out.

Cooling system & master cylinder

Shut the car and wait for the hood to cool down. Open the cap of the cooling tank to see the coolant color. It should appear bright. And check if the coolant is filled properly over the minimum line. Check the master cylinder beside it also for the liquid fill.

Power steering

Open the power steering reservoir and check the liquid on the cap with a piece of tissue. It should also be bright and show no dark specks.


Feel all the hoses in the hood to see if the rubber gets crispy and even shows rifts. Examine the tires carefully for its elasticity and hidden holes.

5. Examine the exterior & interior

After the major parts that could decide if the used car is worth it, you can now look into minor details like the exterior and the interior. Below in the table are the points you should pay attention to. If problems show up in any of these areas, check if there’s relevant record in the history report or ask the seller about them.

Scratches and dentsWear and tear in the upholstery
Flexibility and tightness of the doors, hood and trunkAdjustment of seats and belts
Overspray or mismatched paintFluid leaks under carpets
Flatness of the body panelsStrange or pungent smell
Fluid leaks in the hood and underneathPedals

6. Go for a test drive

When you come to this step, it means you’re overall satisfied with the vehicle you’re buying. Now just go out with the car for a drive. Make sure the route you take include different speed requirements and turns. Don’t forget to test the wipers as well.

Generally in the test drive, you should feel the steering wheel and the pedals, see if they’re loosen and if they response quickly enough. Keep your ears open and listen to the unpleasant noises, like significant tapping or clicking sounds. After the drive, check the tires again.

Final Words

Our checking list help you avoid the major problems that should raise your alarm but might be hidden in a used car. When you go through our list properly and the vehicle has won points on all the items, the deal is basically good to go. Hope you find this post helpful.

exclamation-blueThe methods in this article provide you with easy access to public record information, but without a guarantee for accuracy and may include links to websites not listed as a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA). Information acquired from these bodies is illegal to be used for employment, housing, credit, and other purposes alike, according to laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you’re not sure whether your use of our methods is appropriate, click here for details.

By Chantel Huang

As one of Super Easy’s English writers, Chantel likes to bring her life philosophy to the page. For her, life is all about exploring and sharing. And what reflects that attitude is her rich and vast life experiences and skills which bring great value to our readers.

She's experienced in social media publishing and traveling. She’s in her twenties and has set her foot in 20+ countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. And she scheduled most of the tours all on her own, gaining lots of life-hacks as well as great abilities in internet research, information collection and shortcut solutions seeking. She manages a podcast and a video channel herself, earning over 10,000 views and 200+ followers in just one month. Her keen sense in entertainment and mature skills and knowledge in electronics and editing apps keeps producing quality content for our readers.

Besides, she's got a profound understanding in language learning and psychology. Over 100 hours of crisis intervention experiences and 4 years of academic training in linguistics making her a trusted solution provider in language education and mental care.

With her genuine heart she keeps sharing inspiring thoughts and useful tips out of her explorations, bringing growth to her own life as well as to our readers.

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