Chrisfix’s Used Car Checklist Downloadable Link:
Chrisfix wrote a very detailed used car checklist. Here is the link to the Chrisfix Used Car Checklist downloadable pdf file. I used this checklist personally when I bought my last car, and it helped me find some problems that the owner did not even know about. Really having a good high-quality thorough checklist like ChrisFix’s Used Car Inspection is the only way to do a good inspection of a used car. Otherwise, it is easy to get distracted by the seller or forget to check items.
I know I have forgotten to check to make sure all the tires are the same, and then gotten home and realized that they’re all four different. He also posted a pretty great video where he walks you through the steps of inspecting a used car.
The absolute best advice is to take it to a professional mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. However, if you know what you are looking for and doing, you can oftentimes do a better pre-purchase inspection yourself and save yourself the money/headache of finding out later about problems the car has that the mechanic didn’t catch.
Two other pro tips before going to check the car out:
- Perform a free VIN check for recalls here (government website).
- To check if a car has been reported stolen, or salvaged for free click here.
ChrisFix’s Video Guide to Used Car Inspection:
- First, make sure to download and print the ChrisFix official used car inspection checklist here.
- Watch this Chrisfix video beforehand:
Recommended Tools To Bring With You (links to my favorites on Amazon):
- A good pen / professional clipboard to fill out the checklist on.
- Coveralls so that you don’t ruin your street clothes, and can get under the car.
- Professional grade flashlight (just all around great to have if you work on cars). Or just any cheap headlamp/pen flashlight will work.
- Camera / Cell phone camera so you can take photos of what you find to show the seller (if it is stuff under the car, for example, you wouldn’t expect them to crawl under there with you.)
- A mentality that you will only buy the car if you think it is a good deal, you will not be pressured into buying the car.
For more tool recommendations click here for my complete list I compiled on all the tools you will need to do automotive repair complete with photos and descriptions.
Pro Tip To Buying A Good Used Car / Truck / SUV / Motorcycle:
Shop for the seller, not for the item.
You want someone who took amazing care of whatever you are looking to buy.
A seller who has records of their oil changes, tire changes, and any and all maintenance (ideally).
You want someone who is good at communicating, with nothing to hide.
Also, they should be totally open to you having a mechanical inspection done, or doing an inspection yourself.
Ideally, find someone who is realistic about the value of their item, and accepting of offers. You will be amazed after you get some experience buying cars on Craigslist (or other marketplace sites) how much you can learn about a car simply by the way the photos/add is written.
You will learn after awhile what are some of the red flags that bad sellers exhibit, and how to avoid even wasting your time. I have bought 30+ cars and motorcycles on Craigslist and over the years I have learned some easy tricks and tips for buying used cars or motorcycles on Craigslist.
Red Flag Signs On Any Used Car / Craigslist / Dealer / Private Seller:
- Salvage Title (be really careful with these)
- No mileage listed in the add
- A very short/incomplete add where a ton is left out
- They say it has been acting funny recently, but then suggest the repair is “easy”
- Just needs a “tune-up”
- Any add that mentions “has been overheating” but then claims “we stopped driving immediately”
- Be very wary that the car was driven while overheating and now has extensive damage
- Lost pink slip titles or out of registration vehicles
- Sellers will often claim the amount owed to the DMV is much less than actually owed. I like to ask the seller if they would accompany me to the DMV if I decide to buy the car.
- I also get them to agree on an amount where they will pay the balance if the fees are over that. Back registration starts to add up, especially in California.
- A car that doesn’t have plates on it, and has no reason for not having plates. Make sure to go to the DMV and check everything out before handing over cash.
- Any sort of desperation by the seller that isn’t explained clearly. A desperate seller usually means there is another motive behind the sale.
Other Red Flags To Watch Out For With Used Car Sellers/Dealerships:
My friend Stark asked me to go with him to check out a used car in San Francisco one day. My other friend Liam tagged along as well, and off we went. After an hour drive, we show up at the seller’s house, who then starts to make excuses for why he is late (claiming bad traffic etc). So we looked on Google maps and there was no traffic to be found anywhere.
He shows up an hour late, and immediately my gut tells me this guy is fishy and a scammer.
We go for a test ride in the truck, and the entire time the guy doesn’t stop talking.
He starts picking up fake phone calls on his phone and pretending to have conversations with interested buyers.
“I’m with someone now test-driving the truck, if they don’t buy it I will call you right back” he’d say.
“Yes yes I understand you have cash and are ready to buy it today,” he’d emphasize.
I was driving the car, and it took everything I had not to start cracking up laughing.
We finished the test drive and all three of us looked at each other perplexed and laughing. But those kinds of situations could have been avoided beforehand by using that gut reaction seller shopping pro tip I discussed.
As a reminder, shop for a seller, not necessarily the car you want.
Important Parts Not Mentioned on ChrisFix’s Used Car Checklist (Added Tips):
- Obviously, this list should include the obvious red flags of a bad used car deal like these:
- Any water damage
- Any frame damage/accidents that were never reported / not fixed right (be wary of cars that were fixed in Mexico then driven back to the USA with no Salvage title record)
- Pro tip/trick to look out for on used cars. If one headlight is perfectly clear, and the other headlight is yellow– that can mean the car was in a front end crash and only one of the headlights was replaced.
- Inspect around the cleaner looking headlight for any signs of a crash.
- Crippled frame
- Repainted areas
- Rippling in the metal
- Paint mismatching
- Bondo in areas etc
- Lots of aftermarket wiring that looks shoddy and self-done.
- I avoid cars with any sort of aftermarket alarm unless it was installed professionally. You do not know how many problems this kind of shoddy installs can have in the future.
How to get the best price possible on a used car:
- Respect the seller and explain what you think is a fair price
- Use Kelley Blue Book or other similar cars on Craigslist for reference guides. You can also post in an Automotive Group Forum on Facebook, and ask peoples opinion on prices/models/problems
- Show the seller the used car inspection checklist
- Photos of any oil leaks, water leaks, or other parts that are damaged help.
- Explain what items you would need to replace, and the cost to replace them
- Show them you have cash, the amount you’re willing to pay, and if possible even hand it to them
- After all, it is much harder psychologically to give up the money once it is in your hand
- Once the seller has seen the cash in person and knows it is there, your chances increase.
- Therefore, most sellers will accept less than they originally thought they would if
- They like you
- See the cash in hand
- They can stop dealing with pesky buyers today
- The offer is backed by real price analysis, they don’t feel taken advantage of.
Then, once you buy the car you should do this oil change pro tip:
After buying the car you should cut open the oil filter on the first oil change and check it for any metal shavings or other debris. People do this on airplanes, every single oil change, so they can know the state of their engine. I highly recommend you do it on your new (used) car. I spent hours writing this article on how to do it, tools needed, and why it is important– take a moment and read it here.
For my favorite top ten cool automotive tools click here. Do you own all of these?