- Any "bad" records in a VIN history report?
- Any maintenance records, mileage proof?
- How many previous owners?
- Why do they sell a car - tired of fixing it?
- Any accidents, engine, transmission repair?
- Has the car passed last Emission Test?
Start with exterior. Indications of possible problem:
- Are the exterior lines not straight? Ripples? Misaligned panels?
- Driver's door has free play in the hinges? Troubles to close?
- Are the gaps between panels too narrow (too wide) on one side of the car?
- Lots of rusty spots?
- Mismatched colors? Painting over spray?
- Any panel of the car seems to be repainted?
- Why? Accident? Corrosion?
- Trailer hinge? The car was using for towing?
Indications of possible engine problem:
- Any oil or coolant leaks from the engine?
- Is the engine dirty or oily?
- Is the oil level low? Is the oil on the dipstick too dark?
- Any indication of poor quality repair work / lack of maintenance? (e.g. badly corroded battery terminals, very low oil level, etc.)
Start the engine:
- Does it work unevenly?
- Any knocking, pinging, whistling?
- Any smoke? (slight water steam is OK)
- Any warning lights come on while the engine is running?
- "Check engine" light?
- Is the engine oil pressure too low at idle?
- Any hesitation on acceleration?
- Is the engine enough powerful?
- Does it look very dirty under the oil cap?
- Smell of the burnt oil under the hood?
Possible automatic transmission problems:
- Any previous transmission repair? Was it rebuilt?
- Does the transmission fluid smell burnt?
- Is the tranny fluid on the dipstick too dark/dirty?
Start the engine and try to switch from P to D and from P to R holding the brakes -
- Is the time between shifting and the moment the transmission kicks in too long?
- Any strong noises or jerks?
During a test drive:
- Any delays or troubles shifting?
- Any shudder? Does the transmission slip or jerk harshly?
- The shifting seems to be delayed?
- Does the kick-down function work?
The manual transmission:
- Any leaks?
- Any noises while driving?
- Any troubles changing gears?
- Is the clutch slipping?
- Any trouble to shift into reverse?
The suspension problems:
- Is any of shock absorbers leaking?
- Is any of the shock absorber boots broken?
- The steering has notable free play?
- Does the car bounces too much when you push one of the corners down?
- Tires have irregular wear? (alignment problem)
- Does the car sit level?
During a driving test:
- Any knocking or creaking noises when driving over bumps?
- Does the car pull aside? Is the steering wheel out of center?
- Does the vehicle feel unstable on a freeway?
- Any humming or growling noise?
The brakes. Possible problem:
- Is the brake fluid container leaky?
- Is the brake fluid level too low?
- Brake pedal goes down to the floor? Break pedal is too soft (spongy)? Too hard? Any brake fluid leaks under the car?
- Badly corroded brake lines? Brake rotors appear corroded? During the test drive.
- Any brake pedal or steering pulsation while braking?
- Does the vehicle pull aside while braking?
- Any grinding noise?
- Does the brake warning light or ABS light come on while driving?
- Any cracks, bruises?
- Tread appears low?
- Mismatched tires?
- Damaged rims?
- Vibration at high speed?
- Humming noise? (uneven tire wear?)
- Is the driver seat / steering wheel worn excessively?
- Dampness under the carpet or in the trunk?
- Does the Radio / CD / Tape work?
- Has the odometer any evidences of being tampered?
- Does the air conditioner provide really cold air?
- Are the power locks, windows, mirrors, sunroof, etc. working?
- Are the heater, rear window defogger working?
- Wind noise while driving?
- Any of warning lights come on while driving?
- Do you feel comfortable in driver's place?
- Seats, seat belts, mirrors, controls, steering, visibility?
- Spare tire, jack, wheel wrench?