Knowing how to rate the condition of a vehicle is crucial for any business when looking to purchase new or used vehicles, as well as ensuring that its existing vehicles are ready to be operated safely and efficiently. With that said, we realize that most individuals might feel that performing their own car inspection is far outside of their skillset.
In reality, just about anyone can easily inspect many of their car’s primary components if they know what to look for. Asking a mechanic for help might make sense for more involved car repairs, but in this blog post, we’ll go over 8 of the main vehicle inspection points, as well as the most important things to look for when inspecting a car yourself.
Before inspecting the three main components of a battery, ensure the vehicle is off and the key is out of the ignition. Don’t touch both ends of the battery terminals with any metal, and especially not at the same time! If you’re not comfortable doing any work on the battery, please get help from a professional.
Before even considering replacing your battery, it’s important to check the battery voltage/output. Luckily this can be done for free in most places that sell batteries like Autozone, Canadian Tire, Costco, and O'Reilly, who will let you know if it needs to be replaced or not! You can also use a multimeter, a useful electronic measuring instrument available for purchase at many retailers.
The battery tie down essentially refers to the metal components that hold your battery down securely while the car is moving. You definitely want to ensure that these pieces are properly tightened and haven’t rusted! Although the appearance of these parts varies with your vehicle, they usually look something like this:
Next, check for corrosion around the two battery terminals (typically black and red, like in the photo above). If there is significant corrosion, consider getting it serviced professionally—if the corrosion is minimal, you can optionally purchase corrosion spray and clean it yourself. If there is no significant corrosion, just make sure the battery terminals are properly secured.
- Voltage is 12.6 or above
- Battery tie-downs are secure
- Little or no corrosion around the battery and battery terminals
Check the brake fluid and evaluate wear on the drum, brake pads, and rotors. If the vehicle vibrates when braking at speeds above 100kph / 60mph, it could be a sign that the rotors or brake pads are warped or damaged in some way. Also, check that brakes work properly at low and high speeds without making noises. For more details, Allstate has a great walkthrough on how to check your brake pads.
Exterior & Frame
- Brake pads are not worn
- Brake drums are not work
- Brake fluid is at a sufficient amount
- No vibration when braking at high speeds
- Brakes are quiet when used
A car’s frame is one of its most important parts—it serves as the entire skeleton that protects the driver and passengers in the case of an accident. If the frame is significantly damaged, it could result in additional damage to the vehicle as well as its occupants during a collision.
Although inspecting the car chassis can be difficult without the proper tools, there are plenty of other non-conventional ways to find signs of historic or hidden chassis damage.
For example, seal issues can be discovered by spraying a car’s exterior with water and then opening the doors or trunk to see if water leaked inside. If so, that is a sign of body damage. Closely inspecting the interior may also yield not-so-obvious cracks, bends, and dents that are signs of previous damage.
To check for any chassis damage on either side of the car, measure the distance between the tire and the fender on one side of the car, then do the same for the adjacent tire on the opposite side of the car, and compare the two distances. If the measurements differ, that is a sign of potential “t-bone” damage.
Complete the exterior inspection by checking for body panel colour mismatches. If parts have been replaced, or the car receives a paint touch up, the colours may appear inconsistent. Check for any small or large scratches and dents as well as rust.
- Chassis is not bent or cracked
- No crumpling or water leaks inside the trunk
- Inside outer edge of chassis is clean and free of scratches and dents
- Paint color is consistent
Adjust each seat to make sure all the seat adjustment mechanisms work properly. Open every compartment, door, and window in the car to make sure they open, close, and lock properly. To check if the windows seal properly, accelerate to at least 45 miles per hour—if you can hear wind leaking through the window crack, that is a sign of a poorly sealed window.
Be sure to check under any car rugs for stains, burn holes, or tears. Lastly, turn on the air conditioning and heater system in the car to ensure both functions work and the air being blown out of the vents isn’t foul-smelling. If it is, you may need to replace the air filter.
- Seats adjust properly and have no damage
- Dashboard, ceiling, and walls are void of any cracking, tears, or stains
- Console and glove compartment open, close, and lock properly (if applicable)
- Ceiling lights turn on and off as expected
- Doors open, close, lock and seal properly
- Windows open, close, and seal properly
- No hidden damage underneath carpets
- Air conditioning & heater are blowing properly and don’t have a bad odour
Lights & Bulbs
Check that both headlights turn on properly, including the high-beams. Make sure that the hazard button activates both hazard lights (your turn signals), and that they blink properly when turned on. Confirm that the brake lights turn on when the brake pedal is pressed—a simple way to test this yourself is to have your car backed up against a wall or other surface where you can easily see the lights turn on. Ensure that the brake light glass is intact, has no cracks, and is the correct colour—by law, they must be red. Finally, confirm that all four turn signals blink at a normal speed when activated.
Steering and Suspension
- Both headlights (and high-beams) are properly adjusted and light up properly
- All 4 turn signals blink properly
- All 4 hazard lights (turn signals) blink when the button is pressed
- 2 brake lights activate when the pedal is pressed
- Headlight & taillight casings are not damaged or cracked
Examine the power steering belt, power steering fluid level, and check for fluid leaks. If the vehicle is not resting levelly when it’s on flat ground, this is most likely a sign of suspension issues. If creaking or squeaking noises occur when driving or moving the vehicle, the suspension may need to be replaced.
Tires and Wheels
- Power steering works properly and it isn’t difficult to turn the steering wheel
- Power steering fluid is at a sufficient amount
- Car is leveled and sits flat on the ground
- No power steering fluid leaks
- No creaking sounds when driving over bumps
Inspect your tires for any noticeable cuts, bubbles, cracks, or tears—these are a high priority if you find any. Also, check the tread of each tire, and make sure they are wearing evenly—if you notice a difference, you may need an alignment.
Give the vehicle some time to cool down before checking the tire pressure of each tire, which is indicated in PSI on the side of the tire, to make sure they are filled appropriately. One way to check for leaking is to spray the tires with a bit of water—if bubbles begin to form, that is an indication of an air leak. Otherwise, check back on the air pressure within a few days to see if any of the tires have dropped in pressure significantly. Lastly, ensure that the spare tire, jack, and lug wrench (usually found in the trunk) are fully functional.
Windshield & Wipers
- Tire tread is good or reasonable
- Tire pressure is at least 75% of maximum capacity
- No significant damages on tires
- Tire pairs are equally worn down
- Tires are void of air leaks
- Tires are from a reputable company
- Lugnuts are all present, undamaged, and torqued as necessary
Examine the windshield for any large or small cracks (small cracks could easily expand and become a bigger problem later on) and wiper blades. Check if wiper blades leave smears when used and if they are rust-free.
- Wipers leave no irregular smears
- Wipers clean the windshield properly
- Windshield has no cracks
Hopefully, this checklist helps you gain confidence in performing a general vehicle inspection for new purchases or general maintenance. Although this list does not cover the more intricate points of an inspection, such as the engine and exhaust system, you can still save yourself from the risks associated with purchasing and operating vehicles in poor condition. For anything more complex, seek an experienced mechanic that you trust before performing these types of inspections.