Exterior Used Car Inspection Tips

Driver Broken Down On Country Road

Key tips for evaluating the condition of your car's exterior

In this section, you will find detailed used car inspection tips to help you evaluate the exterior quality and condition of a pre-owned car.  Please note — if you are not qualified to perform inspections, use this information as a resource to guide you through an informal, personal inspection first. 

Then, we strongly recommend hiring a certified mechanic to perform an official used car inspection prior to purchase of doors.


Check to see if the car's doors open and shut smoothly and that they are aligned with the fasteners.  Misalignment or malfunctioning doors can indicate a prior accident.


The headlights, brake lights and back up lights should work properly.  Check for burned out bulbs or cracked housings.  Don't forget to check the turn signals to ensure they function properly also.


The car's side mirrors should be present and able to be adjusted properly, either manually or automatically. Look for cracks and rust around the mirror frames.

Check for chips, scratches, dings, gouges, faded paint and rust around the doors and in the wheel wells.  Be sure the paint matches from panel to panel.  Mismatched paint or overspray may indicate the car has been repainted.  If you notice mismatched paint or overspray, ask the seller if he or she changed the color of the vehicle due to personal preference, or if the vehicle was repaired due to prior damage.


Check body panels for rust, misalignment or mismatched paint.  All of these can indicate the vehicle sustained damage or had bodywork in the past.


Test the shocks of older cars by rapidly pushing up and down on the bumpers of the car. If the vehicle continues to bounce after you've stopped pushing, the shocks may need to be replaced.  On newer model cars, inspect the strut canisters in the wheel wells for fluid leakage.  If you notice fluids, the struts may need to be replaced.


Check the tires for uneven wear which could indicate misaligned or unbalanced wheels.  Look for cracked sidewalls, varying brands or sizes, and inadequate tread which could lead to a blowout.  Purchase a tread depth gauge from a local auto parts store and take it with you, if you're unsure.


Inspect the windshield and windows for cracks, holes or deep scratches.  Ensure the windows operate smoothly and evenly without grinding or sticking.

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