A Used Car Checklist for the Best Parents in the World

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Nov 04, 2015

Purchasing a car for your teenager is a big responsibility. Consult our used car checklist to make sure you have all the bases covered.

Purchasing a car for your teenager is a big responsibility. Consult our used car checklist to make sure you have all the bases covered

The time has finally come: your son or daughter just completed driving school, and you're thinking about purchasing them a used car. If you've done a fair amount of shopping for used cars in the past, you know that there are numerous variables to weigh before making a decision to buy. It's just harder than buying a new car, even if you know what to look out for.

To make this process a bit easier, we've put together a used car checklist. Going by this checklist is extremely important if you are thinking about purchasing a car from a private owner. Used car dealerships have a set of standards and are required to have each car on their lot inspected for safety. Private sellers, on the other hand, have little or no regulation.

Below we've listed a comprehensive list of preliminary inspections you can make on your own, whether in person or online (though we recommend going through the used car checklist in person). We've also included a few tips on warning signs.

Important factors to keep in mind

When conducting preliminary research on possible vehicles to buy, there are a few important factors you need to watch. Getting these steps out of the way will save you a lot of time and needless setbacks. Here's what you must do before conducting an inspection with your used car checklist:

Always ask to see the title of the car

Whether you're thinking about purchasing a car from a private seller or used car dealer, you want to check the title of the car in question. The title will give you all the bottom line history of the vehicle, including its date or origin, all previous owners, and how the car arrived at the present owner.

  • Check the title for stamps of frame damage. If the car has been in a serious accident and received frame damage, a stamp will be shown on the title.
  • Check the title for mileage records. If you see a TMU (true mileage unknown) mark, that usually means bad news. The mileage has either been tampered with, lost in paperwork or the meter has been damaged in an accident.

Always ask for a VIN record or inspection

A VIN record will disclose any previous accidents the car has been in. Used car dealerships are very skilled at covering up serious damage to a vehicle with a little body work, so be sure you know all the facts before moving forward.

Speaking of facts, ask for a CARFAX report

If there's anything you've possibly missed about a car's history after inspecting the title and VIN check, a CARFAX report will usually fill in all the gaps. You can see if the car was involved in a crime, received flood damage, had ownership transfers, and more.

A used car checklist for awesome parents (your kids couldn't love you more right now)

Step 1: the exterior check

Body and frame:

  • Check the entire surface and underneath the car for scratches, dents, rust, and other blemishes.
  • Open and close all doors, trunk, and hood. Check to see if there's any trouble with alignment.
  • Look for signs of different layered paint. This usually indicates an effort to conceal a history of accident damage.


  • Is the tread worn down to less than half an inch on any tires?
  • Check for different brands or incorrect sizes.
  • Are the tires worn unevenly? This could indicate many issues, like frame damage or lack of proper rotation.


  • Check to make sure all the lights work properly. Includes headlights, tail lights, trunk lights, license plate lights, reverse lights, and high beams.
  • Turn on the hazards and turn signals.
  • Are the lights uneven or disproportionate? This may indicate water damage.

Step 2: the interior check

Controls and air conditioning:

  • Turn the car on and check to see if all the switches and lights on the dashboard are working properly.
  • Switch on the air conditioning. See if it runs cool.
  • Test the side mirrors and windows.

Seats and floors:

  • Lift up floors mats and feel around for any signs of dampness, holes, or wet spots.
  • Look for signs of damage to upholstery.
  • Test the controls of each seat, manual or electric.

Step 3: Hood and trunk space


  • Check oil and transmission fluid for proper levels and smells.
  • Check brake and steering fluids.
  • Look underneath the vehicle for any leaks.

Belts and noises:

  • Inspect each belt for signs of fraying, tears, or wear.
  • Turn the car on and listen for any noises coming from the serpentine belt or others.


  • Make sure the trunk compartment has a spare tire with a jack.
  • Check the spare tire for any signs of flatness.

A final word of caution for the best parents

After you have completed your inspection with this used car checklist, have the car professionally inspected by an auto mechanic shop. They will be able to give you a detailed report on any major or minor repairs that need to be done. If the seller doesn't agree to have the car inspected before the purchase, do yourself a big favor and turn it down. There are always better opportunities elsewhere. 

Finding the right car for your child is important, but how can you protect them from an accident? At Pekin Insurance, we take special care to provide families with affordable car insurance with quality coverage. Play it safe and contact us for more information.  


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