How to Check the Condition of a Car

Whether you’re looking to sell your vehicle, or you’re in the process of buying a used car, you may be wondering how to check the overall condition.

We’re not all mechanics, but when it comes to making a decision to purchase or sell a vehicle, you should be armed with a few pointers to follow.

To get the most accurate sense of a car’s condition, consider the following categories:

  1. Exterior
  2. Interior
  3. Mechanical
  4. Miscellaneous

Exterior Condition

Here’s where you’ll be “kicking the tires” so to speak. As you work your way around the vehicle, look for any issues regarding the paint and body. Do you notice any significant damage, flaws in the paint, or indications of body work?

You should also check out the windshield, lights, and lenses. Here, you’re on the lookout for scratches, chips, pitting, or cracks!

When it comes to the tires, don’t stop where the rubber meets the road. In addition to checking the tire tread, get up close and personal with the wheel itself.


Since this is where you’ll be spending most of your time (if you’re buying a car), be sure to take your time evaluating the interior.

In terms of the upholstery and carpet, check for stained, faded, or worn fabrics. Also, pay attention to your nose. Does the car have any odors that indicate mold or that the previous owner smoked in the car?

This is also the chance to fiddle with the electronics. Make sure the windows, locks, and radio are fully operational. Used luxury cars may have additional options, such as navigation and reverse cameras. Test each feature accordingly.


From a mechanical standpoint, depending on your level of expertise, your best bet is to complete a comprehensive test drive.

Drive at slow speeds, drive at highway speeds, test the stopping power, and make sure you handle curves.

Be aware if the engine makes any interesting noises or if the transmission isn’t shifting smoothly.

If an individual isn’t willing to let you take a vehicle for a test drive, there may be something to hide in the car’s performance down the road.


High quality used vehicles should have a track record of proper paperwork and maintenance. Ask about the title to make sure it’s clean. In other words, avoid rebuilt, salvage, or titles that indicate flood damage.

From a maintenance perspective, check records for regular check-ups based on mileage and manufacturer’s recommendations.

You should also grab the VIN number to run a CARFAX report to view the vehicle’s history. If you’re selling, providing this report to buyers is a sign of confidence (which may help to get your asking price).

Checking the condition of a car can seem intimidating if you haven’t had a lot of practice buying or selling used cars. The folks over at Kelley Blue Book have an online Condition Quiz to help guide you.

Should you have any questions about how we evaluate the cars that we purchase and sell, give us a call at (763) 522-2000.