Vehicle Inspection Checklist: What Car Owners Should Know

Vehicle Inspection Checklist: What Car Owners Should Know

If you don’t want to leave your vehicle inspections to your mechanic, you should be able to do your own car checks. In fact, doing this on a regular basis will ensure your car stays in healthy condition.

How often should you conduct a vehicle inspection? There are some car components that should be checked daily, while others can be checked weekly.

With that in mind, let’s explore what you need to do for your own vehicle inspection. Take your car’s wellbeing into your own hands. 

If you’d like to see a graphical breakdown of the vehicle inspection checklist, we got you covered:

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Vehicle Inspection Checklist: Things You Should Do

Daily Checks

DAILY CHECKS

These checks should be done on a daily basis, especially if you use your car every day.

  • Engine Oil: This should be checked daily before you start the car’s engine. You should also take a look at the oil level and top it up if, and when, it requires refilling.
  • Tire Pressure: This is important to check daily. Look at the tires to check for any signs of damage, or potential damage such as in the form of nails, and also check your tire pressure. A tire pressure kit is very useful in this regard.
  • Headlights: Check your car’s headlights before every trip. This includes the hi-beams, fog lights, and low beams. The last thing you want is for there to be poor visibility and your beams not working when you need them to.
  • Taillights: Don’t forget to check your taillights, too!
  • Turn Signals & Emergency Flashers: Confirm that your front and rear signal lights and emergency flashers are working properly.
  • Windscreen Wipers: Check that these are working properly and inspect them for any damage or any foreign objects that are trapped in them. While doing that, you should also look for any damage in your windshield.
  • Horn: Once inside the car, check that the horn works so that it will be ready to use during an emergency.
  • Rear-Vision Mirrors: These should all be clean and not have any damage on them. Also, ensure that you’ve adjusted their position so that you can see behind you when driving.
  • Brakes & Parking Brake: Test that your brakes and parking brake are all in working order.
  • Warning Lights: Before starting your trip, make sure that no warning lights are flashing on the instrument panel.
  • Number Plate: Check that your number plates are still attached to the front and back of your car.
  • Engine: After you start your car, keep an ear out for any strange sounds, such as knocking, tics, and beeps.

Weekly Checks

WEEKLY CHECKS

On a weekly basis, you should remember to check the following things in your car.

  • Spare Tire: You should make sure you regularly check that the spare tire in your boot is inflated to the tire pressure recommended for your car.
  • Tire Tread Depth: It’s not enough to check your tire pressure daily, but also make sure you check the tire tread depth weekly with the use of a tread depth gauge.
  • ABS: You should take your car to a very quiet location and test your ABS. You can do this by gripping the steering wheel and pressing your brakes hard.
  • Battery: Check that the battery is still mounted properly and its terminal connections are tight. Look around the battery for any sign of damage or corrosion.
  • Engine Belts & Hoses: These should only be checked when your car’s engine is off and has cooled after a driving trip. Tug the belts and hoses to make sure they’re still securely fastened. If you see any cracks, abrasion, leaks, or splits, then you should consult with your mechanic.
  • Windshield Washer: Check that there’s enough water in this container.
  • Engine Coolant: Check that the engine coolant is at the right level. 
  • Brake Fluid: Check that the brake fluid is within the correct range.
  • Power Steering Fluid: This fluid also needs to be checked so that you’re sure it’s within the correct range. 
  • Exhaust: You should check the exhaust manifold, tailpipe, muffler, and catalytic converter for leaks and cracks. 

How To Prepare For Emissions Tests

Depending on the state in which you live, you’ll probably have to bring your vehicle in for an inspection before you can renew your vehicle registration. There are two parts to the inspection.

General Safety Test

GENERAL SAFETY TEST

This inspection looks at various features in your car to be sure that they’re in working order, so it helps to check them ahead of time yourself.

If you’ve been doing your weekly and daily checks, then you’ll be prepared for this general inspection of your vehicle.

  • Headlights 
  • Accessory lights 
  • Brakes and parking brake 
  • Directional signals 
  • Steering 
  • Windshield wipers

Emissions Test

EMISSIONS TEST

This test is done to ensure that your vehicle is not polluting the air with too many emissions. This test will usually include the following:

  • A gas cap pressure check. This makes sure that your car’s gas cap can screw on tightly and prevent any fuel vapor from being released. 
  • On-board diagnostics check. This checks the onboard computer on cars older than 1996 to be sure that they’re working properly. 
  • Inspection and maintenance check. This test checks the performance of your car’s emissions control system. 
  • Single idle speed check. This test is only done on cars that were made between 1976 and 1980 to be sure that they’re not releasing too many emissions when idling. 

Note: The emissions test will vary a bit from one U.S. state to another. Emissions testing will usually detect levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide. 

How To Inspect A Second-Hand Vehicle 

Before purchasing a second-hand car, you should inspect it. Here are some things to look out for: 

Check The Car’s Exterior

CHECK THE CAR’S EXTERIOR
  • Take a walk around the car and look for any scratches, rust, or dents. 
  • Take a closer look at the fenders and lines of doors, as misaligned panels can point to replacements having been done on the car. 
  • Check the wheels and door panels. 
  • Open and close the doors and boot, and open the bonnet. This will show you that the hinges are all in working order. 
  • Check the glass on all mirrors and windows, as well as on the windscreen so you can see if there’s any damage that you will have to repair. 
  • Ensure that all the lights work. 
  • Bounce each corner of the car to test the suspension. If the car rebounds when pressed like that, it’s a sign that the shock absorbers are in good condition. 
  • Look at the area where the car has been parked to ensure there are no leaks on the ground.
  • Look at the exhaust. It shouldn’t be damaged or very rusty.

Check The Car’s Interior

CHECK THE CAR’S INTERIOR
  • Look at the seats, pedals, instrument panel, and also keep an eye out for anything that signals damage, such as stains on the roof. Also notice if there are any strong smells in the car, such as the smell of smoke. This can point to the previous driver had been a smoker, which could pose problems because it will be very difficult for you to eliminate that odor. 
  • Test the radio, if there is one available. 
  • Test that the mirrors can be adjusted from inside the car and are in working order. 
  • You should also test any electronics, such as the windows.

Look Under The Hood

LOOK UNDER THE HOOD
  • Ensure that the battery isn’t covered in rust and that there are no loose or damaged wires. 
  • Inspect the belts and hoses. These should be firm yet supple, without being cracked or torn. 
  • Check the engine fluid levels. This will give you an indication of how well the previous owner of the car has looked after it. 

Related Questions 

How much does emission testing cost?

HOW MUCH DOES EMISSION TESTING COST?

This test usually costs between $15 to $25 but it will vary from one state to the next.

How much do mechanics charge to inspect a used car?

Almost all repair shops, auto service shops, and dealerships will inspect cars before you purchase them. The cost for this can range from $100 to $200. 

Conclusion 

When we talk about vehicle inspections, we really mean a variety of different things.

Vehicle inspections can take the form of a professional technician checking your car for emissions and doing other inspections, your own DIY inspection that should be done regularly to maintain the health of your car, or inspecting a second-hand car before you decide to purchase it.

In this article, we’ve outlined all types of vehicle inspection checklists so you can ensure your car stays in good condition.

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