Here's your checklist when buying a used car [Philkotse Guide]

Updated Apr 14, 2020 | Same topic: Best Advice for Car Buyers

Buying a used car is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a checklist to make it easier.

Buying a used car can be a nightmare. Why? Just think about it. A typical car has hundreds if not thousands of individual parts. Some are in constant motion when a car is being used, some are not.

Coupled to that is the fact that some of these are crucial to your safety. There are things like tie-rod ends, suspension components, brake fluid lines, and the car’s disc brake themselves. When one of these parts breaks down, you’re likely to end up wrapped around a tree. Couple to that is the fact that the car you’re buying might have been used for crimes or other nasty, illegal activities.

A picture of a drive by shooter

Although "riding in tandem" shootings are more common here, cars are also used by criminals 

You don’t want that do you?

So how do you eliminate the vast uncertainties when buying a used car? Well here is a checklist to help guide you in your search for your next ride.

Used car buying checklist: Preparation

1. Take note of the vehicle details

Even before scheduling a meet up to see the car for yourself, take note of the car’s brand, the model name, its model year (or how old it is), who’s been driving it, and of course, its mileage.

When meeting the seller, also ask to see the car’s original manual, its maintenance booklet, and its registration papers (OR and CR). If the last two are unavailable, then you might want to walk away from the deal. 

2. Ask to look for the vehicle’s records

Take a look if the maintenance booklet has up to date records. If not, then you’ll get an idea as to the shape of the car and/or what to check.

A picture of a TOyota Vios' user's guide and warranty booklet

If these, as well as the OR/CR, are present, then that's a good sign

3. Perform an LTO check

You can do this by texting “LTO VEHICLE ” to 2600. You’ll then receive a text confirming the car’s plate number, its make, its model and model year, details of its last registration, and details on whether it has an active LTO alarm or not, and whether it has an LTO apprehension.

If it has an LTO alarm or if the plate number doesn’t match the car make and model, then please walk away from the deal and report your findings to the authorities.

Note that this text service costs Php 2.00 per text.

>>> Related: How to get a car history check before buying a car

Used car buying checklist: Exterior

 1. Make sure the car is parked on flat ground

Before taking a good hard look at the car, do make sure that it is parked on flat, level ground. This helps you check whether there’s something going on with the car’s suspension. Look for any signs of sagging.

2. Check the paint

Check for weird discolorations, where a spot is differently colored to an adjacent body panel. This is a sign that it was either repainted, or bodywork has been done. Also, do check for bulges, scratches, and rust.

3. Check the tires

Take a good hard look at the car’s tires. Check if the sidewall has bulges and any other deformities. To check the tread depth, take a new 1 peso coin and then insert it into a tire’s tread. If it covers Jose Rizal’s necktie, then the tires are good. If it doesn't, the tire is unsafe.

A picture of the tire coin test

Do this with a 1 peso coin with Rizal positioned upright

Also, look for feathering or lighter areas on a tire’s tread. It does have those, then the wheel the tire is on might need an alignment.

4. Open the hood

Pop open the hood and check the engine bay for signs of damage, rust, or dents.

Also, some car models will have their vehicle identification number located in front of the engine block. Check that vehicle identification number (VIN) too. If it's missing, ask the seller about it.

Used car buying checklist: Engine bay

1. Check all the hoses

Check all the hoses you can find in the engine bay. All hoses should be firm but malleable, and not hard, brittle, or too soft.

2. Check the oil cap

Open the oil filler cap and take a peek. If there’s foamy residue and/or bubbles then that might be a sign of a blown and/or leaky head gasket.

3. Open the radiator cap

Open the radiator filler cap. If you spot a brownish coolant, then it might be a sign of rust. Do check the coolant overflow reservoir, as well. If the coolant looks like mud water then you should consider the possibility of a head gasket leak.

4. Take a good hard look at the engine

Take a good hard look at the engine. If you see wet spots on the engine block then make sure if its oil or something else. If it’s indeed oil, then there might be a gasket leak somewhere. If that’s the case, walk away. Also, check for rusty spots and under the brake fluid reservoir for leaks.

A picture of a Skyline GTR's engine bay

A clean engine bay is a sign that the previous owned took good care of his/her car

5. Check the battery

If the battery terminals look like it has something growing on it that’s a sign of acid corrosion. If that isn’t present, then give the battery terminals a gentle tug to check their placement.

>>> Related: Car buying tips: 5 simple steps to check the engine of a used car

Used car buying checklist: Underchassis

1. Check the exhaust system

Take a look under the car (note that you might need a hydraulic lift for this) and perform a visual check on the exhaust system. Take note of rusty spots and/or holes.

 A picture of a car's under-chassis

If the under-chassis is clean, you can also take that as a sign that the owner knows what he's doing

2. Check the springs and shocks

If you’ve managed to lift the car, give the car’s springs a tug and a visual check to look for cracks. Also, if you’ve brought a flashlight with you, perform a visual check on the shocks.

And finally, give the entire wheel a good hard tug. Sure, it’ll move because of the steering system, but if you’ve given it a tug while on its maximum wheel angle but it still moves further, then you might have a problem.

3.  Look out for rust

While rusty cars in the Philippines isn’t as common as say, Canada, it does still happen. So while you’re under the car or while it’s lifted, check for signs of rust.

Used car buying checklist: Interior and test drive

1. Check for weird smells, stains, and upholstery condition

If you enter the car and immediately you smell something weird, it might either be nothing (like a pack of forgotten candy), or a sign that something’s wrong with the electrical components.

Next, perform a visual check on the dash and the condition of the upholstery. Watch out for stains.

2. Start the car

When you start the car, there are several things you should note. Did it take a while to start? Were there weird noises when it started? Is the check engine light, or any other indicator light on? Are the on board features working as intended? Is there a weird smell coming out of the air-conditioning system? Is there any air coming out of the AC at all?

A picture of a check engine light on

I remember the first time I ever saw a check engine light. My first reaction was to scream

3. The test drive

When test driving, do note if there are weird noises whenever you encounter bumps, noises when you turn the steering wheel, or when driving straight. Next, perform a braking test. If the car swerves, there might be something wrong with the brakes.

Regardless of whether it's a manual or an automatic, do make sure to go through all of its gears. If you hear a crunchy sound when you shift, ask the seller about it. Also, take note of how the clutch feels. Is it too soft or too hard? Ask him/her about that too.

And oh, make sure the seller is with you on the test drive. If possible.

>>> Related: 4 facts that will make you want to test drive a car before buying

Used car buying checklist: Other items

1. Spare tire and tools

Ask the seller if the car comes with a spare tire and tools. Do check the condition of the spare tire first. If you’re able to, ask if you can inflate it to check its condition.

A picture of a spare tire

Because you might need this thing one day

Used car buying checklist: Bring a mechanic

If you’re still in doubt about the condition of the car, or if you just want to make sure, you can also bring a trusted mechanic along with you.

Note though that even if you’ve brought along a mechanic, you still need to pay very close attention to what he/she is doing. To this end, we highly advise you make your own checklist by taking the outline of this article.

Good luck in your quest for your next vehicle, keep safe and keep reading here on

Cesar G.B. Miguel

Cesar G.B. Miguel


Cesar Guiderone B. Miguel was born and raised in Iligan City, Lanao Del Norte. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology. He previously worked as a freelance writer for various websites, as a member of the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction Management's training staff, and as a medical sales representative.


View more