Featured Image Before you drive Get the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) so you can check the vehicle history report on DMV's website or with another vehicle history report provider. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website for any recall information. If you have a friend or relative who is experienced with cars, bring that person along for the test drive. Engine Check the engine oil, transmission fluid and coolant levels when the engine is cool. Examine hoses and belts for signs of excessive wear. With the engine running, listen for any knocking, ticking or tapping. Exterior Confirm the VIN. In more recent models it’s usually visible at the bottom of the front window on the driver’s side. Check the car’s body for potential signs of undisclosed accidents, like unevenness in the paint or ripples or dents in the exterior. Check the ground beneath the car before and after the engine has been running to see if there are any fluid leaks. Take out your ruler and place it inside one of the grooves of the tire’s tread. The tires should have at least 1/4 inch of tread. Check the tires for signs of excessive or uneven wear, cracks or splitting. Make sure the tires have no objects lodged in them, like nails or screws. When you check for rest, pay special attention to the underside of the car, the wheel wells, the edges of doors and windows, and the trunk. Interior Are there any rips or stains on the seats? How does it smell? Do the heating and air conditioning work? Test the horn, turn signals, windshield wipers, door locks and dome lights. If you have a child who uses a safety seat, check to make sure your safety seat will work with the vehicle. Turn the key to the accessory position – the one right before the engine is engaged – and make sure all the dash warning lights illuminate. Windows Are there are cracks that could develop into bigger problems? Do all the windows go both down and up?