A little prevention goes a long way. This is especially true in the world of cars. There are so many things that can break and ruin your driving experience. Certain things breaking can even lead to a serious accident.
If you want to keep your car safe, you can perform routine vehicle safety checks. This topic is a little confusing, so I’ll break it down for you. In this guide, I’ll show you everything you need to know about vehicle safety checks. At the very bottom, you’ll find an easy-to-follow, printable safety checklist so you can fill it out and follow along on your own car.
What a Vehicle Safety Check Does
The process is pretty straightforward: you’re just looking at things that could cause an unsafe thing to happen. For example, if your car’s brakes aren’t working, you could easily rear-end someone and get in an accident.
By checking your brakes and correcting them before something bad happens, you’re making your car safer.
There’s no specific process when it comes to doing your own vehicle safety check. Unlike your state-mandated Vehicle Inspection performed by your local motor vehicle station, this is optional.
You’re just looking over your car routinely to spot something before it becomes a big problem.
The Importance of a Safe Vehicle
Think about how much time you spend in your vehicle and how dangerous the idea of driving is. We’re in a piece of metal that weighs thousands of pounds. We’re really banking on the internal components of the vehicle as we ride along.
Blindly getting into your car on a continued basis without doing some simple safety checks can bite you in the long run. A little bit of maintenance today can solve a huge problem tomorrow. The same is true with a safety check.
How Often Should You Do a Vehicle Safety Check?
It really depends on what you’re specifically checking. Doing a full check every day is probably overkill, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt you.
I would suggest doing a safety check whenever it fits into your schedule. Doing so on at least a monthly basis should suffice.
For older vehicles or cars that routinely break down, you should do these checks weekly or bi-weekly.
Who Does a Vehicle Safety Check?
When you’re talking about a routine vehicle safety check, there’s some good news. You don’t need to go to a specialist or pro to perform one of these checks. Heck, you don’t even need to leave your driveway.
These checks can be performed entirely on your own. This saves you time and money and reduces the headaches associated with working with an auto mechanic.
Consider Documenting Your Checks
Writing down the results of your checks can help you track the progression of your car. You can use our checklist at the end of this article after the conclusion as a guide.
Print it out and follow it when you do your routine vehicle safety checks. I provided boxes to check and some extra information to help you.
22 Things to Check in a Vehicle Safety Check
Let’s run through 22 of the things you need to check during this safety examination. Remember, you can handle all of these checks on your own and you don’t need a ton of extra equipment.
The windshield is a great place to start. Take a close look at it and make sure there are no chips or cracks forming along with the glass.
These pieces of glass aren’t shatterproof. With enough of an impact, they can shatter into a million little pieces.
If a crack is forming, it will quickly propagate across your windshield as you drive over potholes, bumps, and uneven pavement. As it grows, your visibility shrinks. With a large enough crack, the glass will actually shatter.
If you notice a crack forming, you’ll have to reach out to a windshield expert to get it replaced.
2. Windshield Wipers
Wipers should be changed once or twice a year. The rubber starts to wear down and the wipers become less effective. Over time, they’ll simply smear water or debris across your windshield instead of wiping it off.
Changing your wipers should only take a few minutes. You can check the life of your wipers by using some fluid and letting them run. Check the windshield after to see if the fluid was streaked on your glass or if it’s completely wiped off.
3. Fluid Levels
Your car operates on so many different fluids. They do anything from keeping your windshield clean to keeping your engine operating.
When you run low on a certain fluid, different results will occur. In general, it’s easy to check the levels of your fluids. Doing so will avoid the disaster of running out of any given fluid.
4. Oil Level
A specific fluid to keep an eye on is your oil level. Going too long without an oil change is always a horrible idea. Plus, it only takes about an hour and 30 bucks to change your oil and filter.
You’ll find an oil dipstick under your car’s hood that allows you to quickly check the level. If it’s really low, look for a leak. If it’s really dark or dirty, consider changing your oil.
5. Check for Leaks
Leaks can occur just about anywhere on your vehicle. A general idea is that any leak is a bad leak. When fluid is draining out of your car, normal functions can start to be strained.
If you park your car on asphalt or in a garage, check the ground after backing out. If you have dark, sticky, lubricious fluid left on the ground, you’re experiencing a leak.
Find and fix the leak as soon as possible. Use our guide for finding an oil leak.
6. Tire Pressure
Tire pressure should be checked more frequently than most of the items on this list. Under-inflated or over-inflated tires can ruin your car’s performance, tank your gas mileage, and lead to a tire blowout.
Use a tire pressure gauge to look at the pressure of each tire. Then, open your driver’s door and look at the wall. There should be a little sticker that says the manufacturer’s suggested tire pressure for all four tires.
Tire pressure often changes when outside temperatures fluctuate a lot (for people who park outside). Another reason that your tire pressure is low is that you have a puncture or leak in your tire.
7. Tire Tread
The tread is the pattern cut into the rubber of your tires. It has the grip that your car needs to travel on a road.
With low or no tread, your car will spin out and slide more often on a regular road. You should always check the health of your tires to ensure you have enough tread.
8. Tire Lugs
When you look at your tire, you’ll see metal acorn-shaped pieces in recessed holes. These are your tire’s lugs. They connect the rim and tire to the wheel hub assembly.
If lugs are loose or missing, you run the risk of your tire becoming dislodged from your car or removing itself while you’re driving.
9. Spare Tire
First and foremost, is your spare tire where it should be? Spare tires are used when your regular tire goes flat or damage occurs to it.
For sedans, your spare tire is probably under the fabric liner of your trunk. Make sure you check the pressure and tread of the spare tire too. The last thing you want is to replace a flat tire with yet another flat tire.
10. Light Functionality
If one of your lights doesn’t work, you should replace the burnt-out bulb. Some incandescent bulbs can be retrofitted with an LED light.
You’ll find lights all over your vehicle — on the ceiling of your interior, all across your dashboard, and at the front and rear of your car.
It’s a good idea to check all the lights from time to time. Ensure they work so you can see and be seen at night.
11. Turn Signals/ Hazards
Blinkers have a shelf life. Over enough time, a blinker can blow out so your car won’t indicate which direction you want to go. You might still see blinking on the dash, but your exterior lights aren’t going off.
Have someone sit in the driver’s seat and activate the different lights. Have another person stand outside and check that the lights are working. This includes blinkers, headlights, fog lights, turn signals, hazard lights, and brake lights.
12. Any Warning Lights?
If you see warning lights on your dashboard, something is probably wrong. These lights are tied to sensors all over your car that are constantly checking for things.
They can give you a heads-up about a flat tire, low oil levels, a dying battery, or an overheating vehicle.
Scanning the vehicle for codes is always a smart idea. If you don’t know what the light is trying to tell you, you can use an OBDII scan tool like this one to scan for codes. It app will even explain the codes and show you the top fixes.
Your steering should always feel firm and your wheel should smoothly rotate around when you operate it.
If your steering wheel rattles when you drive, it’s really hard to turn it, or you can move your wheel a lot without your tires moving much, there’s a problem.
Checking your steering health means avoiding a huge issue like this down the road.
14. Battery Life
Did you know that car batteries die over time? I suggest checking the health of your battery to see how much life is left. When the battery dies, you won’t be able to unlock your doors or start your car.
15. Hoses, Belts, and Gaskets
Hoses, belts, and gaskets are the unsung heroes of a vehicle. However, they’re often made of rubber or plastic which wears down over time and eventually breaks.
For cars that you own, you should get into the habit of learning which hoses, belts, and gaskets are present. Check how long you should go between changing them.
If any of these products fail, then fluids can start leaking, or parts can start rubbing. Additionally, a deteriorated hose could indicate other components failing under the hood.
Mirrors are a really important part of your car. You should check your rearview mirror and side mirrors. Ensure they don’t have cracks and they’re positioned correctly.
You should have a much better field of vision when your mirrors are set up correctly. Moving them is a quick and easy process.
When you’re on a quiet road (outside of the neighborhood), give your horn a little tap. Doing this every quarter makes sure your horn is working when you need it most.
Your brakes are made up of friction material pads that rub against a piece of metal. They’re designed to wear down over a certain period of time.
Certain brake pads have built-in “squealers”. It’s a piece of metal that’s designed to make a loud squealing noise when the pad level is low. This is your audial clue that it’s time to change your brake pads.
For a quick check, back out of your parking spot and apply the brakes firmly. If you feel any sponginess or hear a squeak or squeal, do a closer examination.
You can also look at your brake pads to see how much of the brake pad is left. Definitely do this every time you change your oil and rotate your tires since you’ll be down there anyway.
19. Emergency Brakes
Apply your emergency brake when you’re in neutral and lift your foot off of the brake pedal. Your vehicle should remain stationary.
If your vehicle still rolls, then you’ll have to fix your e-brake.
Many newer vehicles don’t have an emergency manual handbrake lever, pedal, or pull knob. Instead, it’s a button that electronically activates the emergency brakes.
Regardless of whether it’s manual or electronic, it’s a good idea to check that the vehicle’s emergency brakes are functional.
20. Exterior Damage
Do you have any new exterior damage that you can’t explain? I suggest checking every day. If you catch something overnight, you can narrow down the time that it occurred. This way, you can reach out to local businesses or homeowners to see if they caught anything on camera.
If you see rust starting to form on your car’s body, that’s a bad sign. It happens when the protective layer of paint is disturbed and water seeps into the metal on your car. Rust can spread to your car’s frame and result in structural failure.
21. License Plate(s)
While you’re looking for exterior damage, also take a look at your license plate or plates (depending on what state your vehicle is registered in).
The plate(s) should be securely fastened to your vehicle and clearly visible. It’s common practice for thieves to steal license plates from cars to then commit crimes. The plate is registered to a certain color, make, and model of vehicle. If they have the same attributes, they can do crimes with your plate attached to their car.
22. Emergency Kit
If you have an emergency kit (which I think everyone should), give it a quarterly check. Your car’s emergency kit is there to keep you alive during a true emergency.
Make sure all the components are in working order. If you have food or water included, check the expiration and replace them if they’re expired.
A routine vehicle safety check can help you avoid huge repair costs and accidents in the future. I just reviewed 22 things to look at when you’re performing one of these checks. For more car tips, check out the rest of the blog. Make sure you have the best tools and accessories for your car.
Scroll down a little more to see the printable vehicle safety check checklist. Fill it out whenever you perform a check to keep a record of your efforts.
You can print the vehicle safety checklist here: Download
Vehicle Safety Checklist
By: Motor Hills
Date of safety check:
☐ Windshield has no scratches or cracks
☐ Windows roll up and down
☐ Windshield wipers are in working order
☐ Tire pressure is acceptable
☐ No bubbles, bulges, or holes in the tire
☐ Tire tread is thick enough
☐ Spare tire is present, has good air pressure, and has acceptable tread
☐ Tire lugs are present and tool-tightened
☐ Mirrors are present, operational, and satisfactory
Under the Hood
☐ Hoses, gaskets, and belts are in working order
☐ Battery is in good health
☐ No leaks are noticeable
☐ Connections are complete to all visible components
☐ Fluids are at recommended levels (oil, transmission, power steering, windshield, etc.)
☐ No rust spots are present
☐ License plate(s) are present and fastened tightly
☐ Underbody plastic panels are fastened and not sagging
☐ Front and rear bumpers are secured and in fair condition
☐ No noticeable leaks are present under the parked vehicle
☐ There is enough material on all brake pads
☐ Emergency brake is operational
☐ No squeaking, squealing, or sponginess when applying brakes
☐ Hazards and front/ rear turn signals are operational
☐ Headlights and taillights are operational
☐ License plate light (if applicable) is operational
☐ Parking lights/ reverse lights are operational
☐ No warning lights are lit on the dashboard when the car is running
☐ High beams are operational
☐ No new, unexplained interior damage is present
☐ Gauges work correctly, as far as you can tell
☐ Rearview mirror is present and operational
☐ Horn works
☐ Emergency kit is present and contents are operational / not expired
☐ Steering wheel feels correct when operated
2 thoughts on “How to Carry Out a Vehicle Safety Check (Step-by-Step)”
I read an article which is very informative and become a guide to buy a used van. Now I clearly understood one should do a van check before used.
I’m glad you found it helpful! This checklist can be applied to any type of vehicle.