What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

24 June 2019 Blog

Before you buy a used car, there’s a number of checks you need to make to ensure the vehicle you’re going to purchase is safe, legal, reliable and worth the asking price set by the seller.

Whilst it might seem that there are a lot of potential problems that come along with buying a used car, getting a good deal can save you thousands of pounds compared to getting the brand new model.

If you choose to buy from a private seller, they might offer a cheaper and more convenient deal, but you don’t get the same legal protection as you would buying from a dealer.

Either way, it’s useful to be clued up on what to look out for when buying a used car and it’s for this reason we’ve put together this handy Used Car Checklist:

How to Spot Signs of Accident Repair, Rust or a Paint Job

The first thing you can do when you see the used car that you might be purchasing is to take a look at it from the outside. In what state are the bodywork and exteriors? Is there any rusting or damage to paint? Do the panels fit evenly or is there a clue that this car might have had an accident in the past which could lead to more than just superficial problems?

What to Check Under the Bonnet

Next up, you’ll want to run a few checks under the bonnet to make sure everything is in working order. Now don’t worry, you don’t have to be a car expert to know what to look out for.

First of all, check for any rust, dents or damage. The move onto the engine for any corrosion or leakage. Also, check belts (including the timing belts) and hoses to ensure they don’t have any cracks or other damage.

You can then inspect the oil filler cap for any residue which may point towards a leaking head gasket and the transmission dipstick to ensure the liquid is still pink or red.

Checking the Interior of the Car

After you’ve done your external checks, hop into the car and cast your eye over the interiors. Are there any rips or stains in the seats or upholstery? Although these may seem like minor details, they can be quite expensive to fix unless you want to be driving in a tatty car!

You’ll also want to make sure the inside of the car doesn’t smell of smoke or wet dogs as these are notoriously hard to get out and can have a shockingly big effect on the vehicles resale value.

Checking the Cars Electrics: Controls, Locks, Windows etc.

You’re already in the car so you might as well press and fiddle with everything to double check it’s still working! Test the electric windows, Air Con, radio, Sat Nav, parking sensors and anything else you can see!

If somethings not behaving as it should then, although it might be a relatively simple fix, this should give you some negotiating room and save you a few quid from the asking price.

How to Spot a Car That Has Been Clocked

What with the advances in automotive technology, you might think that Car Clocking (the process of reducing a car's reduced mileage to give the appearance of less use and therefore driving up the value) no longer takes place. You’d be wrong. Unfortunately enough, there’s a legal loophole meaning that this practice can still go on so it’s important you know how to spot it.

Check the car’s service history as the mileage should be recorded every 12 months. Also, for a small fee you can run an online vehicle check that should include the car you’re looking at buying. Finally, consider the state of the interiors compared to what the seller is reporting the mileage to be. If it’s extremely tired and worn there’s no way it’s only done a few thousand miles!

How to Test Drive a Used Car

Once you’ve checked everything you can possibly check within the stationery car, it’s time to take it for a spin and see how it feels when you’re behind the wheel. You’ll be able to do all your test drive checks within 10 minutes but you’ll want to ensure you drive both on the motorway and on residential roads.

Try giving the car a hard acceleration, do some coasting to see if the car drives straight and test the cruise control while you're at it. You want to ensure the car runs smoothly throughout these tests.

To test out the brakes do some hard braking and check the ABS. The car shouldn’t pull to either side when you brake. Finally, hit some speed bumps to test out the suspension and see whether there’s any strange noises which could be a sign of potential problems.

Paperwork to Check When Buying a Used Car

One check you can do without actually seeing the car in question is reviewing the paperwork to ensure the car is safe and legal. First of all, you will want to ask the seller for the reg number as well as make, model and MOT test number and then check these details correspond with the DVLA’s information.

You can also use the Government's website to check the MOT history of a vehicle or see if it has been recalled due to a serious safety issue. When you meet the seller you should ask to see their log book (V5C vehicle registration certificate) and then make sure the details in the logbook match the details they have given you.

Finally, you’ll want to run an HPI check for a small fee to find out whether or not there is existing finance on the car before you go ahead and commit to buying it. Nowadays, most new cars are bought with some sort of finance deal in place and, until the car is paid for, it’s still owned by whoever lent the money. An HPI check can ensure you’re not buying a car that’s not yet completely paid for and therefore aren’t having to pay the extra cash owed!

Follow the guidance in this article and ensure you ask the seller plenty of questions and you should come away with a reliable, great value used car that will save you hundreds of pounds on repairs over the years.


Still unsure what Used Car you want in the first place? Why not check out our Best Cars for First Time Drivers blog post that will give you plenty of inspiration! We took reliability, safety and value into account when selecting the list so there’s sure to be a motor in there for everyone.