Key points to look for when buying a used car

The checklist of items you must be conscious of when purchasing a second hand car is not really the terror inducing catalogue it used to be. Enhanced reliability, better manufacturing practises and, of course, great changes in data for insurance write offs, outstanding finance and also MOT history imply you are able to buy a good grasp of a pre-owned car’s past much more effortlessly than ever before.

Logically, you will find nevertheless chances, which is applicable whether you’re purchasing from an independent dealer or trader, privately or perhaps from an approved key dealer. Nevertheless, combining our used car checklist with a little good sense and diligence means you are able to purchase with trust.

Before we have the particulars, the 2 principal rules to remember when purchasing a second hand car are: purchase with the mind of yours rather than with the heart of yours, and next, in case you are not confident about anything, be well prepared to walk away.

Unless you are interested in a very rare classic or maybe exclusive hypercar, there’ll be an additional pair of wheels as good, if not more effective, simply round the corner. Just how can we say that? Because we have been also and there, with more than eight million used cars sold each year in the UK, the odds are stacked in the buyer’s favour.

When your mind is in the correct place for used car shopping, it is time for getting right down to the nitty gritty. The used car buying tips set out in our guide below will assist with ensure that unmissable pre-owned car buy is a real bargain.
Used car checklist summary

You will find more detail on every one of the key aspects below, but here is our used cars for sale checklist at a glanceā€¦

Motor. Check for leaks, exhaust smoke, head gasket condition and engine oil level.
Clutch plus gearbox. Feel and pay attention to the smoothness of the gear shift, and also evaluate the clutch biting point.
Bodywork. Look at the exterior and underneath – a torch is beneficial for the latter.
Tyres and also wheels. Tread depth, rubber condition and also makes of every tyre.
Inside. Look at the shoe, dash (for gas mileage as well as warning lights) as well as electronics thoroughly.
Test drive. Do not hold back here, drive it until you’ve examined all you like.
Files. V5c, program reputation and also MoT (although this is currently available online).

Just several of the points below are show stoppers for the order of yours. You are able to work with the issue to the benefit of yours by haggling cash off the car, or even insist that the seller fixes it before the purchase.

When you are purchasing privately, you will be accountable for recognizing all of these possible issues. While the seller does not have to volunteer info that is much, it is down to you to question the right questions. Purchasing from a dealer provides you with some legal rights, and the car has to be fit for the goal it is designed for.

Buying from a primary dealer’s used approved pattern is the simplest and safest method. Used approved schemes mean the cars are going to have a full service history, have an extensive manual check, and based on the program might has an additional warranty plus breakdown cover.

Checking out the engine

The motor is definitely the center of the car, even though they endure a great quantity of use and tear, the quantity of elements inside and the small tolerances they operate under means upkeep is important.


Among the easiest things to identify are leaks. You will find numerous different fluids which operate in, around and under the motor, along with a well maintained car should not spring a leak.

When you look at a pre-owned car, check underneath for signs of a cream leak. If there is oil on the tarmac underneath the car, or maybe a lot of sludge under the car it’s, and has had, a cream leak. The sludge underneath the motor is induced by road dirt sticking to the oily underside of the motor.

Open the bonnet and also check all around the motor for some other leaks. Oil leaks are usually brown or, if the engine oil is old, black, but there are other fluids that are prone to seeping out. Coolant (also referred to as antifreeze) is generally green, yellow or pink while gearbox and power steering fluid is reddish brown color. Gearbox fluid is very heavy, while power steering fluid is thinner.

If you notice any of the leaking, you’ve a couple of choices. You are able to request cash from the cost to be able to acquire it fixed yourself, or maybe you are able to insist the seller fixes it together with the offer. Or maybe you are able to walk away and look for another car. In either case, it is really worth getting it observed by an expert so that you understand the exact issue, and what it will cost you to fix.

Checking out the oil is general car upkeep and should not be forgotten during the purchasing process. Ensure the dipstick reading is in the proper amount as well as the oil isn’t discoloured or maybe the wrong consistency. While you are there, definitely search for general grime and dirt encompassing some connectors, because this might highlight a poorly maintained or even serviced vehicle.
Mind gasket

The head gasket is a slim portion which rests between the upper and lower regions of the motor (also called the motor block as well as the cylinder head), and also prevents coolant or maybe motor oil from entering the engine’s cylinders.

A blown head gasket is but one that has started to leak. This could trigger a range of difficulties from a smoky exhaust, loss of strength or even an approximate sounding engine through to full engine failure, therefore it is essential to check out.

Look at the motor is cool and also take out the oil cap from the roof of the motor. In case you see white, or perhaps light brown sludge with the consistency of mayonnaise, you are most likely looking at the product of a blown head gasket. At that time, it is probably well worth walking away from the offer, as it is tough to understand what other damage the issue has caused.
Exhaust smoke colours

Switch on the motor and walk to the rear of the car. A bit of puff of smoke when launching an engine is normally nothing severe, but watch the exhaust for a couple of minutes as it is a telltale sign of a concern in case it is still.

Blue smoke means the motor is burning oil. Meaning somehow engine oil is getting into the cylinders. It might suggest a blown head gasket or maybe issues with the internal motor seals. In either case, the bills might be considerable.

White smoke is tougher to spot as it is easily wrongly identified as steam – a typical expulsion whenever the car is first started, especially on mornings that are cool. Excessive gray smoke may also point to some head gasket disaster, though this time it will be coolant entering the cylinders & getting used with fuel.

Black smoke is generally brought on by the motor burning too much energy. It is often easier to rectify than curing the sources of blue or white smoke, but may be right down to a selection of elements and so is tougher to pin on the trigger.

In case you are still keen to purchase an car that is emitting smoke of any colour, you must just have it examined by a pro.
Checking out the gearbox and clutch

Gearbox & clutch checks are less about what you are able to observe and much more about what you are able to think.

Automatic and manual gearboxes are obtainable, but you’ll find various kinds of automated gearboxes which may behave differently. Whatever gearbox the car has, it must engage all gears quietly and smoothly. If it does not there is an issue.

In a mechanical car the clutch biting point – the stage that you are feeling the car begin to go when releasing the clutch pedal – needs to be all over the center of pedal’s travel. If you’ve to drive the feet of yours most of the right way to the floor, the clutch is going to need attention. It could be as easy as an adjustment, or maybe a pricy replacement.

You ought to be ready to change gears easily. Resistance or even grinding noises also points to an issue.

Whichever kind of automatic gearbox you are testing, be sure you engage the gears, be sure the’ kickdown’ functions – the performance that changes down gears if you press the accelerator pedal on the floor. When the car features a manual mode, operated either by steering wheel mounted gearshift paddles or maybe a mechanical functioning on the gearstick, test it to make certain it works properly.

It is well worth remembering that CVT gearboxes do not really change gear, though in several cars there is a’ gear shift’ function that mimics the activity of modifying gear.
Used car bodywork checks

Checking the bodywork is among the simplest visual inspections you are able to do while exploring an car. Basically, you are looking for any signs of repainting or maybe replacement panels which may recommend the unit is in an accident. Dings and also car park dents is typical on doors, too, while a cracked front can recommend a good deal of heavy motorway miles. Check for panel gaps, moreover the door seals for possible leaks, also.

You must check out as much of the car as you are able to, where possible, underneath and, outside, inside. Old repairs are not always a bad thing so long as they have been completed properly. They even help create a photograph of the car’s past.

Check for rust on all the metal body panels. Rust is going to begin by bubbling under the color, but left unchecked, it is able to induce the color from and will ultimately rust through, therefore it is really worth getting it fixed. Untreated stone chips and scratches are able to cause rust.

Pay particular focus on the car’s wheelarches, particularly the tips of the lip area inside the wheelarches, salt, as water, grit and road grime can all conspire to bring about rust. And also look at the car’s sills – the sections that operate under the doors on each side.

You must also search for proof of crash damage, as well as more notably, evidence of very poor repairs. In bright daylight, check out the entire body panels are of a consistent look and colour for proof of’ overspray’ on glass, rubber seals plus plastic trims.

Check out the spaces in between each panel. The thickness of the gap must be consistent all around the car. If it wasn’t, the odds are it has had an alternative board, or even in a number of instances, had a shunt large enough to knock the whole chassis out of alignment.

Pay particular focus on the front and back of the car, as this is exactly where low speed shunts frequently occur. Raise up the shoe carpet. The sections below must be ripple-free and straight. Bent sections under the bonnet is able to indicate a previous front end crash.
Checking the wheels and tyres

This further external examination is crucial to make certain any used buy probably has a good range of tyres. In case it does not, negotiate cash off the cost, because new rubber could be pricey.

Check all 4 wheels, and the spare wheel in case it’s one. Search for signs of harm to each wheel. Grazes from kerbstones are common, plus are not generally a big deal, but wheels which are bent or perhaps have sizeable dents in the rims need fixing or even replacing.

Examine the tyres too. They need to be totally free from cuts, splits, bulges or maybe gouges; in case you notice any, they will need changing. The tread ought to be no less than 1.6mm deep around the entire tyre. Uneven tyre wear – where one aspect of the tyre is much more distressed than the other – can indicate poor wheel or maybe suspension alignment. Which might be brought on by a crash, and just punching in a pothole at speed, but need repairing.

Tyres which are used excessively around the center of the tyre, and around both edges lead people to consistent under or over inflation and also need changing.
Used car interior checks

The health of a car’s interior is able to help show whether the gas mileage is genuine. A car with 20,000 miles on the clock must have an interior that is virtually like brand new – in case it is exhausted and worn, particularly the steering wheel, seat bases and also side bolsters, the seller might be hiding something.

Check for rips or rips in the upholstery, holes drilled in the dash panel along with a sagging roof lining. A smoker’s car might be vulnerable to burns in the seats also. in case you are pleased with the problem, that is fine, however, if you are not, haggle a little cash off the cost to cover repairs.

What is more essential is checking all of the equipment works, from the lighting fixtures to ventilation system (or maybe air con), to other electric powered attributes like the windows, sunroof, stereo and central locking. Budget for maintenance in case you spot anything.

In the luggage area, because you are able to find out if the car’s have a full size spare wheel, space saver or even only a can of foam. Make certain the shoe carpet is dry out in case of just about any leaks, and do exactly the same for footwell carpets both front and back. It is also great to check the back seat folding mechanism functions effectively and gives you the area you need.
Mileage and warning lights

Hop into the driver’s seat and switch on the ignition. This can enable you to check out for virtually any warning lights, in addition verify that the car’s mileage can be as advertised. Be wary of potential’ clocked’ motors – too much wear on the pedals, seating and also gearstick inconsistent together with the odometer reading are indicators of the advertised mileage having been tampered with.

Cars are frequently packed with technology, and this also could rather easily go wrong. Lights are arguably the most crucial electronic device on the car of yours, so make certain they are working right. Fogged lenses or perhaps uneven beams really should be warning signs, while a dim beam means you will have to adjust light bulbs soon. Moreover , check out that the radio, windows, climate control, infotainment system, central locking and also other devices work as advertised.
Have a test drive

With the visible checks done, the following crucial action is taking a test drive. Surprisingly, many buyers do not take this option, though it actually is a necessity. Every great dealer is going to be pleased to accompany you on a drive. Try out the car at a wide variety of speeds, and listen out for the motor noise and some annoying rattles. Make certain the brakes and clutch are responsive and in total working order, also.
Used car documentation

The holy grail of used car purchases can be a folder crammed with bills for work carried out. This allows you to check out the car’s history for the efforts completed and also parts fitted. Plus it enables you to check out the mileage against what is shown on the dashboard. A service guide is an invaluable paper too, because you are able to see that has serviced the car, and once.

Check out past MoT certificates as well. The mileage must climb by a comparable amount each year. If the gas mileage unexpectedly decreases, the car might have been clocked – the illegal practice of’ winding back’ the mileometer to help make the car look less used than it really is.

After you have accomplished all this, it is a very better to get a car history test carried out. This will inform you in case the car have been written off, is susceptible to great finance or perhaps has been captured as stolen. The checks are affordable, take just a couple of minutes to complete and also offer substantial peace of mind.