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Are you buying a used car? Here's 9 simple checks you can make to help ensure you're buying a good quality car that's been looked after...

I'm no stranger to the used car and van market, I've bought a few and I've sold a few, and over the years I've learned the do's and dont's when buying a used car to ensure I have done everything I can before committing to buy.


Checks to make when buying a used car



  • Finding the used car that's best for you
  • Which external car checks to make
  • Which parts of inside the car to check
  • Test driving a used car
  • Walk away or haggle the best price


The used car market, especially here in the UK is both a minefield of dodgy cars and a goldmine of bargains and I want to point you in the right direction to avoid you thinking you're getting a bargain when actually you're buying an expensive giant door-stop.


The basics of buying a used car - What to check

used car sellerAlways shop around. The first thing you're most likely to do is jump on to a car selling website like, AutoTrader, or on of many other websites which advertise cars for sale, whether they're free or paid. I have always found that having a good look around, all over the country at the cars available in my price bracket and narrowing my search down to a handful of cars which really take my fancy.


Next it's to do a bit of Googling and homework to see what other people's experience of these cars are. I drive a regular journey of about 2.5 hours, twice a week. So I want a car that starts and runs after being sat still for several days and is then comfortable and nippy to get me through the country A roads which I drive. You may be looking for a small runaround, a 4x4 for rural driving or even a working van - Whatever type of vehicle you're buying, have a read of what others have to say to get a feel of what you're getting in to and also what unreliabilities you can look out for. A quick google of something like "common problems with a Ford Fiesta" can shed light on lots of new information.


Soon enough you'll find cars online which you'd like to go and take a closer look at, so a call to the seller to arrange a viewing is in order; and you can learn a bit from this phone call too. Get an idea of the seller and whether they sound legitimate. This sounds stereotypical and presumptuous, however first impressions really do count and a legitimate car seller will make an effort to accommodate you and provide you with information over the phone.


Once you've lined up a viewing or 2, here's 10 things you can look out for easily, to help you get an idea of what you're looking for in a reliable car:


1. The seller

Do they seem reputable, honest and reliable? Do they have the time to show you the car or are they rushing you? You should get a positive impression from the seller and feel comfortable asking questions and have confidence in the seller's answers. If this doesn't ring true then you should consider continuing to shop around.



2. The tyres

Check used car tyres and exhaustHave a look at the tyres tread depth, wear, brand and sidewalls. You need to check the outside and inside of the tyres (easily done by reaching your hand under the wheel arch) feeling for imperfections, uneven wear and cracks or bulges in the tyre. Uneven wear is an indication that there are other problems with compoents away from the tyre which could prove costly to repair. It also suggests that the whole foot of the tyre is not touching the road which makes the car somewhat dangerous on the roads. 


Checking tyre brand gives you an idea of how much money has been spent on the maintenance of the car. Again somewhat presumptuous, however if you're spending a lot of your hard earned money you might want to know that the car has been looked after well. Brands that don't match can also be an indication that the car has had tyres replaced speradically. The front 2 tyres should usually be changed together and that would result in the same brand tyre on the front near and off-sides of the car; and the same rule applies at the rear.



3. General wear and tear

Used car bodywork wear and tearLooking around the car, especially with used cars you might notice that there are bumps and/or scratches to the bodywork. Let's be honest this is quite normal for used cars of any age nowadays - With car parking spaces getting smaller and cars getting bigger, the odd prang is hard to avoid. You're looking for significant damage or poor repair work which may cause you to fork out to get it repaired again in the near future. There's no need to grab and pull at parts of the car, this may cause offence to the seller but be alert and don't be afraid to look and touch.


Check around the wheel arches, petrol/diesel cap and other edges for rust. Small amounts of rust may appear ok but they will grow and spread with time so you will need to address them as soon as possible to avoid them costing more. Deep scratches to paintwork or cracks from dents will also encourage rust and should be addressed as soon as possible.


The inside of the car should look clean - Older cars may show signs of wear and use, even discolouring to the upholstry but any good car seller will make the effort to clean the car and remove any rubbish before attempting to sell the car.



4. Under the bonnet

under the car bonnetOn looking under the bonnet you'll want to make the effort to at least check the levels of fluids in each of the tanks. The oil (pull the dipstick and check the oil level is where it should be). Also check the top of the oil dipstick for white foam or unusual discolouring (anything that's not black/oily) - This is a sign of a blown seal within the engine which may not be evident when you first drive the car but will later cause you a major headache with breakdowns and repair bills. 


Also check the coolant level, power steering fluid, and the condition of the front of the radiator which should be easily visible through the front of the front-bumper.


If you're feeling a little more energetic then have a crouch down and look under the engine - Making sure the engine is OFF before you do. You're looking for oil stains here which is a telltale sign of oil leaking down the engine which again will cost you dearly in the near future.

You will also want to head to the rear of the vehicle while the engine is cold and check the rear of the exhaust for excessive play or movement, or even loose parts and rust.



5. Inside the car

Checking inside a used carGet in the car and have the engine running. You'll immediately want to be listening out for any unusual rattles or squeakes which if heard, you should question the seller about. It's a good idea to get out of the car and listen for the same noises just incase they cannot be heard from inside the car.


Have a look around, move the seats (driver and passenger) back and forward, up and down etc to make sure everything is working.


From the drivers seat check the mirrors for any cracks or smashes.


Also inside the car, check the spare wheel and tyre for wear, as well as the tools for replacing a wheel - These need to be intact and working, incase you have a puncture.



6. Test drive the used car

It's never a good idea to buy a car without taking it for a drive first. You need to know that you can drive the car comfortably and with confidence and a drive of the car will bring any issues within the gearbox, steering and suspension to your attention.


Drive the car at low and high speeds where possible (keeping it within the speed limit and driving with due care at all times!). This allows you to get a feel for the car in all the ways you would normally drive, and also to work every gear in the gearbox to ensure there is nothing untoward there.


Be sure to turn the steering wheel to full lock in both directions while safely moving the car slowly, listening for cranks or rubbing sounds.



7. Get the engine up to temperature

Once you've taken the car on a test drive the engine temperature should be optimal (the temperature gauge on the dashboard should sit steadily around the middle of the dial). You're looking for the temperature rising and falling which is a sign of a problem with the engine thermostat) or overheating which is a sign of more significant problems with the engine's cooling system.



8. A few basic checks around the car

You'll want to be sure not to forget to check a few slightly more obvious things like are the lights and bulbs all working ok, do the wipers and washers work ok and is the heating and air con working? Easy things to check but if you forget to check you might find yourself in a spot of bother during the drive home in your new car!



9. Ask questions and negotiate

Negotiating a good price for the used carIf the seller is willing, negotiate the price in accordance with any previously unknown issues with the vehicle and remember that you are spending your money on this car so shop carefully and be sure before you commit to the purchase. Private sellers have no obligation to offer a refund or returns policy once the sale is agreed.



See Used cars for sale on icLocal

Or find used cars for sale on Selr in the UK


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