Buying a used car is a minefield at the best of times. Now that the car showrooms are reopening after the coronavirus lockdown, here are some of my top tips on what to look for when buying a used car.


Check the tyres

Is the treadwear even? If not, the tracking may be out and there could be underlying problems.

Is there enough legal tread on the tyres? 1.6mm is the minimum – look for the wear bar that indicates the legal minimum.

Does the car start ok?

Is it sluggish when starting it up? If so, there may be problems with the alternator or the battery.

Listen to the engine

Does it sound ok? Any tapping noises? Any rattling? Is it responsive when you press the accelerator?

Check the gearbox

Is it tight when you move it through the gears? Is it notchy? It needs to be smooth when you are driving without any glitches.

Check the steering

Is it pulling to the left / right when you are driving it? If so, the tracking is out and it may have been ‘kerbed’ or hit a bad pothole.

A number of factors can affect the steering. Look for tyre issues including bulging tyres, poor suspension condition and worn bushes.

Does it feel right? It should be tight and responsive without any significant play or slackness.

Check the brakes

Are the brakes responsive? Any noises? Metal on metal means that the pads are dangerously worn and the car is in a dangerous condition.

Does the car stop in a straight line without any issues?

Also check the handbrake is working properly.

Check the clutch

Is it biting at the right point? If it’s biting too high, the clutch is worn and may need replacing. Look for any judders. Clutches are not cheap to replace.

Check the temperature

Has the car been warmed up before your visit? If so, why? Does the temperature gauge sit at the right point? Is it overheating?

Check the exhaust

Any smoking? If so, there may be some underlying problems with the engine pointing to the car not being regularly serviced or maintained to the manufacturer’s schedule.

Check the MOT history

MOT is not proof of roadworthiness.

Check the MOT history online via https://car-check.co.uk to see what issues the car has had over the years and look for any red flags.

Clocked cars and fraudulent MOTs remains a common problem.

V5C document is not proof of ownership

It only indicates the registered keeper. Ask to see an invoice / receipt.

Is the person you are dealing with the same as the registered keeper?

Is the seller at the same address on the V5C?

Has it been in an accident?

Ask the question. Check the panels are all aligned. Check for resprays on all of the panels? Any bubbling around the wheel arches?

If a car has been in a bad car accident, they are never the same again after they have been repaired. Don’t even go there – find a car that hasn’t been accident damaged.

How many owners?

Has it had many owners over a short period of time? If so, why? It should set alarm bells off if there isn’t a genuine reason for it. The less owners a car has had, the better it is as a used car purchase.

Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)

Does the VIN on the vehicle match the V5C document?

Look under the bonnet

Is the engine clean? Any oil leaks? Look under the oil cap – coolant mixing with oil creates a white milky substance, which indicates there may be a head gasket failure.

Check the upholstery

Is it clean? Any rips, stains or tears? Check the interior roof lining. Any smells? Tobacco smoke is difficult to get rid of.

Check the electrics

Does everything work ok? Radio, windows, air conditioning – test everything.

Check the windscreen

Any chips? Chips on the windscreen can spread in to cracks. If they are in the driver’s eyeline, it’s a MOT failure as well.

Check the headlights

Any interior misting, fogging or moisture? Any cracks?

Check the pedals

Is the wear consistent with the mileage?


Has there been any recalls on this particular make and model of car? If so, have all issues been identified and remedied?

Check the bodywork

Any dents or scratches? What’s the overall condition like? Check it over thoroughly in daylight on a clear day so you can look for any panel misalignments, damaged wheels and bodywork.

Are you happy with it?

This is the final question you need to ask yourself. Does it match your needs? Can you drive it comfortably? Is the seating position right for you? Only you know that.

Take your time to consider everything. A car purchase is a costly outlay and the second biggest purchase after a house, so it has to be right for you.

Car dealerships and poor customer service is something that often goes hand in hand, so make sure that you have faith and trust in the dealership.

You don’t need to buy a warranty as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you 6 years free cover in England and Wales and 5 years in Scotland.

Buying a car also brings insurance risks that many people are not aware of.

These are my thoughts on what to look for when buying a used car. Can you add anything to this?


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