What to check before you buy a car
Buying a used car can be confusing and time consuming. Research is key. Time spent now at viewing stage can save you thousands on repairs if a problem is missed.
There are many things to consider, it can be a daunting experience, especially if you are considering buying a car for the first time.
There are many things to look for when purchasing a used car. One important factor is to give the car a physical check before making your final decision.
It can be difficult to find problems. Each car model has its own character and quirks. Research and gather information about the car you would like to buy.
For your own safety, if you are viewing a car advertised by a private seller, view the car at the house of the owner and not a motorway layby. Carrying large sums of cash is risky and not recommended.
Use our check list to assess the car you would like to buy.
The outside of the car
Walk round the car and make note of the condition on the pre–sales check list. Things to look out for outside the car include:
Tyre condition and wear The tyres tread needs to be 1.6mm minimum across ¾ of the tyre for complete circumference
Condition of paint
The paint should be an even colour. Stone chips can be sorted. Check for bubbles of rust under paint. Check for visible body damage. Uneven panel gap could be a sign of a replacement part after an accident. Check that paint colour is even across panels as this is a sign of accident repair. Also, check for sun bleaching where the paint has a faded look.
The wind screen should be free from cracks and chips. Test the wipers and screen spray operation. Any imperfection becomes a possible price bargaining means.
The keys should fit all the locks. Test the locking devices. If you find any imperfections, highlight them to the seller to show that you have noticed.
Look under the bonnet
Check the general vehicle condition and look at the frame of the car. The engine bay should be straight with no signs of a collision.
Open the various fluid caps and oil level indicator.
Assess the quality of the fluids. For instance, brake fluid should be replaced every 2 years.
Check for oil splatter in the engine bay – evidence of this suggests a leak or blown seal somewhere.
Check the service records and service intervals for your vehicle. All the hose lines and seals should be secure with no signs of fluid leaks.
Ask the seller when the belts were last changed. There should be a record of this in the service documentation. Batteries should last between 3 – 5 years.
Check to see when the battery was last replaced.
The interior of the car
Go through every electrical device. They should all be working. Any broken electrics can be expensive to repair. If the car is fitted with a sun roof/convertible roof/removable roof, test operation and test seals and any signs of water leaks.
Look over the seats for any signs of wear and go through the operation of all the seat components. Seat belts should have a smooth operation with no defects to the material.
Look at and feel the condition of steering wheel, gear knob and pedals.
Before the road test
Start the car engine. See if the starter motor engages with any difficulty or delay. An engine in good condition shouldn’t produce any blue smoke form the exhaust. Check and make sure the exhaust is well secured and undamaged.
Activated warning lights on the dashboard are an MOT failure. This would be a good time to try out the air conditioning and climate control features while the engine is running. The engine may need a small time to warm up for these features to work fully.
The Road test
Brakes, steering, noises, transmission run through all the gears up and down. Worn consumables will require replacement.
Suspension drive over humps to see how the car handles over road imperfections.
check underneath for signs of rust and wear.
Check for smooth gearbox transitions and look for clutch slip.
Look over the paperwork
Make sure the car is as described in the advert.
Service History Checks including when the last service was carried out. Full service history can be an indication the car has been looked after. Don’t expect full dealer history on older cars – it’s perfectly fine to have the car serviced by an independent garage as long as stamp can be verified and receipts are present.
Vehicle Provenance Checks numbers should match on paperwork.
Mileage Validation checks : A MOT check is valid for 12months. Without a valid MOT, the car can not be driven on public roads.
If the car has defects, use these as a bargaining tool. For older cars, you can expect there to be some light damage. If you are unsure, get second opinion - it is reasonable to suggest someone to look over with you. For peace of mind you can have the car inspected by a professional mechanic.