Buy Your Next Car with Confidence

Buying a car can be exciting, but it can also feel like there’s a lot to think about. How do you know it matches what the advert says? What paperwork do you need? Are there likely to be any problems with it? This helpful guide breaks down everything you’ll need to know when choosing a car, as well as what to check for when you see it in person. Understanding what to look at will help you shop for your next car with confidence and get a great deal.

Buying a car

Ensure that all the key details are clearly established

Whether you plan to buy from a private seller or a dealership, always make sure that you have all of the correct information before moving forward with the sale. These key details should be made available to you before you see the vehicle:

  • Registration number
  • Make and model
  • Colour
  • MOT test number
  • Tax details

You should also ask to see the V5 document and the service history of the vehicle. If any of these details aren’t clearly outlined, contact the seller and ask them directly. If they aren’t forthcoming, this could be a sign that they have something to hide which might dissuade you from buying the car.

Perform a thorough inspection of the vehicle

Even with the key details firmly established, you must see the car and inspect it for yourself before deciding to buy it. This will allow you to check that the reality matches the description you’ve been given. Find out what is normal wear and tear on a car in our handy guide.

You don’t have to be particularly knowledgeable about cars either, as there are several simple but important checks you can easily make:

  • Check the exterior bodywork for any noticeable damage: chips, dents, patches of rust, etc. (Tip: stand at headlamp level and look down the car from headlamp to tail lamp. This is the best way to see dents that may not be otherwise visible).
  • Ensure that there are no cracks or chips in any of the windows or the windscreen.
  • Inspect the tyres for rips and check their tread depth to ensure that it meets the legal minimum of 1.6 mm.
  • Ensure that all of the lights and electrics (windows, radio, air conditioning) are working correctly.
  • Check the oil level and that the oil itself is clear and golden, if it isn’t this indicates that a service may be due soon.
  • Start the engine and listen out for any unusual noises. Ensure the car doesn’t give off excessive exhaust fumes.
  • Check the VIN is the same on the car and the V5 document. The VIN is a 17-digit alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies the car. There are two on the car – usually in the engine bay and on one of the door sills or door frame. These should be untampered with, must match each other and match the V5 document.

If your inspection reveals any problems, you can use this as a bargaining tool to reduce your offer, on the reasonable basis that you’ll need to spend extra money to address the issues. Alternatively, if you think that the car is in a significantly worse state than you’re prepared to accept, you can simply choose not to buy it. Either way, it’s vital you make a thorough inspection before agreeing to the sale.

If you’re buying a car of significant value, you could even pay for an independent inspection. There are plenty available to choose from and it could be the best money you spend to ensure you buy with confidence.

Ask to take the car for a test drive

This is a perfectly reasonable request to make of either a dealership or a private seller and if the car’s owner refuses then simply walk away. A test drive gives you the chance to do two things:

Firstly, you can make some additional checks that will demonstrate if the car has any serious problems with its engine, transmission, steering or brakes. Secondly, it allows you to get a feel for the car itself and see if it suits your driving style. When performing a test drive, try to do the following:

  • Test the brakes to see if they stop the car effectively and in a straight line.
  • Check that steering is smooth, without shudders or any unusual noises.
  • Test each of the gears to ensure they transition smoothly. For an automatic car, the gear shift should be smooth, responsive and almost silent.
  • When accelerating, check in the rear-view mirror for excessive exhaust fumes.

Consider a detailed online vehicle check

Unfortunately, it’s not unknown for disreputable sellers to scam buyers into buying a car that’s stolen, salvaged from scrap or even has outstanding financing attached to it. Purchasing a car with this kind of history can cause the buyer all kinds of legal and financial difficulties that are completely avoidable.

Even if everything checks out after you have inspected the vehicle, test-driven it and fully discussed its history with the seller, consider making use of an instant car history check tool for complete peace of mind. You can also check a car’s MOT history. A car history check will instantly provide you with definitive answers to the following questions:

  • Has the car been stolen?
  • Has it been so badly damaged that the insurance company has declared it a write-off? (cat A or B cars may only be sold for salvage)
  • Does the car have any outstanding loans or financing options attached to it? While this is not a reason not to buy a car, make sure you get a settlement document to ensure that outstanding finance has been cleared.
  • How many previous registered owners does it have?
  • Has the car been marked as scrapped by the DVLA? (Such cars should not be available to buy or drive)
  • Is the logbook correctly registered to the car?
  • Is the car displaying the right mileage?

Simply enter the registration number to know with complete surety that the car you are planning to purchase is entirely above board. Armed with this knowledge, you can avoid any potential disasters and agree to buy the car, confident that nothing other than happy motoring awaits.

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