What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

Used Car Salesman:
Just the phrase is enough to fill us with dread. Unfortunately for some individuals this job description has become synonymous with lying, cheating and dishonesty. Buying a used car can be fraught with stress and peril but by following a few simple rules you should be able to steer a safe course to a decent second hand motor.

Do your homework
Think about the kind of car that suits your requirements then check it out. There are plenty of web sites that feature reviews of second hand models. These will tell you of any faults you should be looking for and give you an idea as to prices. Make sure that you know the insurance group the car belongs to and get a few quotes to help you budget. Check that fuel economy and the road tax band are acceptable.

Check the Papers
You have fewer rights if you are buying from a private seller, so take care to check everything is in order. Visit the seller at his home address and make sure that it matches the address in the logbook. Look for a good service history and check service records, any bills and MOTs for recurring problems. This should also establish whether the mileage is genuine. It is recorded on all MOTs and service stamps and should rise steadily. You can also see all of the previous owners in the log book. Is this the same as the seller is claiming?

Outside the Car
You want to be sure that the car hasn’t been in an accident and is generally in good condition. Make sure the paint finish is consistent over the car and check rubber seals for overspray, it could be a sign the car has been re-sprayed, at least in part. Check also that the gaps between body panels are consistent and that doors, boot and bonnet open and close smoothly. If not, the car may have had significant body damage. Check for bubbling paint work which is a sign of rust, especially around wheel arches and anywhere water could collect. Use a tread depth gauge to ensure all tyres, including spare, are legal and look for uneven tread wear which can be a sign of suspension issues.

Inside and Under the Bonnet
You don’t have to be a mechanic to check for some basics. Look for oil and fluid leaks in the engine bay and under the car. Remove the dipstick, wipe it and replace, then check again that the oil level is OK and there is no debris in the oil. Remove the engine oil cap and check for white sludge. This could mean serious engine issues. In the cabin, check that everything works. Press every switch. Ensure that the condition of the interior matches the mileage of the car. High mileage cars often have sagging driver’s seats and shiny steering wheels, for example.

Make sure you drive the car. Does it feel right? Check it doesn’t pull to one side when braking and continues in a straight line when you take your hands off the wheel. It should also accelerate and brake smoothly. If you’re new to all this, try it out first on a friend’s car. You should also consider an HPI check service.