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Buying a used car

Buying a used car

There are always dangers and pitfalls when buying used items and cars are no exception. A used car can present many problems; these can be avoided when following a simple yet essential set of checks and rules. No-one wants to end up with a Lemon on their hands!

The most important thing is to research carefully before handing over your hard earned cash. It’s also really important to know your budget and consider road tax, insurance and other potential running costs when you’re working out how much to spend.

Be ready to communicate with the seller, either by phone or email. Asking questions and making notes about the vehicle along the way to get learn as much as you can, try and make sure you have a landline of the seller and not just their mobile number. Some important questions that you should bring up are –

  • Has the car had a recent MOT?
  • How long have they owned the car?
  • Is the car taxed?
  • What kind of condition is the car in?
  • Has it been in an accident?
  • Is it in complete working order?
  • What features does the car have?
  • Why they want to sell it?

History Check

Another very important thing to do is make sure you run a history check on the car, it’s a wise investment that will reveal if the vehicle has been reported as stolen or if there’s any unpaid finance still on it as well as a list of previous owners. It will also let you know if the car has ever been scrapped or written-off and also what the full spec should be. Any alternation is mileage will show up as an immediate discrepancy and will let you know if it’s actually older than advertised. Confirming the vehicle’s identification number is very important so you can match it up with the number on the car itself. An ID number is usually found on the chassis of the car, on the floor or the driver’s seat or on the windscreen.

Meet and Greet

When arranging to meet the owner and view your potential purchase always make sure they arrange to meet at their home address, don’t try and meet at a public location or service station. Match up their home address with the address listed on the V5C document and make sure to check that their V5C hasn’t been tampered with or illegally amended. Take the original advert along with you compare what they’re saying about the vehicle and what is actually on the cards.

Check List

When inspecting the car is vital to check around properly for any damage or faults. Here are a few tips to bear in the mind to make sure you’ve got everything covered and checked thoroughly.

  • If at all possible try to avoid inspecting a car in the rain or at night time as it can make it difficult to see any scratches, rust, dents and possible defects. Try and have a quick look around the car before you knock on the door and speak to the seller in person, this will ensure you won’t be distracted by the seller.
  • To spot any problems with a bad refit or indications of a previous crash or accident have a look at the gaps between the body panels, make sure they are equal. Get down in front of each wheel and take a look along the car’s length to see if both front wheels are directly in front of the rear. If you notice any offset this can indicate that the car has a twisted chassis from a possible crash. These kinds of problems are often known as crabbing.
  • Check for signs of rust underneath the carpet inside the car, it’ll also reveal any welding marks.
    While you’re inside you should make sure the seatbelts are fully working and that the dashboard and steering wheel are both bolted on properly. Check the front seats to make sure they move around correctly and that all the internal switches are in working order.
  • Run the car from a cold start. Making sure the car starts with a cold engine will make it simply to notice any problems with ignition or any smoke that might arise during the start up of the car. Do this a couple of times just to be safe.
  • The minimum tyre tread in the UK is 1.6mm so make sure you have a look at them, make sure they’re in good condition or you’ll be stuck with a bill for a new set shortly after you go on the road with the car.
  • If there is a white gelatinous substance around the oil filler cap this could indicate that there is some kind of damage to the head gasket, this is an important thing to check as it can be a very expensive thing to put right.
  • Finally get under the bonnet and have a look around for any signs of oil leaks around the top of the engine as well as underneath. Check if the oil level is low using the dipstick, this will indicate if the owner has been looking after the car correctly.

Test Drive

Buying a used car without driving it first is a very risky gamble; you should always make the effort to take your potential ride for a test drive. Make sure you’re fully insured though; make sure you take some form of evidence along with you in case the owner asks to see your insurance details.

Before you hit the road, make sure to check the steering wheel by turning it from one lock to the other, if you hear any screeching, knocking or banging then you’re in for a problem, if not then go to test the handbrake. Pull it on gently and try to drive off very slowly, if the hand brake doesn’t pull the car back then there’s something wrong.

Try to take the car on a few different road surfaces and make use of all the gears, check that the change is smooth and slick and that the clutch pedal is biting between the top and the middle of the pedal’s movement.
Listen carefully for odd noises and creaks from the engine, try not to let the seller distract you by putting on the radio and talking a lot.


Keep in mind any faults you might have noticed from earlier on, maybe make a quick note as you inspect to avoid forgetting what you saw. Use these faults as a way to negotiate the price of the car with the seller, don’t be taken in with any stories about them, if they’re faults then they’re faults. In the end you’ll be the one fixing them at a later date. Make sure the seller is asking a realistic price; ask what they expect to get from the sale. Make a lower offer for the car and stay silent for a short while. This kind of action will then give the seller 1 of 2 options. They’re either going to accept your offer on the vehicle or make a counter offer. Shake their hand to confirm the deal if it’s what you want, or try your best to talk them down if you feel it’s still a little unfair.


Here is an important list of things you should ask to see before handing over any cash.

  • The Car’s service history
  • MOT details
  • The Logbook (V5C Document)
  • A valid tax disc, if tax is included in the sale
  • Registration number and vehicle ID number

Make sure to check that the seller is the recorded keeper in the logbook document; if they’re not then they’re not legally permitted to put that car on the market. Stamps are used by lots of dealers, this shows that the car is well maintained and it’s worth making a quick call to the garage to check that they were the ones who carried any listed work out on the vehicle.


The golden rule with any kind of payment for any item (especially cars) is always getting a receipt when payment is accepted by the seller. If its cash it’s always wise to get two copies signed, one for the seller and one for yourself.
Make sure that both your addresses and the details of the car are listed on both.

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