What should I look for in a used car?

It can be daunting knowing what to look for when buying a new car. Here's how to be a confident and happy buyer.

Do your research.

A methodical approach will make you a savvy buyer. Do your research online with websites such as www.honestjohn.co.uk for reviews and information on likely problem areas with the car of your choice.

You can also use the DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency) website to find out if the car has been subject to any recalls to address problems, while a vehicle history check will tell you if the car is all above board. There are several car history check companies offering information online or by text.

Questions, questions.

Armed with your newfound knowledge, you can ask the seller the right questions. Ask to see the car’s service history and check it’s been stamped properly at the correct mileage intervals for each one. If any stamps are missing or there are gaps in the service record, ask why.

You should also request evidence of work carried out such as receipts and a parts sheet from the garage that carried out the work.

Don’t be shy about asking the seller direct questions about the car. The seller is legally obliged to be honest, so the more questions you ask the less they can hide.

Inspect the car.

When you’re happy all of the paperwork adds up, it’s time to look in detail at the car. This is usually the point at which most buyers begin to feel out of their depth, but take your time to look at the car carefully.

If it’s raining or the car is still wet from being washed, ask for it to be dried off or driven somewhere under cover. Water droplets can hide dents and dull paint. Try to avoid looking at a car to buy in the dark or poor light.

Make sure the gaps between body panels are even and consistent. Any irregular gaps suggest the car has been repaired after a collision, which should prompt you to look for any signs of a respray such as paint spray on bumpers, wheels and windows. Study the sides of the car for ripples that might further suggest crash damage repairs.

Look under the bonnet.

With all good on the outside, now’s the time to look under the bonnet. Don’t be put off by an engine bay that is a little dusty and dirty as this is normal, but keep an eye out for oil leaks on the engine and any loose wires.

While under the bonnet, make sure the bodywork panels line up squarely. Be suspicious of any car that is spotlessly clean under the bonnet as it might have been cleaned to hide a leak, plus steam cleaning can let damp into the electrics.

Take a seat.

It’s time to sit inside the car. Look for wear, particularly on the driver’s seat, the pedals, steering wheel and gear lever. A light amount of wear is normal, but anything worn through points at a high mileage car, so double check this against the advertised mileage.

Make sure every button, switch, lever, dial and control works properly. If not, ask how long it’s been broken and why it’s not been fixed. Cars with broken switches point to an owner who has not cared for it.

Extra Easy Buyers' Checklist.

Extra Easy Buyers' Checklist.

Why not download and print our Extra Easy Buyers’ Checklist (PDF, 42KB) to help you know what to look for and to get the best deal.



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Where can I buy a used car?



Taking a test drive is the most exciting part of buying a car and your chance to make sure it’s perfect for you.

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