Tips For Buying A Used Car

Buying a used car can be a case of finding a bargain or a ‘bad buy’. Regardless of how or where you buy a used car, there are several precautions you should take. In this guide, you will find top tips on what to look out for and the price you should pay.

While many people enter into private sales, you don’t have the same legal protection as you do from an authorised dealership. It’s up to do your homework, ask all the right questions and check the car properly. If you are not comfortable doing the checks yourself and want an expert second opinion, bring the car to Elite Garages for a FREE safety check.

Be Prepared When Buying A Used Car 

Without taking the necessary precautions and checking the car thoroughly, you could end up paying a lot for repairs. According to a study from the Office of Fair Trading, people buying used cars lose an average of £425 each. That means a total of £85 million per year is wasted on having to fix faults that were the dealers’ responsibility.

The key to finding a good secondhand car is through research and following the steps in this guide. That includes knowing which questions to ask, doing a full vehicle history check and the all-important test drive. The Automobile Association (AA) warns people to be vigilant when buying used cars and for good reason. Not doing your homework on the car, the dealer and performing necessary checks, you leave yourself exposed to possible disappointment.


Check The Vehicle’s History

Doing a full car history check can help identify various issues. This includes outstanding car finance, whether the car is stolen or was previously written-off. While there are several companies offering history checks, the fees vary and not everyone provides the required information.

Most of the cheaper car checks will fail to show whether the car is ‘subject to a logbook loan agreement’. If the car you bought is under a logbook loan agreement, you don’t actually own the car and could become liable for the previous owner’s debt.

A used car check is undoubtedly worth the small fee as the alternative is facing issues you are unprepared for. One of the most comprehensive checks is through a company called, HPI Check and costs around £20. You can find more information about them on the HPI Check website.

Find The Book Value Before Buying A Used Car

It may seem obvious but many people forget this important step. Don’t take anyone’s word at face value and find the market value for the car first. You can do this by checking price guides and comparing similar secondhand cars for sale online or in car magazines. Also, beware of the seller playing down any blemishes or issues that may suggest something is wrong with the car. Do your research, inspect the car properly, check the car’s history and request a test drive.

Tips When Viewing The Car

You should always try to check the car during the day and preferably when it’s dry. Viewing a car at night or when it’s raining can hide dents, scratches and other defects. Below is a brief list of things you should keep in mind when viewing the car:

  • Check that the mileage, age and appearance of the car are consistent
  • Look for worn screws which could indicate that the instruments may have been tampered with
  • Make sure the mileage matches on service records, MOT certificates and other documents
  • Look for any signs of inconsistent gaps between panels or mismatched colours
  • Look under the bonnet (and carpets) for rust or signs that the car has been resprayed
  • See if there are any unusual welding work under the bonnet or in the boot

Perform Thorough Engine Checks

While replacing a tyre, wipers or new coat of paint aren’t cheap, it certainly beats repairing a faulty engine. Of all the checks you do, few are as important as making sure the engine and other vital components work.

  • Check for abnormal noises when cold-starting the engine
  • Make sure that the oil warning light goes out as soon as the engine starts
  • Test the clutch to see if it operates normally and take note of any noise when pressing the pedal
  • Sludge under the oil filler cap could indicate a poor service history or short journey use
  • Check that the cambelt has been replaced according to the service schedule
  • Look for signs of excessive, visible exhaust emissions. Recent standalone emissions test or as part of an MOT will confirm that emissions are within the legal limits

Related article: ‘6 Signs Of Exhaust Problems You Shouldn’t Ignore

Does The Seller Actually Know The Vehicle?

You should test the seller by asking about the vehicle and its features. If you request the service history and the previous MOT certificates and they don’t seem to know much, it could be a sign that the car is stolen. Do a vehicle history check if you have doubts as it will help avoid going through the costly process later on. The AA has compiled a comprehensive inspection checklist which you should keep handy when buying a secondhand car.

Registration Documents, VIN and MOTs

The first thing you should do is ask the seller for the V5C registration document. This provides information on the registered owner and all previous owners. Considering that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) started issuing the new red V5Cs late 2010, the blue V5C documents should no longer be in circulation.

Look for the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the secondhand car. You can usually find it at the bottom of the windscreen, under the bonnet and stamped into the framework under the driver’s seat carpet. Check that this number matches the VIN on the V5C registration document.

Annual MOTs are compulsory on most cars older than three years so remember to check the MOT status. If it doesn’t have one or it’s expired, the car could have some serious underlying issues. For your convenience, you can check the MOT status online.

Check The Tyres

Tyres are vital components of any vehicle and should always be in good condition. Look for any signs of visible damage or punctures, especially to the sidewall. The tyre tread should be no less than 3mm otherwise you will have to replace it soon after purchasing the car. Unevenly worn tread could be a sign that the wheels aren’t aligned correctly and need attention.

Lastly, check that the car has a jack and spare wheel in good condition. If the car doesn’t come with a spare wheel, make sure there tyre inflator/sealant kit. For more advice on tyre tread, pressure and labelling, visit our website or contact any of our branches. You can also book a FREE tyre safety check for added peace of mind.

Free Vehicle Safety Check At Elite Garages

Never compromise on safety to save a few quid so make sure the car is in good working condition. If you have doubts about anything on the secondhand car you want to buy, bring it to Elite Garages for a FREE safety check. It can identify issues before they become dangerous and expensive to repair. Early detection could avoid potentially fatal problems on the road, keeping you and your family safe.

Trust Elite Garages to provide the quality services you’d expect from a family-owned and managed company. We offer greater value with no hidden costs or small print so make the call today if you need expert advice. Our professional, experienced and friendly team is here to help you with all your vehicle needs.