A Used Car Checklist To Find The Best Buy

Buying a used car can be a great way to save money, but it’s important to do your research and be thorough in your evaluation of any potential purchase. That’s where a used car checklist can be particularly beneficial as it can help you make a more informed decision and avoid buying a lemon. So, if you’re ready to start your search for a used car in the new year, keep reading our used car checklist for some valuable tips and guidance.

Where Can I Buy A Used Car In The UK?

In the UK, there are several options for where to buy a used car. This includes used car dealerships to independent garages, auctions and private sellers. Here’s a quick look at the different car seller types but as part of our used car checklist, it’s important to understand what a car trader is.

A trader is any person who trades for purposes related to their craft, profession or business – from a single individual selling vehicles on their property all the way up to franchised car dealerships. The disparity between these traders lies in the preparation quality and aftersales support they offer, as well as the cost of their premiums. While bigger businesses have more resources, they also incur higher overhead costs which will be reflected in the final price.

Important Considerations: Used Car Dealerships And Driveway Traders

Purchasing a used car from an authorised dealer or garage provides you with valuable peace of mind, as their inspection process is rigorous and they usually offer warranties of 6 to 12 months. Although this will increase the upfront cost, it’s money well spent knowing your vehicle has been thoroughly inspected and protected in case any issues should arise.

Buying used cars from a driveway trader may sound like an attractive option as it often means lower initial costs. However, this might prove to be more expensive in the long run as the vehicle may have only had superficial touch-ups with potential underlying issues. So, while these traders offer convenience and lower upfront prices, they cannot guarantee the quality of service or product.

Recommended: How To Save Time On Money On Car Maintenance Costs

What Is The Consumer Rights Act For Buying Used Cars?

All traders must legally comply with the Consumer Rights Act which entitles you to a repair, replacement or refund if the vehicle is deemed not ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘of satisfactory quality’. However, if they are unscrupulous, getting this done right could be rather challenging.

You will need to Act quickly to reclaim your full refund due to a vehicle defect as you only have 30 days from the date of purchase. Afterwards, different compensation amounts may apply depending on what restrictions are enforced past that date.

Furthermore, the Road Traffic Act 1988 strictly forbids any person from selling a motor vehicle or trailer in an unroadworthy condition. For more information on this, visit the government website.

Used Car Checklist: Buying A Vehicle Privately

It is also possible to buy a used car privately, which means purchasing a car directly from the owner without the involvement of a dealership or other intermediary. This can be done through classified ads or by contacting the owner directly. Additionally, it is possible to buy a used car at auction, either in person or online, and there are also websites and online marketplaces that specialise in the sale of used cars.

When buying a used car privately, it’s important to do your research and exercise caution. Here are some things to consider when purchasing a car from a private owner:

Research the car history

Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the car you’re interested in and have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle and access its history report. This can provide valuable information about any past accidents or repairs, as well as ownership details.

Check the condition of the car

Have a qualified technician do a thorough inspection of the vehicle to make sure it is in good working order and doesn’t have any major issues that could affect its performance or reliability, including the suspension, brakes and ignition.

Test drive the car

Take the car for a test drive to get a better idea of how it drives and how it feels on the road. Make sure to check all features, including lights, brakes, and other controls.

Consider asking for proof of ownership and expenses

Ask to see documents that prove the seller owns the car and is legally allowed to sell it. Also ask for any paperwork that shows expenses related to maintenance, repairs, or car insurance.

Negotiate a reasonable price and consider an extended warranty

Make sure to do your research so you know what a good price for the vehicle is — you don’t want to pay too much or be taken advantage of. Ask the seller if they offer any kind of warranty on the car, or look into purchasing an extended vehicle service contract from an independent provider to help protect yourself against unexpected repairs.

Get a contract and arrange your own finance

Draft up a bill of sale with the seller that outlines all details of the purchase, including make, model, year, and VIN number, as well as any other important information related to the transaction. A handy tip in any use car checklist is to get pre-approved financing from a bank or other institution before you go to the seller. This way you don’t get pressured into paying more than you can afford.

Be prepared for potential risks

Buying a used car privately can be riskier than buying from a dealership, so make sure to take all necessary precautions and understand the potential risks involved.

By following these steps, you can make sure that you’re getting a good deal when buying a used car privately. With the right research and due diligence, you can find a reliable vehicle that fits your needs and budget. If you require an HPI check, simply visit this website and enter the vehicle’s registration number.

Used Car Checklist For Vehicle Auctions

Although buyers may be wary of buying a car at an auction, careful consideration provides the potential to get a great deal. The majority of vehicles being sold at auction are usually up for quick sale without warranty protection but with proper research, you can nab some serious savings.

As good as car auctions are, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a bargain since many dealers are selling part-exchanges through eBay auctions which have resulted in more wannabe traders who are not reliable. Other potential downfalls we’d like to highlight in our used car checklist include the following:

  • the limited time to make your decision could lead to poor decision making
  • avoiding vehicles that might be unpopular with dealers such as secondhand cars with unusual colours or those heavy on fuel as these will be hard to resell
  • you can’t inspect the car properly or take it for a test drive

used car checklist for auctions
Used Car Checklist: Buying a Secondhand Car Online

The online shopping trend is showing no signs of slowing down – even for large items such as cars. Vehicle manufacturers are only now starting to recognise the potential of selling a new car through digital means, although purchasing used cars has been a reality on the internet for some time with most transactions taking place on eBay.

If you’re searching for a great deal on a secondhand car, the internet could be the answer. You can purchase cars by bidding on an auction or simply hitting “buy it now.” However, we do urge caution when buying something unseen so to avoid any nasty surprises, inspect the car before committing to buy and meet with the seller face-to-face. Despite taking some risks in order to safely bag yourself a bargain – online purchases can be rewarding if done correctly!

Car Checks When Buying A Car Online

If you opt to purchase a car online, many buyers will expect an initial deposit via PayPal or something similar before they pick it up. Although the seller may be frustrated if someone wastes their time, you’ll still have some protection.

For example, when you arrive and find that the car is not as described in its listing, then legally speaking you are free to walk away from the sale. However, once your deposit has been paid – even though it might not match your expectations or preferences – contractually, you must follow through with the purchase.

When buying a car online that’s too far away to pick up yourself, several transport companies can assist in delivery at an affordable rate. One example is Shiply which provides you with quotes from multiple companies so you can get a detailed comparison.

Used Car Checklist: What Are The Most Important Checks?

When buying a used car, it’s important to thoroughly inspect the vehicle to ensure you are getting a good deal and a car that is in good condition, regardless of the mileage. Here are some vital parts or components any used car checklist should include:


Check the tread depth of the tyres to make sure they have enough grip and are safe to drive on. Also check for any visible damage, such as cuts or bulges, especially on the sidewall.

20p coin test for checking tyres as part of used car checklist
Dents, scratches and panel gaps

Look for any dents or scratches on the body of the car. These can indicate previous accidents or neglect, which could affect the car’s performance and value. Check the gaps between the panels of the car, i.e. between the bonnet and fenders or the door and the body. Uneven gaps can indicate that the car has been in an accident or poorly repaired.

Fluid levels

Check the levels of all the fluids, such as oil, coolant, and brake fluid. Low levels can indicate leaks or other issues with the car. This can also help indicate whether you need an air con regas or more extensive repairs.

Under the oil cap

Check the condition of the oil by removing the oil cap. If the oil looks dirty or has debris floating in it, this can indicate poor maintenance or more sinister issues with the engine.

Electrical system

Test all the electrical components, such as the headlights, taillights, and indicators to make sure they are functioning correctly.

Windscreen and lights

Check the condition of the windscreen and make sure there are no chips or cracks as these could result in an MOT failure. Make sure that the lights are not damaged and look for any signs of fogging or internal moisture.


While upholstery isn’t usually a major buying factor, it does make it onto our used car checklist especially if it’s badly damaged with stains and bad smells, like cigarette smoke which can be very off-putting.

Spare wheel and accessories

Check the condition of the spare wheel and any accessories, such as floor mats or a spare key. Make sure there is a jack for lifting the car if you get a puncture and an adapter for locking wheel nuts.

See how the car starts

Ask the seller to start the car and listen for any strange noises or vibrations. Feel how the clutch engages, check that all gears are working and make sure that the steering is responsive.

Top Used Car Checklist Tip: Service history and MOT history

The last item on our used car checklist is looking at the vehicle’s service history to see how well the previous owner maintained the car and any problems that have been identified in the past. It’s also important to check if the vehicle’s MOT certificate is valid. If not, you need to take into account the potential cost of getting it sorted.

It’s worth noting that the MOT is only a visual inspection and it may not spot any underlying problems with the vehicle. So, it pays then to get an independent inspection done as well. The advice in this used car checklist can help ensure you get a safe and reliable secondhand vehicle. If in doubt, ask an experienced mechanic for advice before finalising your purchase.

Also read: How To Choose A Good Auto Repair Centre

Used Car Checklist For The Test Drive

Once you have done the exterior and interior inspections, it’s time to take a test drive and here are some of the most important things to check:

  • Make sure everything is functioning properly, including the brakes, accelerator, transmission, steering, and other controls. Pay attention to any strange noises or vibrations that may indicate a problem with the vehicle.
  • Listen for any unusual engine sounds when you start it up or accelerate. If you hear something odd or out of place, have it checked out before making a purchase.
  • Test the car’s acceleration and handling in various conditions, including on motorways, city streets, up hills, and in bends.
  • Make sure all of the electronics work properly, such as the heater/air conditioner, sound system, and other controls.

How Do I Notify The DVLA That I Am A New Keeper?

Once you have made your purchase, it’s important to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you are now the vehicle’s keeper. This can be done either online or by post using forms V5C/2 (for a new car) or V62 (for used cars).

Then all you need to do is wait for the new V5C document in the post, which should arrive within four weeks of notification. This certifies that you are now legally responsible for the vehicle and registered as its keeper with the DVLA.

The Importance Of Following A Used Car Checklist

It is important to follow a used car checklist when purchasing a secondhand vehicle at auction, through a private seller or a secondhand car dealership as it can help identify potential issues and ensure the car is in good working order.

A thorough inspection can give you peace of mind and ensure you make an informed decision about the particular car. Elite Garages can help by offering a free vehicle safety check where our technicians will inspect the vehicle and provide a detailed report and a no-obligation quote if any repairs are needed.

Remember, all of our branches provide MOTs (except Strood), tyres, batteries and car servicing whether it’s for electric vehicles, hybrids or petrol and diesel models. And, by following our used car checklist, you will be better prepared to buy a used car as you now know what to look out for.

From everyone at Elite Garages, we wish you a wonderful New Year’s celebration and a special thank you to our loyal customers for your continued support. May 2023 bring you all the joy, prosperity and success you deserve.

Happy New Year from Elite Garages