0330 808 1500
Customer Service/Sales/Claims
03 numbers are mobile friendly and use your inclusive minutes

Checks You Should Make Before Buying A Used Car

Impounded vehicle being taken away on the back of a truck

Choosing to buy a used car instead of a new one can save you a lot of money, but there are other risks involved. This is why we have put together these tips for the checks you should be making when buying a used car.

You want to feel secure in the knowledge that the purchase you have made is not going to be one you regret in the future. Whilst we can’t foresee every possible problem, we do have some tips and advice on where to buy your used car, what to check, and how to handle negotiations of the sale itself.

Where to buy your used car from

The main thing to consider is whether you are buying from someone trustworthy. A trader or a dealer is the best place to start. You may feel like buying privately would require you to have more knowledge of cars, and what to look for. Of course, if you feel confident you can do this after reading our guide on the checks you should make, then there shouldn’t be any issues buying privately.

If you want to use a dealer, look out for a trade association sign, which could be for example the Retail Motor Industry Federation. Or look for a sign which states they follow the Motor Ombudsman’s code of practice. Also look out for a trade that has had their cars inspected by a motoring organisation or an independent engineer.

One of the differences between buying from an established firm and a private seller is the level of aftersale support you will receive from the firm would be much greater than you would get from a private seller. This would give you much more peace of mind. On the other hand, the established firm would have more overheads that they would need to deal with, meaning the price of the car would probably be more expensive than that of a private seller.

If you consider yourself a confident car buyer, then auctions could be the right place for you, as it is possible to get a bargain this way. You should just be wary of the fact that due to the pressuring nature of auctions, you often have to decide quickly whether you are going to buy the car, meaning you have little time to do any checks.

You could save money by buying from a private seller but, there is a possibility it could cost you more in the long run with the money you pay out in repairs. There is no guarantee that the car is in great condition.

Check the history of the car

You can massively reduce the chances of buying a car that has had major repairs, or even buying a car that is being sold illegally, if you just do some simple checks. This is something you should do whether you are buying from a private seller or from an established firm. Here is what you should do;

You can ask the seller for the following information;

  • Make and model of the car

  • Mileage

  • Registration number

  • MOT test number

Check the DVLA for the car’s details

You should then use the free DVLA checker online so you can match the records with the information the seller has provided to you. If some of the details don’t match, you could ask the seller about it. It could just be a simple mistake, but if it appears to be more than a mistake, and you’re suspicious, you should not buy the car.

Check the car’s MOT history

Again, there is a free service online where you can check the MOT history of the car. You should look up whether the vehicle has gone through regular MOT checks. You should question any gaps in the MOT history, as there may be a genuine reason, such as the vehicle being registered as SORN. If you do have any reason to doubt the MOT history, then do not go ahead with the deal.

Get a private history check

It can be a good idea to arrange your own private history check of the vehicle, this can also be called a data check. This can give you much needed information regarding any substantial problems the vehicle may have. The check can cost you up to £20. The check can tell you;

  • If the car has ever been involved in a serious accident

  • If the car’s mileage is correct

  • If the car has ever been written off and then repaired

  • If the seller still owes money on the car

  • If the car has ever been stolen

Inspect the car yourself

It is always best practice to check the car yourself, especially if you are buying from a private seller. Here is what you should be looking for;


Kicking the tyres alone just won’t do, although it is the go to thing to do. You should mainly be checking the tread of the tyres, which legally need to be 1.6mm minimum. A good trick to check this is to insert a 20p coin into the tread, and if the outer band of the coin is obscured by the tyre when it is inserted, then the tyre tread fits the legal criteria. Remember to check 3 different locations of the tyre.

Scratches and dents

Hopefully you will be checking the car on a clear day, as darkness and rain could mean you don’t notice some scratches or dents. You shouldn’t worry too much about any minor scuff as these can be fixed, easily and cheaply, but you can use them to negotiate the price. You should also check the gaps in between panels. If there are huge gaps it could be a sign of the car being poorly repaired after suffering damage.

Check the fluid levels

You should check all the fluid levels under the bonnet, which include, oil, brake and power steering fluid. If these levels are all low it could be a sign that the car has not been well looked after.  Also check for any leaks. Whilst you are doing this, also check under the oil cap and look for signs of any thick white substance that may look like mayonnaise. This is created by coolant mixing with oil, which could be a sign that the head gasket has failed.

Try all the electrics

Try everything. Including the windows, air conditioning and the radio. Again, same as the scratches, any electronic faults would not be expensive to repair but they are a negotiating point.


Check if there are any chips in the windscreen and windows. Also check the front and rear lights.

Accessories or spare wheel

Check if the car should have a spare wheel, and if so what condition is it in. The car may also come with a jack, or an adapter for locking wheel nuts.


Check if there is any damage or stains on the upholstery. Also check if the car smells ok, as smells can be difficult to get rid of, especially if the previous owner smoked in the car.

Test drive the car

One of the best things you can do is to test drive the car. Then you can not only see if the car is in full working order, you can also get a feel of the car and see if it is suited to you. It is vital that you make sure you are insured correctly to do this though. There are also a few things you should look out for specifically;

How does it start?

You should make sure that you are starting it up from cold. If the car was already warmed up before the test drive, there may be a reason the seller did this.

Keep an eye on the temperature gauge

If the gauge goes up to halfway fairly quickly and stays up there, then the car may need a new thermostat. Or the overheating could be a sign of a bigger issue.

Check the clutch

Is the biting point easy to find? You can try acceleration up a hill and check for slipping. Also try and set off quickly to see if the clutch judders. It is worth knowing that replacing the clutch can be expensive.

Do the gears change smoothly?

Make sure the gears are easily changed and it doesn’t make any crunching noises when they are changed. The gear stick should also automatically centre itself when you come out of gear.

If the car is an automatic just make sure that gear changes are smooth and occur during the correct times.

How does the engine sound?

Just make sure that the engine is not too noisy and that it sounds as though it is running smoothly. Make sure the radio is not on, it can be a common trick for the seller to turn on the radio to try and drown out the noise.

Check the brakes

It is important that you check the brakes work perfectly. When the road is clear behind you, you can attempt to press on the brakes slightly harder. You can check then if the car stops in a  straight line and doesn’t make any worrying noises.

Buying the car

First of all you haggle on the price if possible, as there is a good chance that the seller is willing to take less than the original asking price.

After you have agreed on the price make sure that you are given a valid MOT test document and the V5 logbook. Never buy a car without receiving the logbook.

Before you buy the car, just be sure you are completely comfortable and happy with the purchase, and make sure that you receive a receipt or valid proof of purchase.

Make sure you are insured correctly, and enjoy your new car!