Your Ultimate Guide To Buying A Used Car

Your Ultimate Guide To Buying A Used CarBuying-a-used-car-guide-Jonathan-Fildes-Services-second-hand-cars-for-sale-5

So you’ve done your research, found just the right car. What’s next? How do you know you won’t be buying somebody else’s problem? Purchasing a second-hand car can be daunting, it’s a lot of money to hand over to be lumbered with a dodgy car with faults that were undenounced to you at the time of purchase.


I guess there are plenty of obvious tips, like don’t view a car in dusk/dark, do not accept photocopied documents, enquire if the car is being driven or has been sitting up for a while (battery will most likely need replacing if its hasn’t been driven for some time).


I would always advise bringing a car mechanic to inspect the car with you.


Below I will outline the things you should inspect, inquire about and check up on when buying a second-hand car.

Visual Inspection (Outside The Car)
  • Check for dents, scratches, and ensure door panels match up (vehicle is likely to have been crashed if doors are not flush and in line)
  • Inspect paint to see if there are any inconsistencies in the colour (vehicle may have been crashed and resprayed)
  • Look on the ground where the vehicle is parked, are there any leaks?
  • Check that all tyres are of equal quality, one brand new tyre on the front drivers’ side could mean the vehicle has been repaired after a crash, considering the other tyres are all part worn.
  • Inspect the car for rust
  • Check the spare wheel and ensure there is a full kit for changing the wheel.
Visual Inspection (Inside The Car)
  • Ask how many airbags there are and if they are in proper working order. A genuine response would be ‘I assume so, the airbags have never been used’. A shifty response would be ‘I don’t know’. A lot of this is about reading people and situations, wording your questions cleverly to catch the seller out.
  • Check the seat belts are working correctly
  • Does the vehicle have ABS? (Anti-Lock Braking System)
  • Inspect seat covers/steering wheel/gear stick for general wear and tear. You could assume if the interiors are aged and dilapidated, does the mileage match this extent of wear?
  • Check the lights, hazard warnings, heating, air conditioning, central locking, electric windows, ensuring all electrics and controls are working correctly
  • Ensure there are no warning lights on dash
  • Most cars will have two sets of keys, ensure both keys work in the ignition, as sometimes a cut key will only open the doors, and not start the engine.
Check Documents
  • A lot of people are unaware that when your vehicle goes through the NCT, the mileage is logged. It is then printed onto the pass/fail sheet and the new certificate of roadworthiness when viewing a car – always ask to see the past few years NCT certs/pass sheets. You can judge for yourself if it has been clocked, due to inconsistencies in mileage from year to year. Or in fact, if the seller cannot produce these documents.
  • Ask to see the log book and familiarise yourself with the different sections, check how many previous owners there are.
  • Check the date the logbook was issued to the seller – if there is not much time between them registering the car in their name, and selling it to you – you can assume they purchased it, noticed a problem and decided to sell it on ASAP.
  • You can also inspect the tax and insurance discs, if they have been expired a few months, you can assume the car has been sitting up for some time.
Bonnet Check
  • Firstly using the dipstick, check the oil. If there is no oil, do not buy the car under any circumstances – it will most definitely seize up.
  • Inspect the colour of the oil, for petrol engines it should be a nice gold colour, diesel engine oil will be slightly darker. A creamy/coffee colour is a serious negative – this usually indicates that water has mixed with the oil and most likely the head gasket is gone.
  • Check the coolant is at a sufficient level, this prevents the engine from overheating. If the coolant is very low, that’s another warning sign.
Starting The Car
  • Firstly, ensure you are starting the car from cold. Sometimes if a car has been running, the warning lights will go off after a while.
  • Next, turn the key to the first click – ensuring all warning lights come on and go off. If one does not light up, perhaps that bulb has been removed to disguise a problem/fault.
Test Driving The Car
  • You should always take the car for a test-drive unless you buy it at an auction which I guess is the risk you are willing to take
  • While on the test drive, keep the radio and fans off – so you can hear the engine
  • Ensure there are no rattling noises, squeaks, or rev noises
  • Ensure there is no fuel/oil smell
  • Pay attention to the gears, do they shift smoothly?
  • How does the steering wheel feel? Is it vibrating or swaying to one side? You can read more about this here (Link to tyre blog/tracking)
  • Does the car accelerate nicely, without chugging?
  • How do the brakes feel?

In conclusion, I hope this has been informative and helped you when inspecting the vehicle.

Remember, it is safest to meet the seller at their home, ensuring the address on the log book is the same. Do not feel pressurised into purchasing a car you are not 100% sure about. If you need some extra reassurance, you can use our checklist to ensure you have done a thorough inspection. Our checklist can be found here

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