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We have compiled some simple, practical advice to help you minimise any risks you
might experience when buying a used car.
Ask yourself the following questions
- Does the car appear genuine; what are your general impressions?
- Are the body panels consistent, is there any evidence of repaired accident
damage? If unsure, run a magnet along the body of the car.
- Does the colour and texture of the paintwork match all over?
- Check beneath the bonnet or under the boot for bad welds, untidy seams or
any other evidence of accident repairs.
- Check for rust and paint bubbles particularly on the sills, wheel arches,
seams, door bottoms and suspension mountings.
Make sure these are working
- Check headlights, dashboard warning lights and other electrical equipment.
Electric window and central locking repairs can be expensive. Remember to
check the obvious things, such as the hazard lights, windscreen wipers and
- If there is a stereo fitted make sure it is included in the sale and that
Check under the bonnet
- Look for oil leaks, defective or damaged hoses and drive belts. The
general condition of the engine can reveal the degree of care and attention
the car has received.
- Check oil and coolants for low levels or any sign of contamination.
- If the engine is reconditioned, ask for evidence; a bill or preferably a
Take a look around
- Make sure the seatbelts show no sign of damage or wear, check for loose
buckles and faulty mountings.
- Check door, window and sunroof seals for any sign of leaking. Damp patches
in the carpet could mean a rusting floor panel.
Try it out
- Always take a drive that is long enough to test the car properly. Try a
route involving a variety of road conditions: hills, stop-start urban
driving and open roads. On the drive listen out for any odd noises from the
engine and suspension.
- Make the most of the opportunity to test the priorities: steering, brakes
and clutch. At the end, let the engine idle and check under the bonnet for
oil or water leaks.
Check the wheels
- Check all tyres including the spare for tread depth and damage.
- Check for any bulges or cuts in the tyre wall which could lead to a
blow-out at speed.
Hints and tips
- Determine how much you wish to spend prior to going to buy a car - do
not exceed this amount.
- Decide which questions you will ask prior to going to buy the car - record
the answers to these questions on paper and ask the seller to sign and date
- Ask whether the vehicle has been involved in an accident or whether it is
- Check the car's odometer reading - does the condition of the car match?
Ask the buyer if the reading is correct (it is an offence to alter the
odometer reading of a vehicle). Signs that the car may have been
"clocked" (had the odometer reading altered) include misaligned
digits on the odometer, or where the reading is not consistent with entries
in the service history.
- Check engine numbers/chassis numbers match the documentation provided with
- Ask to test drive the car, but ensure that appropriate insurance is
- Once you have decided on a car, arrange to have the car inspected by an
approved vehicle inspection agency. A genuine seller won't mind.