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10 things to check when buying a car

10 checks when buying a car image

The used car market can be a brilliant way to buy a perfectly good car at a knock down price. Apart from the obvious precautions that shoppers should take, such as making sure the dealership has the necessary paperwork; is a member of the necessary organisations; or that the seller (if an individual) has all his insurance paperwork etc. There are also a number of things buyers should check on the vehicle itself before handing over the cash. Here’s our top ten:

The Leak Test

Put simply, any car that is leaking fluids should raise alarm bells. It will need repair – which in itself might not be an issue – but you should bear that in mind when negotiating on price. On a test drive, pull over with the engine running, before moving forward and stopping. Get out and see if there are any liquids that have been left behind by the vehicle.

Paint job check

It’s possibly more important when buying from an individual, but perform the check whenever the case. Examine the paintwork closely, particularly round the edges – what you’re looking for is signs the car hasn’t had a paint job, which could either be a sign of miscare from a previous driver, or worse has been in an accident.

Open the bonnet

It’s crucial that you have a look under the bonnet of a used car. You might not feel qualified, but a lot of the signs will be obvious ones – the various belts and hoses shouldn’t have cracks or show signs of wear, and the radiator hoses should be hard to touch.

Oil and water

While under the bonnet, make sure that all levels are where they should be and that the previous owner hasn’t neglected the vehicle. Check the oil and check the water – are there any signs oil has been put in the wrong place? Worse still there could be oil in the water which could mean far more serious problems.

Check out the tyres

Have a look at the tyres for wear, because new tyres will be another expensive cost if they need to be replaced. Generally, tyre depth shouldn’t go below 3mm – don’t be afraid to get your ruler out to test for yourselves. If the tyre wear is uneven, you may have found yourself someone that has driven their car too hard and may not have looked after it properly.


Perhaps the most important check – the paperwork. You need to know the complete life history of the car, otherwise you simply shouldn’t buy it. Can the owner show you the insurance documents? Details of any accidents it’s been involved in, maintenance that’s taken place? If yes, then check the documents with care. If no – steer clear.

General aesthetics

Of course not as important as the mechanics of the car, unless you’re buying the vehicle as a show piece, but when you’re having a test drive, check out the interior. Is cushion falling out of the seats? Does the glove box open and close properly? Check all buttons and switches to ensure there are no electrical issues – these can be very expensive to fix. Around the outside, check for signs of rust.

Air conditioning

If you’re buying the car purely for the air conditioning (which in the UK, is unlikely) check to make sure it’s working and doesn’t keep fluctuating. Air conditioning should be really cold, if it does not get really cold it might need re-charging.

Finally - check out the seller’s resolve

By this, we don’t mean be awkward or obnoxious, but test they know the vehicle they’re selling. Otherwise, it might not be theirs to sell. Ask questions, and lots of them – why are they selling the car? When did they buy it – have they had it from new? It’s only fair, if you’re paying a large amount for something, that you get to know the product. And a good seller will understand that.

Car Buying Tips  05/03/2014 17:00:00

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