Top 10 Tuesday: The Top 10 Things to look for when buying a used car

The used car industry is a multi-billion dollar business; it is predicted that by 2026 the used car market will be around $885 Billion. Which is absolutely and completely astonishing come to think of it; that being said, with more and more people opting for used cars nowadays its a no brainer to make a Top 10 list for the things to look for when buying a used car. That will be a friendly, quick and to the point list, so rest assured that the used car you’re thinking of buying will still be here when you’ve finished reading this. Only this time around, you’ll be more knowledgeable and know what to look out for.

  1. Are you buying from a dealership or private buyer?

This is a nice and easy one to start with, as more and more of us opt for selling our dearly beloved cars. Naturally, there will be some private sellers out there; you need to ask yourself why are they selling their car privately, and if so, what could they be hiding? A simple answer would be that private sellers can usually sell their cars for a higher price than if they were to sell them to a dealership which at times would undervalue their vehicle. An issue here is when buying from a private seller, you’re exempt from certain legal rights, and it’s down to you (the potential new owner) to ask the right questions and find out as much about the car as possible. When buying from a dealership, you’re usually in safer hands; as I mentioned earlier, you have certain legal rights, and the car must also be fit for purpose. Meaning that the dealerships would’ve usually given the car a quick run down, changed certain bits, possibly such as clutches, tyres etc. Do remember that you’ll be paying a slightly higher price than the usual market value, but you will have more peace of mind when buying one from the dealership.

  1. Documents

This is probably one of the first and most important things to check for beforehand, with almost everything being found and stored online, you can easily do the same for used cars. Vehicles’ MoTs can be found online, their insurance brackets and even any outstanding finances. If you dig deep enough, you can determine if the car has been involved in any accidents or severe collisions and impacted the vehicle, such as chassis damage. When you are doing checks, ensure that service history is also available; the car you wish to buy in question, you expect it to have been appropriately maintained. Most of all, check that the VINs match, so do the number plates and the vehicle hasn’t been stolen or involved in any illegal activities. If the car you are interested in is imported, make sure that it is legally registered with the DVLA, meets UK legal requirements for the road, and is roadworthy (document wise at least).

  1. Bodywork

Most often than not, you can tell how a car has been looked after just by looking at the exterior of the vehicle; if it’s been stored in a garage or under a car cover, then the paint should look immaculate and clean. Depending on the car’s age, some dents, scratchings and swirl marks can be forgiven, but on a two-year-old vehicle, that could be a sign of negligence or poor maintenance. Have a good look around with a torch to find any mismatching colours that could suggest some parts were repainted and require further investigation. Especially and I cannot say this enough, always check under the car, look out for rust in hard to reach areas such under the wheel wells, behind covers, around the boot etc. A vehicle with rust means that backbreaking work and money will need to be thrown in to repair that. Just don’t mix up surface rust with actual rust.

  1. Exterior

The exterior is slightly different from bodywork; here, you want to check the mechanical aspects. I mean by this to ensure that the car mechanically looks roadworthy, the vehicle isn’t collapsed on one side, which could indicate broken suspension. The headlights, taillights and fog lights all look the same, appropriately balanced, and nothing seems out of the ordinary. The exhaust is fixed correctly and doesn’t dangle; all the doors work correctly, boot and bonnet function okay and hold their position. If you are looking at a car with air suspension, check the system to see if there are any leaks, you can do this by visually visiting if some parts of the vehicle are lower than others. Suppose it is, usually a leaky seal that is relatively cheap to replace and an easy job.

  1. Engine

The engine is the beating heart and soul of the machine; a damaged engine or an engine that doesn’t work correctly. Such as having leaks or even cylinder misfiring could spell trouble later on down the line and suggest that the car has had a hard life or been poorly maintained. Also, remember that petrol engines require a lot more looking after and regular maintenance than diesel vehicles. Always check the oil levels, oil colour and any oil smells coming from the car. Always check for leaks, especially around turbos; oil leaks aren’t usually a disaster. They could be a seal or gasket not working correctly, but any work on an engine will be not only messy but time-consuming. When it comes to diesel engines, ask when the diesel pump belt was changed (as some manufacturers don’t usually change this as part of their service), when the timing belt and pulleys have been changed as well as glow plugs and any other fluids and engine components, i.e. pumps. Always start the engine as well, a cold engine will tell you more things about it than a warm one, plus it gives you the chance to hear the alternator and starter motor work and hear it ticking over, so you can listen for any rustling or banging.

  1. Interior

Since you’ll be spending the majority of your time inside the car, you’d at least want it to be a genuinely lovely place to sit in, does the interior smell of wet down or dampness which could suggest water damage, pets, or the car wasn’t cleaned properly on the inside. If there’s a stale smell coming from within the cabin, then it could be a sign that either the cabin filter hasn’t been changed or the A/C gas needs to be either cleaned out (which can be done at home for a few quid), or completely new A/C gas needs to put in. Don’t be shy to ask questions, as at the end of the day you are the one who will be living with that car, so any problems will ultimately fall into your hands. Also, check the leather or cloth seats. Do they look clean, tidy and well maintained, or are they wrinkly, tired and in need of some TLC? Check the carpets as well as see if rubber mats also come with the car. Also, never neglect the boot either; check to see if nothing is broken there and that the tool kit has everything in it, including the locking wheel nut.

  1. Electrics

Since most modern cars nowadays are riddled with electrics, it’s essential to make sure that they all work well together and that there are no faults there; any faults with electrics could spell disaster and be costly to repair. Some electrics require a fuse change or a new module, while others might need new wiring; basically, it’s a lot of work. Faulty electrics can be a possible sign of water damage or poor maintenance. Take your time here, make sure every button works, heated seats, power steering, cameras etc. Light the entire car up like a Christmas tree, and make sure that all the lights function correctly, both interior and exterior lights.

  1. Wheels and Tyres

You can easily do this with your exterior checks; it nothing too daunting or complicated to check the tread depth to ensure the tyres are within legal parameters, the condition of the tyres themselves and if all the tyres match up. The rims are also just as important if they’ve got many dents and scratches on them that could create vibrations while driving and require fixing, which can cost around £80 per wheel refurbishment.

  1. Gearbox and clutch

Whether you’re buying a manual or automatic the transmission plays a vital part in propelling the car; when testing the gearbox, look and listen for smoothness of the gear change in both auto and manual. In a manual, feel the clutch and its biting point, and ask when the gearbox oil has been changed. Remember that some automatic transmissions don’t need oil changes as they are for life.

  1. Test Drive

Test driving a used car is crucial here; start the car listening to the cold engine work and keep your ears peeled for any odd noises being emitted. When driving, wait for the temperature to go up to 90 degrees, and don’t be afraid to check the brakes, steering, acceleration and handling of the car. Make sure you do all this safely as well; a test drive will paint a picture of how the vehicle behaves and whether you’re happy to be driving and living with your new potential car.

To sum it all up, used cars are a great way to get nearly new cars for a much lower price than brand new ones. In the first 18 months, cars plummet in value. Some cars drop by over £35,000 within the first 18 to 24 month period. This is also a great time to haggle money off if there are any issues or even insist that the seller fixes any problems before buying. This will make your life easier in the long run. Now you’re a lot more aware and know exactly what to look out for in your next used bargain.


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