How to inspect a used car - the ultimate checklist
Do you want to know how to inspect a used car? Then our ultimate checklist is what you need.
Here, we will steer you through the minefield of determining whether the car you want to buy has been stolen and what you need to check before driving off with it.
Who to buy from?
The first tip when buying a used car is knowing who you are buying from.
If you are buying a used car privately, then it really is a case of buyer beware.
That's because you may be hoodwinked into buying a car that has lots of problems or may even have been written off by an insurance firm.
Buying from a dealer means there is some legal protection and most of them will offer a limited warranty for three or six months.
Checklist for the car's documents
Here is a quick checklist for the car's documents:
- The car should have the V5C registration document - without it you will not be able to tax the car
- If the seller has not got this, then alarm bells should be ringing. Don't believe a story about the logbook being sent away to DVLA
- Check for spelling mistakes on the V5C and that the seller's address is on it
- It's also important to check the vehicle identification number, usually referred to as the VIN
- Along with the VIN, there will be details about the car's colour and the engine number
- Check the VIN with the number displayed at the bottom of the windscreen.
There's also another important check to see whether the car has been written off or stolen by carrying out a vehicle reg check from an online service such as Instantregcheck.co.uk.
These are very cheap to do and could save you a fortune should the car have any issues.
The car's actual mileage will be revealed and whether there's any outstanding finance on the car – if so, the seller or dealer cannot sell the car to you.
There are some great used car bargains to be had, but by taking care and paying attention to the car's state and its history will prove invaluable.
Your car's mileage
Does the car's condition match its mileage?
A high mileage car will have various issues with wear and tear, while a low mileage car will not.
It's also worth checking the MoT certificate and service records for the recorded mileage.
Is there any accident damage?
Check the bodywork closely for mismatched colours or whether there are gaps between any panels.
It's also worth checking under the carpets and other areas if you suspect the car's colour may have been changed. Also, look for welding in the boot or body.
Your used car's safety
Check the tyres are in good condition and they should have a minimum tread of 1.6mm.
There's a block in one of the treads to easily check this depth and beware that anything close to this means you will be buying new tyres soon.
Check that the wheel jack and any other tools are in the car, and make sure if there isn't a spare wheel, that there is a sealant kit and/or a tyre inflator available.
Check the seat belts work for cuts or damage.
Turn on the car and check for warning lights, particularly for airbags.
Go on a test drive
Take the car for a spin but make sure you start the car, especially if the car is already warm. That's because the car may struggle to start when cold.
Check that the warning lights illuminate normally when you start the engine.
Quick engine checks
If you start the engine from cold, is there an unusual noise from the engine?
The oil warning light will need to be extinguished when the engine starts, and you need to check for smoke from the exhaust.
You should be able to change gear smoothly, without any noise - and be aware that a high biting point for the gear change could mean you buying a new clutch soon.
It's also worth taking off the oil cap and checking for sludge - this means water is mixing with the oil and you may need a new cylinder head.
Also check when the timing belt or chain needs to be replaced, or when the service schedule dictates, or you could be looking at a big bill.
General controls and windows
As always, it is worth checking the central locking and the remote control work properly.
Check for any forced entry or damage locks – if the locks are different then it has been replaced for a reason.
Remember too that car remote keys are quite pricey to replace so check you have all the keys.
Use all of the minor controls correctly such as the air-conditioning, ventilation, the heating as well as the satnav and radio.