What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

used carsThe process of buying a used car can be fraught with pitfalls.

There’s an awful lot to think about, and unless you’re a qualified mechanic, you’ll need to do your homework before you set out.

If you are in the market for a used car, then read our checklist below detailing what you need to look for when buying a used car…

What to Check When Buying a Used Car


  • Is the spare tyre present and in good condition?  You may find the spare or “jack” on the back of the car or in the boot.  Also, some cars have unique wheel bolts or adapters.  If these are missing, you won’t be able to change the tyre.
  • Check for visible signs of damage such as rust, scratches and dents.
  • Make sure the tyres are in good condition.  You need 3mm of tread on your tyres in order for them to be legal.
  • Check the mileage against the age and appearance of the car – if it doesn’t match up, the mileage may have been tampered with.
  • Check the car’s paintwork.  Do the colours of the panels match?  Is there any paint on the windows, rubber seals or handles?  Could the cars colour have been changed?  These are all signs that the car has undergone extensive repairs in the past.
  • Are the seatbelts in good working order?
  • You should also make certain to check the lights, windscreen wipers, locking and alarm systems, windows and sunroof, heating/air-con/ventilation, radio and CD player.

Test Drive

It’s vital that you take the car for a test drive.  There are a whole host of possible faults that you won’t be able to detect just by looking a car over.

  • The dashboard warning lights should flash on and then go out again when you start the car; if they don’t it could mean there’s a fault.
  • Test that the brakes are effective and that the car doesn’t pull to one side when braking.  Don’t forget the handbrake too.
  • Check the steering for vibration and watch out for the car pulling to one side again.
  • If the car has ABS, make sure the warning light goes out when you start the engine.
  • Does the engine make any strange noises when you start the car?
  • Pay attention to the exhaust smoke.  Blue or black smoke can indicate a serious problem.
  • The clutch shouldn’t make any noise when you operate the pedal.


Check the footwells, mats, dashboard, glove compartment, interior light, cup holders, upholstery, sun shades etc.  These might seem like minor details, but if they don’t work, it can end up being a huge inconvenience and expense to repair.

Avoid car hunting in the dark or the rain – you won’t be able to see the car as well.

Take a friend along.  They can provide a second opinion and it’s useful to have someone to rev the car and push the brake pedal whilst you check the brake lights and exhaust emissions from behind.

You can use this checklist as a starting point to help you find a car that meets all your needs.  With some forward planning and a methodical approach, it’s possible to find a really good used car.

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