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The Complete Checklist For Buying A Used Car

07 February 2020


The Complete Checklist For Buying A Used Car

As we settle into the New Year, many of us are looking at what is parked in our driveways, thinking it’s probably time for some new wheels. Whether your beloved car has finally reached its final destination or you’re simply looking to treat yourself to a new upgrade – as we approach the Spring months, it’s the perfect time to start browsing what's on the market.

But before you fall in love with your new, techy upgrade, ensure you know what you’re looking for before you part with your hard-earned money – you don’t want your new wheels burning a gigantic hole in your pocket.

To help you make an informed decision on your next purchase, we have put together a checklist of all the things you should look out for when you go to purchase a used car.

Buying a Used Car Privately

There are a lot of benefits to buying a car privately, but unfortunately, you don’t have the same legal protection as you do when you buy from a dealership. 

Therefore, it’s down to you, purchasing the new vehicle to make all the necessary checks and ask all the right questions.  

Cosmetics & Mileage

Before you switch the car on and take your prospective new wheels for a spin, there are a few things to check first:

  • Thoroughly look over the car for any signs of accidental damage – inconsistent gaps between panels, dents, scratches or even a mismatch of colours on the panels could indicate that this vehicle has been in a potentially serious collision previously

  • Check that the vehicles mileage, age and general appearance are consistent – digital odometers can be tampered with electronically.

  • Double-check the milage in the service book and MOT certificates to ensure they all match.

  • Check to make sure all locks, including central locking and remote control, are working as they should.

  • Do all the windows, including any sunroof or convertible roof work properly?

  • Test all minor electrics within the car such as the radio, heating, airconditioning and navigation is working properly.

Initial Engine Checks

Once you are happy with how things look from the outside, it’s time to inspect the vehicles overall health:

  • Can you hear any abnormal noises when the engine is started from cold?

  • Check under the oil filter cap for any sludge – this could represent poor servicing or excessive short journey use.

  • Does the engine warning light go out after the engine starts?

  • Ensure the oil level is correct – Low oil level represents maintenance neglect, whereas a high oil level could represent high oil consumption or filling error.

  • Ask whether the cambelt/timing belt has been replaced according to the manufacturer's service schedule – evidence of this should be within the service book with a visible receipt.

  • How does the clutch feel? – If you hear a noise when pushing the clutch down or the pedal has a high biting point, this could represent repairs will be needed soon.

The Test Drive

You have covered the initial checks, now you need to take your car for a test drive to see how it feels on the road:

  • Are all the warning lights on the dash operating normally? – Typically lights will all go out once the engine is started unless there is a fault.

  • Test your brakes – Do they feel spongey or make a noise when you brake? 

  • Is the car pulling to one side when driving or when you brake? – This could indicate an issue with a tyre.

  • Check that all your indicators and lights are operating as they should.

  • Test out the handbrake while on an incline to see how effective it is.


If you are content with how the car drives and sounds now it’s time to take a look through all the documentation and ensure it’s all present:

  • Ensure the seller can provide you with a full (preferable) or part service history, up to date MOT Certificates and any historic Certificates, V5C Registration Document and any relevant receipts to any work that has been carried out.

  • Remember that the more documentation you have available is both beneficial for your peace of mind and whether you choose to sell the vehicle in the future.

  • Ensure that you review each receipt carefully as it may indicate a series of mechanical issues. 

Buyers Beware

As we mentioned earlier, buying a second-hand vehicle privately can offer you with many benefits, but it’s imperative to ask all the correct questions and make all the necessary checks to ensure you make a good purchase.