Buying a car should be an exciting time. It is a big purchase and something which can really aid your everyday life. Choosing to buy a used car can often be down to cost but it’s important to be aware that more risks can be involved. Take a look at our guide to buying a used car whether you’re buying from a local independent garage, a large dealer or a private seller.
Conduct a vehicle inspection
If you think you might have found the one, it is always advisable to see it in person before making a final decision. This way you can inspect the car yourself for any issues. As a minimum it is a good idea to check the following:
- Look at the tyres (including a spare if this is included) for signs of wear and tear. Remember that the minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm. If any of the tyres look under 3mm you will need to replace these soon which is an extra expense.
- Chips very easily turn into cracks with windows and windscreens being costly to fix or replace. It’s also worth remembering that a chip or crack in the driver’s eye line can be cause for failing an MOT.
- Look at the overall bodywork. Are there any major dents or scratches in the paintwork which could be expensive to fix? Look at the panels of the vehicle too. Slight colour differences or larger than normal gaps between panels could be a sign that a panel is not original and a sign of previous damage.
- If possible, look at the ground where the car has been parked for signs of a leak. Look under the bonnet to check the fluid levels too. While it doesn’t take much effort on your part to top these up, low levels on inspection could indicate that the car has not been well maintained by the current owner.
- Next check the electrics. Does everything work as it should? Bear in mind any issues could result in extra expense.
- While an interior valet is not too expensive, tough stains or tears in seats could be more expensive to fix and unwanted smells can be hard to eliminate.
Verify the mileage
Take a look at the car as a whole. If the mileage seems too good to be true, it probably is. If the interior seems worn compared to how few miles the car has done this could be a sign that the mileage has been clocked.
Clocking is when the mileage is altered. This could be for various reasons, but it is typically done to make the vehicle look more appealing to buyers. There is a legal loophole which means the mileage of a car can be legally changed, however, the sale of a clocked car is not legal.
A clocked car could cause you problems further down the line, so it is important to be sure the mileage is correct when buying.
You can do this by checking its service history. A car is usually serviced every 12 months or every 12,000 miles. During the service, the mileage is recorded so compare this to the figure in the car itself. Or for peace of mind, you can pay a small fee for an online vehicle check.
View the documents carefully
When buying a car, you should be given the VC5 or logbook document associated with that vehicle. Use this document to check that details such as the make, model, registration number and VIN number are correct. The logbook will also tell you how many owners the car has had, as well as how long the current owner has been in possession of it. If they have not owned the car for very long, or if it is young but has had a lot of previous owners, you are within your right to ask questions so that you have enough information to make an informed decision about the purchase.
You can check online to see if the car has a current valid MOT and the expiry date on the certificate. Depending on the car you should also have access to a fully stamped service book which will show that the car has been properly looked after.
Conduct a test drive
Does the car start ok when it’s cold? Do the brakes work accurately? Does the steering pull to one side? Does the engine sound like it is running smoothly? Is the clutch working ok? When the car has been running for a while and is warm, does it turn off and restart ok? Do the windows and doors close and lock properly? Is it comfortable and do you enjoy driving it? These are just many of the questions you should be able to answer from a short test drive to help you decide.