Buying a car

Checking a used car

Buying a car is always an exciting investment and it goes without saying that a test and inspection before purchase is needed.

And this is even more important for a used car, particularly if you are buying private. That’s why we teamed up with students at Central Bedfordshire College to create a car checking video. The video goes through some really simple checks which anyone can do when buying a car.

Exterior and interior checks

  • look for rust and any chips, scratched and dents to the bodywork
  • check that all the panels fit perfectly. If they don’t the car may have been in an accident
  • check the tyres and the spare wheel. The minimum legal tread depth should be 1.6mm across the width of the tyre
  • if the tyres are worn more on one side than the other, the wheel alignment may need adjusting
  • check the seats and trim for signs of damage
  • excess wear on pedal rubbers, carpet and seats could be an indicator of a car that is older than it seems
  • check that all electrics (lights, windows, radio,) are working and try the heating and air con if fitted
  • watch for excessive exhaust smoke and unusual noises. Check the car's Vehicle Identification Number. Make sure that it hasn’t been tampered with and that it matched the number on the V5C registration certificate

Engine checks

  • before starting the car, check underneath the engine oil cap for thick white substance which could indicate a problem with the head gasket or engine damage
  • pull out the engine oil dipstick, wipe it clean with a cloth, the re-insert it. Now pull it out again, check the oil level and then check that the oil itself is golden and clear
  • insist on starting the car from cold. If the bonnet is warm it means it’s already been started. Could the seller be hiding something?
  • check for signs of excessive smoke when you start the car and when you’re driving. The engine should be quiet and pull smoothly
  • check the engine coolant and brake fluid levels, plus the batters
  • after the test drive check for leaks in the engine bay and underneath the car

Brakes, gears and suspension checks

  • check that the brakes stop the car in a straight line
  • try using the handbrake on a hill start – there should be no slippage
  • make sure you try all the gears, including revers, and there is no crunching
  • check the clutch biting point – if it is near the top then it may indicate an issue with the clutch
  • make sure the ride is smooth and the car soaks up bumps in the road – it shouldn’t judder or feel bouncy

Paper checks

As well as checking the vehicle it is also important to check the essential paper work. According to vehicle checkers HPI, one in three cars has hidden history.

You can get vehicle information from the DVLA for free (link opens in new window). You can find out various things about the vehicle, including:

  • when its MOT expires
  • the date it was first registered
  • SORN status
  • colour
  • engine size
  • year of manufacture
  • CO2 emissions
  • current vehicle tax rate