Top 16 things to check when buying a used car

Being a car enthusiast I often get asked for car related advise by friends/family. Prior to going to look at a privately advertised used car for a relative I developed this check list. Hopefully it will come in as a useful guide for others:

  1. VIN-  Confirm VIN number on vehicle (usually located next to front wipers) matches V5 document
  2. Tyres- Check tyre tread depths/ for even wear; extra wear on both outer edges/ centre suggests under/over inflation, extra wear on just inner/outer may indicate an alignment issue
  3. Bodywork condition– as well as detracting from a car’s appeal differing paint condition and panel gaps side to side are telltale signs that the car may have been involved in an accident
  4. Air conditioning– check air conditioning blows cold and all fan speeds are working
  5. Brake pads– check brake pad depths (should be a minimum of 3mm) you can often see the outer pad material depths by looking through each wheelThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Pad_wear.jpg
  6. Service history– check whether vehicle has been serviced as per manufacturers recommendations, if the vehicle has a cam belt confirm this was changed at the correct mileage/vehicle age
  7. Advisories– check latest MOT/Service paperwork for advisories
  8. Fuel economy- if the vehicle has a trip computer check average mpg recorded is in line with your expectations, if not enquire about what journeys the car typically does, short journeys generally mean worse fuel economy
  9. Clutch– check “bite point”; car should start moving when clutch is part way through being released, movement only in the final part of release indicates cluth is badly worn and replacement is often expensive
  10. Test drive- go for a 20min test drive checking for: smooth acceleration, any strange noises/vibrations, even braking in straight line
  11. Engine temperature– make sure engine gets up to correct operating temperature and stays there, if it doesn’t this may be a sign of engine cooling issues
  12. Oil filler– check for a mayonnaise like build up under the oil filler cap, this is a sign that water has got into the engine oil through worn parts
  13. Blue smoke– check for continual blue smoke out of the exhaust, this is sign the engine is worn and is burning oil
  14. Gismos– if the car has lots of gismos (parking sensors/ heated seats/ sat nav etc) check these are working
  15. Keys– check there are 2 keys and these both work
  16. Dash warning lights– check for any dash warning lights being illuminated

If you are happy after checking the above list its worth getting a history check completed,  there are various partial checks available online but a full check through HPI is £19.99 which in my experience is good value for the work completed and thoroughness of the report received. The check includes checks for outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies and if the car is recorded as stolen/written off amongst other things. See the HPI website for full details:

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