A Guide to What to Check When You are Buying Your Next Used Car

Buying a used car can be a tricky business. Buying used is often the best way to grab yourself a bargain, and especially with cars can make a lot more sense than buying new. A new car will lose value every year you own it, and most of this is in the first year you have it. This means that buying a car that is just a couple of years old can be had for a fraction of the price of a brand-new model. Buying used comes with its own costs and pitfalls though. If you don’t know what to check you may find that after only a month or two you are racking up a bill in repairs that could have gone towards a new model in the first place. Most people do not know what they are looking for when they are looking for a used car, so instead of going without a clue try to follow this guide so that you can increase your chances of getting a bargain and not a bill. Cash in on your clunker before you move on to the next one.


The first thing to check when looking at a car you are thinking of buying is the tyres. This involves more than giving them a kick – get down and take a proper look at them. The tyres will need at least 1.6mm of tread as a legal minimum, and if they are looking less than this, you will have to think about how much a fresh set of tyres will set you back on top of the cost of the car itself. If the car is a cheaper model, this won’t be too bad, but if you are looking at a higher-performance car, the cost of the tyres will increase as well.

The bodywork

After the tyres, the next thing to check is the body of the car. This will give you a good idea of how it has been treated in the last few years. Look out for dents or scratches that may have just come from general wear and tear, but if panels have been clearly replaced make sure to question it as there may be more significant damage underneath from a crash. If there are just cosmetic issues, then keep this in mind for when you start negotiations as you may be able to get some cash off for these. If there are any modifications like what you see at https://goldfarbinc.com/ make sure that you get the website or garage where they were bought and installed. If you need to replace them, this will make your life much easier in the future.

Gaps in the panels

Like if a panel has been clearly replaced, if there are gaps, this may be due to a self-repair job after a crash. If there are any clear colour differences or obvious gaps in the panelling, make sure to query it and get to the bottom of the issue.

The levels of the fluids

The main fluid levels that you should check when looking at any used car are the engine oil, the break fluids and the power steering levels. These will all give you a better picture on how well the car has been looked after. If they are all at the recommended levels then this is a good sign, but if they are low or even empty this is a red flag to consider. While you are there check for any obvious leaks under the hood and check underneath the car for oil or water leaks.

Look at the oil cap

While you are under the hood of the car check under the oil cap. If you see any evidence of a white liquid that looks a bit like mayonnaise, then this is something to note. It may only be condensation but this is a sign that there is a head gasket fault. The white liquid is often created with oil mixing with coolant.

The electrics

This is your next port of call. Electrics are often the first thing to break in a used car and are often ignored by owners. Turn the car on and check all the electrics including inside the car – from the radio to the interior lights, and then outside of the car. This will include all the lights and indicators are working. In more modern cars the amount of electricals has increased significantly and can be annoying to fix, or even make the car impossible to drive if there is an issue. If you find a major fault that was not in the sale description this is a sign to walk away, as there may be more serious issues that have not been mentioned. Smaller faults will most likely be simple enough to fix but are another bargaining point.

The windshield and windows

Check everywhere on the car that is glass and look closely for chips and cracks. Even the smallest issue could turn into a large crack with a small rock hitting the window again so this is important. Replacing windows or windshield can be expensive and if the cracks could obscure the driver’s view this could lead to a failed service or MOT.

The interior

Checking the mechanics and electronics of a car is important, but the interior is where you will spend most of your time. Look for stains or issues that may mean a replacement job in the future and take this into account in comparison to the asking price of the car. Also make sure to smell the seats as this can be difficult to remove if you don’t check it. Smoking is a common cause of bad smells in a car and could be a deal breaker.


Before going to the car viewing do your research and check what accessories came with the car when new. When assessing the car’s current condition compare what is still there to what you would expect. Common accessories include a spare wheel and tools for fixing a blown tyre such as a jack and wheel nuts. If the car no longer has these enquire why this is and see how much they would be to replace.

Other checks to consider when buying a used car:

Look for signs of a crash

A car that has been involved in a collision of any kind needs to be considered with care. While a collision will most likely have caused damage to the exterior, it is much harder to gauge if there is any damage done to the inner workings of the car. These may show up as much more serious issues in the future if you aren’t aware of them.

Take some time to check for cosmetic damage that might be telling of a crash. As mentioned, the car’s panels are the most common and obvious thing to tell you that a car has been involved in a collision. If there are any dents or damage to the panels, or if it looks like they have been replaced completely then this is a good time to start asking questions. If you notice ripples in the exterior of the car this may be due to a quick repair job. A tip is that filler is not magnetic where the rest of the bodywork will be, so testing this is a good way to know if the bodywork has been filled at any time.

What documents to check

In the UK the main document that you should look over is the V5C which is more commonly called the logbook. Check this to see if the make and model are the same as what is listed and double check the number plate matches.

You are also able to check that the name of the person in the logbook is the same as who you are buying from and that the address also matches. If there is a discrepancy, then there is room for suspicion. You will be also be able to check how long the current owner has had the car and how many people have owned the car previously. Fewer owners is generally a good sign and many owners over just a few years may be a sign that there is an issue with the car.

Service history and MOT

You are now able to check a car’s MOT history online which is a great place to start before you even go to see a car in person. You can check this on the GOV website at https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history. If the car has a valid MOT this means that it has been cleared to be safe to drive for the next year. This is mandatory for a car that is over 3 years old and if it does not have a valid MOT you will not be able to drive it until it has passed. The potential danger here is that if the car has not passed its MOT it may have some serious or expensive issues that need to be fixed.