A simples guide

Checklist for buying a used car

While the dodgy, second-hand car dealer stereotype is largely long gone, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be careful when buying a second-hand car – so here’s our used car checklist.

Dealership vs private seller

If you’re going to buy a used car, where should you get it from? Dealerships are usually more expensive, but they do offer additional benefits compared to a private seller. Car dealers will often have part-exchange deals available, they may offer some sort of warranty and you can be pretty confident that the car you buy has been mechanically and safety checked, so it won’t break down just before you get home.

Because we understand that the process of buying a second-hand car can sometimes be intimidating, check out our insider tips from used car salesmen so you’re fully clued up before you set foot on the forecourt.

The price you pay to a private seller might be more attractive, but you’ll be responsible for checking everything’s in order with the car. You can, of course, hire a mechanic to check it over for you, but prices for doing this vary and it can be an inconvenience to get it organised.

Check all documents are in order

If you’re intending to buy a car, make sure you get the V5C registration document, which shows who the registered owner is.

Make sure the V5C is genuine – check for spelling mistakes and ensure that the number plate and vehicle identification number (VIN) are the same on the car and form, and check that the form has a watermark on it. You should take the time to ensure the car is everything that the V5C says it is.

interior of a car

The outside of the car

First impressions aren’t always correct – and that applies when you’re checking out a used car. Dodgy paintwork or subtle differences in colour could be signs that the car’s been extensively repaired, indicating it could have been in an accident.

Look for rust or paintwork that’s bubbled – an indication of rust damage. And check that all the doors, windows, bonnet and boot open, close and fit properly.

You should also give the car a good bounce. Pushing down on each of the four corners, then letting go, tests the car’s suspension. You want the car to bounce back smoothly – if it doesn’t, you could be in for a rough ride.


Tyres should be in good condition and have a decent tread. If they have less than 3mm, they’ll probably need to be replaced soon after you buy the car; anything less than 1.6mm is illegal in the UK.

Check the car has its spare wheel or puncture repair kit, as well as all everything else needed to change a tyre – especially the key for locking the wheel nuts. You may know how to change a tyre, but if you’re in the middle of nowhere you’ll need the right tools for the job.

The inside of the car

Check all the instruments work, such as the horn, windscreen washers and wipers. Seat belts should all fasten and not be cut, frayed or damaged in any way. Make a note to see if the airbag warning lights work as they’re meant to – the car’s manual should illustrate this.

You should also ensure that the heating, air conditioning and ventilation controls work, as well as the radio and CD player. If the car comes equipped with a navigation system, ask how to use it – it could show up any flaws.

You should be able to adjust the seats and the headrests, and check any folding seats work properly too.

Under the bonnet

Make sure there’s no oil leaking and check the colour of the oil. If it looks dirty, then it might not have been changed for a while, perhaps indicating that the car hasn’t been properly maintained. The coolant should be the same colour as antifreeze and not the colour of rust; lack of coolant could spell engine trouble later on.

under the bonnet of a car

Test drive it

Always test drive the car to make sure it runs smoothly. Listen out for anything that sounds ‘angry’ when you start the engine – engine noises shriek potentially expensive repairs.

If the car is manual, see how the clutch and the gears feel – they shouldn’t stick or be stiff. If the car is an automatic, how does the gear shifting sound as you drive?

Most importantly, check the brakes work properly. They shouldn’t make any noise when you stop and braking should be easy and effortless. And check that the handbrake works.

Insure it

Used cars aren’t always perfect. What’s important is that you know what you’re getting for your money and that there won’t be any nasty surprises down the line.

Thankfully, insuring your used car isn’t as complicated as buying one sometimes is. Simply tell us about your car and a little about you, and we’ll compare more than 100 insurance providers to help you find car insurance that’s right for you. Start a quote today.

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