What to look for when buying a used car

Date: 20th September 2019
Author: Graham Henwood

What to look for when buying a used car

Buying a car is exciting, but it’s also a big step and there are a number of things to consider before you hand over your hard-earned money. We’ve put together a checklist of important factors for you to think about when you are looking for your next set of wheels.

Firstly, make sure you are completely satisfied before you make a purchase. Buying from a private seller does not give you the same legal protections as buying from a dealer so you need to do all your research.

Vehicle history check

There are a number of companies that will do a history check on a vehicle, and though some are free, for a small fee you can get detailed information that is worth it for the peace of mind. Even if you still go ahead with the purchase, knowing if the car has ever been in an accident or been stolen is very important.

Fair price

You can check that the price being asked for the car is fair by simply looking at other similar vehicles offered for sale locally, or by using an online price guide. It’s always worth making a sensible offer on a car too, to fit your budget or account for the cost of any small repairs that may be required.


Ask to see the vehicle registration document, known as a V5C. You’ll need this to tax the car, and it also shows the VIN (vehicle identification number) to match with the one that’s usually displayed under the bonnet, on the base of the windscreen and under the carpet by the driver’s seat. You should also ask for any service history and MOT documentation so you can see the car maintenance and performance.

See the car

This seems like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many people buy a car before seeing it properly first. Checking the car in person allows you to see every part of the vehicle and take a test drive; trying the brakes, the handling, the pedals. It’s also useful to check out the minor functions, like the radio, satnav, heating and aircon. Make sure you do a thorough visual check of all areas of the car so that you’re aware of any damage or developing rust on the car bodywork too - and don’t forget to check under the bonnet!

Safety first

There are many elements of a car designed to keep you safe while driving, so make sure all of these work or are present before you commit to buying. Are all the seatbelts in working order? Do the windscreen wipers operate well? If the car has airbags fitted, do the warning lights flash up when you start the car to show they’re ok? Is the spare wheel in place, or if there isn’t one do you have an alternative?

Call your insurance company

It’s always worth giving your insurance company a quick call or doing a search online for quotes so that you aren’t hit with any unexpected costs or issues after you buy the car.

Buying a used car can save you a lot of money compared to buying a new model. As long as you are thorough in your research, carry out all the necessary checks and you try before you buy, you could have many happy years of motoring ahead. Plus, if you need to make any repairs to the car bodywork, you know who to ask!