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When it comes to buying a new car one of the first things that spring in to mind is money, next to safety it is the biggest factor when buying a car. If money wasn’t then there would hardly be a market for second hand cars. A new car on average loses 40% of its value in the first year alone so buying a second hand car is often the first choice for many people. When it comes to buying a used car it doesn’t need to be a worry, with just a few steps you will know what to keep your eyes and ears open for to get the most for your money and still stay safe.

So you’ve chosen a car you like the thought of, what was it based on? Performance, fuel economy or price? My bet is that like the majority of people you may of chose a car strongly based on looks, so if you’ve chosen by looks why would you not take an even closer look. There is a huge amount you can tell by just analysing the appearance and condition of the body work.

Here are some things to check but always use your instinct and judgement.

  • A brief initial walk around the car to spot anything you may want to inspect closer.
  • Look for rust spots and any paint “flaking” that could be hiding rust.
  • Check around and under the wheel arches for rust.
  • Inspect the tyres and suspension.
  • Look closely for off matched paintwork, body panels that are not aligned correctly.
  • Confirm the mileage yourself by viewing inside the vehicle.
  • Look inside the engine bay for any marks or sign work has been carried out for a repair.
  • Inside the engine bay if it appears to have been recently steamed or cleaned heavily ask about fuel leaks.
  • Check the front of the car. A high amount of stone chips can confirm high motorway mileage.
  • Go through every light setting from fog lights to break lights.
  • Vehicle documents should confirm anything the owner says.
  • Do not view the car at night or in poor weather, this can reduce the appearance of scratches and damage.

When checking the inside of the vehicle, remember these points.

  • Observe the alignment of the steering wheel and the direction of the front wheels, this can help gauge alignment.
  • Look at the pedals. Heavily worn pedals and low mileage could be an indicator of “clocking” see below for more information on “clocking”.
  • Check the condition and appearance of the dash, carpets and seats and uncared for cabin could be a sign that they haven’t taken care of the car overall. Remember it is your money.
  • If there are seat covers on the car ask for them to be taken off or remove some yourself to check for damage.
  • Look for any slight cracks on windows.

If you do go through these points on a first viewing you will have a greater understanding of price and condition. The seats are a very good example of this as they can be replaced but also can be very expensive to do as these days a large amount have airbags installed into the seat and all comes into an expensive after purchasing a vehicle.

The purchase of a used car doesn’t just stop after a quick look around before you hand over any money you should test drive the vehicle. A test drive is the only sure fire way to confirm the feel and if it is suitable to you while making sure all of the equipment works and responds as it should.

Follow these points for a better test drive.

  • Try to start the engine is cold, if you know it is not try talking for a little while about the cars history. This will let you check for excessive smoke and any noises on start up.
  • Arrange suitable motor insurance before driving the vehicle.
  • Never take a test drive for a short amount of time, aim for over 15 minutes of driving on different road types.
  • During the test drive check the steering, suspension, how the brakes respond, gears and if the vehicle makes any unusual noises and vibrations.

The costs that occur after a purchase should be considered before signing on the dotted line follow these points to help reduce the costs.

  • Always have a budget in mind and stick to it.
  • Keep in mind any work or costs that will occur once you own the vehicle.
  • If you borrowing money for the purchase shop around and get as many quotes as you can for the best rates of interest.
  • Shop around for insurance quotes and do not take the first one because you are in a rush.
  • Spend some time confirming the guide prices from public and garage sales of the vehicle and shop around.
  • Search around for unbiased and public reviews of the vehicle this can help find common faults or issues with the car to expect.
  • Ask about service history and receipts if any work has been carried out or modifications. If there is no history then ask why.

Ask about the cam belt this is a perfect opportunity to move into the history of the vehicle servicing etc. The cam belt is a necessary service, as well as servicing like the brake fluid, oil and antifreeze get proof it has been done and if not ask why. If the cam-belt the costs can hit into thousands and can potentially write-off the vehicle. Some engines do not have a cam belt they are driven by chain these are not changed and last the life time of the vehicle

During the purchase there are a series of documents that you need by law and some you need for proof of work.

Follow these steps to comply with documentation.

  • Make sure the vehicle has a VIN number recorded in the logbook also called the v5c and that it matches the one displayed on the vehicle.
  • Go through the service history documents. These documents will help to validate mileage, service history and give an opportunity to query any work carried out not mentioned by the seller.
  • Confirm you have all M.O.T certificates. Any vehicle over three years old must by law have a valid M.O.T certificate.
  • Read all paperwork carefully and use your judgement to if it feels genuine, if you have any doubts you can go to a post office or send them to a vehicle authority.
  • Get a receipt for both parties involved in the sale.
  • Complete the logbook (v5c) carefully and send it to the DVLA as soon as possible.
  • Check vehicle information online with the registration number.

It is common for buyers and sellers to disagree on price do not be afraid to haggle, most sellers up the price of a vehicle so when it is knocked down they are still getting what they want.

Follow these tips to help stick to your price.

  • A simple full tank of fuel can be a good starting point.
  • Show the seller you are genuine, don’t be confrontational and stay calm.
  • Go in knowing what the car is worth this will stop the deal taking a turn and overpaying.
  • If it is not possible for an agreement to be made remember there is always plenty of cars on the market.


Clocking is an illegal method of changing the displayed mileage on a vehicle, this is done to increase value and give a false confidence when buying. 


Vehicles can often have identities stolen this is called cloning. Cloning is done by repainting or changing the number plates giving the impression of another vehicle matching the colour, make and model.

Cut And Shut

Another method involving painting etc, is known as “cut and shut” this illegal practice is almost always carried out when vehicles are severely collision damaged. “cut and shut” involves two vehicle that are used to produce one vehicle and once complete the vehicle appears to new, repaired or salvaged with a new identity of a selected vehicle. The work carried out by this method is usually very hard to spot but with persistent faults or paint marks showing it is not impossible.

Any purchase can follow some guidelines but your biggest asset is your common sense. Beware of any vehicle that seems too good to be true, yes there may be the odd situation where someone needs a very quick sale but they are few and far between. If a sale doesn’t seem right walk away and remember it is your money you are buying a vehicle for your own benefit not anyone else so try not to be sucked or pressured into sob stories, it happens more than you think!

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