Used car buying advice – what to look for and what to ask

Used car buying advice – what to look for and what to ask
Used car buying advice – what to look for and what to ask

Buying a used car can be stressful. Whether you buy privately or through a dealer there’s always a fear that the seller might have something to hide or that the car isn’t as it seems.

Read more: These are the 10 least reliable used cars 

It’s hard to completely put aside such concerns but a little bit of knowledge can go a long way to helping avoid an expensive mistake, so we spoke to James Fairclough, CEO of AA Cars to get some tips on how to ensure you’re not taken advantage of.

What to check

  • Signs of inconsistent panel gaps or mismatched colours that could be a sign of extensive repairs
  • Are the tyres in good condition and all of the specification and dimensions? Tyres with less than 3mm of tread will have to be replaced soon
  • Is the spare wheel or tyre inflator/sealant kit in serviceable condition?
  • Do all the seatbelts operate correctly? Check that there are no cuts or fraying
  • Check that all the lights and windscreen wipers/washers work correctly
  • Check that all the warning lights operate normally. Lights will generally come on to test and then go out – unless there’s a fault
  • Check the brakes for stopping distance, unusual noises or the car pulling to one side under braking
  • Check the handbrake works effectively
  • Ensure that there isn’t any steering vibration or pull to one side
  • Check for any abnormal noises when the engine is started
  • Check for excessive visible exhaust emissions or any recent emissions test results that suggest the catalytic converter struggles to meet the legal limits
  • Ensure that the clutch operates normally. A noise when you press the pedal or a high biting point could mean that repairs will be required soon
  • Make sure that the oil warning light goes out as soon as the engine starts
  • Is there sludge on the underside of the oil filler cap? This could indicate poor servicing or predominantly short journey use; or worse, a faulty head gasket
  • Ensure that all the locks, including central locking and remote control, work properly. And check all the keys are present as modern keys can be very expensive to replace
  • Make sure that all the controls, including heating, radio/CD, navigation etc and windows operate

Check all the warning lights illuminate and then go out as intended. Picture: Shutterstock

What to ask

  • Does the car have outstanding finance?
  • Are you the registered keeper?
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • Has the vehicle been in any accidents?
  • Can you tell me about any recent maintenance or repair?
  • Can I see the following documents: V5c, service history and MOT? (although this is now available online)
  • Is there any warranty? If so, what does it cover?

Read more: Half of drivers won’t test drive a second-hand car before buying

James said: “It is always advisable to buy a used car through a reputable dealer that has signed up to a quality standard, like AA Cars Approved Dealers, as it allows you to know that not only has the vehicle been inspected, but is backed with a robust means of sorting problems out quickly and efficiently.

“If you do choose to buy from a private seller, go to their address and check that they are the registered keeper and their address matches the one on the V5C document. Always be wary if the seller wants to meet you on ‘neutral’ ground.

“The service history should indicate the mileage of the vehicle. Paying attention to this will help protect you from ‘clocking’. If your used car looks worn but the mileage appears low, take extra precaution.

“The most important bit of advice of all is that if a deal looks too good to be true, it more than likely is, so walk away.”

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