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Jamie Gibbs

What to check when you view a used car


Save yourself the worry of finding problems the hard way and give the car a thorough check.

Car dealership

It’s common knowledge that the best way to check the quality of a car is to give the wheel a cheeky kick. Instinct takes over and you just know if it’s good or not. But what if you don’t have that sixth sense when it comes to cars?

We’ve come up with a checklist to help out. Some faults might not be deal-breakers. But following this list might give you somewhere to go when trying to haggle for a better price.

Paperwork checks

You should have most of this from when you originally contacted the seller. But just in case, you should get information on:

  • The car reg

  • Make and model

  • MOT status

  • V5C (log book)

Check if these details match the information on the DVLA – anything that doesn’t match up should be questioned. You can check if the car’s MOT is valid as well as its MOT history at GOV.UK.

Man checking a used a car

Outside checks

  • Do all tyres have the same level of wear?

If not, there might be a problem with the suspension or wheel alignment. Check the tyre tread depth is at least 1.6mm across all tyres.

  • Does the bodywork have bubbling paint or inconsistent colours?

Bubbling paint is a sign of rust, and inconsistent colours might be an indication that the car has been resprayed. Pay close attention to the rubber door seals for paint flecks – this is where evidence of a re-spray is most easily spotted.

  • Do all doors and boot open and close smoothly?

  • Do the panels and bodywork line up?

Look down the side of the car. If the panels don’t line up, it might be a sign that the car’s been in an accident.

  • Does your reflection warp on the body?

Walk around the car and pay close attention to your reflection. If it distorts, there might be dents in the bodywork.

Person checking the engine of a car

Under the bonnet

  • Check the oil, engine coolant and brake fluid levels.

Check to see that everything is at the correct level and that the fluids are free from debris. A poorly-kept engine is a good sign that the car isn’t in good condition.

  • Is the engine bay dry?

Keep an eye out for signs of fuel leaks in the engine bay.

  • Is the battery free of rust?

Pay close attention to the connectors on top of the battery as well.

  • Is there a thick white substance under the engine oil cap?

If so, this may indicate that the head gasket or engine itself is damaged. This kind of damage if often irreparable.

Inside checks

  • Are the seats free from rips, tears and stains?

Some wear and tear is to be expected, but anything excessive could be a good bargaining chip.

  • Is the mileage consistent with the condition of the car?

If the clock reads little over 1,000 miles and the car looks like it’s held together by duct tape and willpower, there might be something fishy going on.

  • Is the ignition and steering column in good order?

Any damage here may indicate that the car has been stolen.

  • Are the seatbelts frayed?

Excessive wear like fraying could mean that the car has previously been in an accident. Make some adjustments. Get in the driver’s seat and make yourself comfortable:

  • Roll down the windows.

  • Adjust the seats.

  • Open the sunroof.

  • Pop open the fuel cap.

  • Adjust the wing mirrors.

Make sure that everything works as it should. It’s better to find out now that something doesn’t work than when you’re on the road.


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