Things to check when buying a used car

What to look for when buying a second hand car

Common mechanical checks to look for

Buying a used car can be utterly nerve-wracking, because every used car purchase involves a degree of risk. You can, however, minimise your exposure to risk by following four simple steps that will help you tell a peach from a lemon.

Step one: Look

Firstly, insist on seeing the car in daylight. The dark hides scratches and scrapes. Start by giving the car a good 360-degree inspection and look for dents, uneven paintwork and especially for rust bubbles.

Give the wheels a good look over too. Have the alloys been kerbed? The tyres are even more important; check the tread, because if they need replacing this can be costly. If they’re wearing unevenly, beware: it could be that the wheels need re-aligning (not a huge job) but can also point to problems with the suspension.

Start the engine and look for smoky exhausts, especially on diesels. Many cars fall foul of the emissions check at an MOT test and it can be tricky to remedy.

Also check the lights: do they work? We mean indicators and everything. Also look for lights lit when they shouldn’t be – like warnings on the dashboard.

Give the cabin a thorough going over too. If the clock shows low mileage, does the upholstery reflect this? Also be on the lookout for water damage if they car has a sunroof – this can indicate a leak.

Step two: Listen

Once you’ve started the engine, get out and listen intently with the bonnet open. Does it idle nicely or is something misfiring somewhere? Give it a rev (it helps to have someone else with you while doing this) and see if everything sounds normal.

Taking the car for a long test drive is vital. Listen how the engine copes when you increase the revs, and for squealing brakes – they’re a sure sign that something needs replacing.

Clunky suspension and knocking noises when turning corners can be a sign of a rusted or broken bracket somewhere. If you’re buying from a used car dealer, insist on this being fixed.

Step three: Feel

The cabin is where you’re going to be spending all your time, so check everything works. Seatbelts, seat mechanisms, temperature controls, radio - everything. You can expect the odd thing not to work if you’re only spending a few hundred pounds, but if you’re spending a lot more, you should expect better.

On your test drive, ask yourself how the steering wheel feels in your hands. Does it vibrate excessively? Is the car pulling to one side? Is it more worn than it should be for a car of that mileage? If you answer yes to any of these, start asking questions.

Step four: Read

If you’re satisfied with the car after steps one to three, it’s time to examine the paperwork. Firstly, insist on seeing the vehicle registration document (V5C). If there isn’t one, walk away. If the car has had a lot of owners who sell it on again fairly quickly, consider this a red flag.

Also inspect the last MOT certificate. A couple of advisories are to be expected on older or higher mileage cars, but also hint at future repairs bills.

Check the service record to see if the car has been serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule. This helps twofold: it shows if the car has been well cared-for (a service is due usually every 12 months), and also helps you to verify the mileage. It will also let you know if scheduled maintenance, like a timing belt replacement, has been done.

The timing belt (or cambelt) is without doubt the most important serviceable component of a car’s drivetrain. Search online to find when it should be (or should have been) changed; if it’s due soon, make sure you can afford the work. If it’s overdue and snaps, it’s pretty much curtains for your engine and a rebuild can cost hundreds - if not thousands - of pounds. If there is no paperwork showing it has been changed when it was due, get it done ASAP. Even if the work had been done, it’s peace of mind for you.

Good luck!

Bargains are there to be had, but the old adage about deals that seem too good to be true applies to used cars more than most. Make sure you’re buying from someone you trust, and remember you’re under no pressure to buy. At Peoples Ford we have a fantastic range of quality used cars for sale and all of our vehicles have undergone extensive safety checks for your peace of mind. To find out more, contact us or visit your nearest Peoples Ford showroom today.