Buying a used car can be an anxious time, with no one wanting to end up with a car that will bring more problems and unexpected expenses. Not everyone has a friend with good mechanical knowledge to help them in the process of buying a suitable second hand car. If this sounds like you, follow these tips to avoid any future problems.

1. Schedule a time to inspect the car

  • Make sure to view the car in daylight and ask to bring the car for a test drive.
  • Before you view the car, do your homework and know what you need to check from the points below. This will show the seller that you are confident and know what you are doing, and give you the confidence to go into negotiations and get a good deal.

2. Look around the car

  • Look at the ground underneath where the vehicle is parked and check for any signs of leaking fluid.
  • Walk all around the car and check for dents, rust spots, broken headlamps, and cracks in the windscreen or windows.
  • Check for any difference in the headlamps or the paint tone. Check the space between the body panels to confirm that they are all the same. If you find differences it can be a sign that the vehicle was repaired following an accident.
  • Check the condition of the tyres and see if there is useful life left in the tread. Check for damage to the sidewall, like bulges or tears.
  • Check the condition of the rims. Watch out for dents or even cracks.
  • Check the area around the back bumper near the exhaust.  If it’s black or dirty it can be a sign that the vehicle is smoking and this could indicate engine problems.
  • Open the doors to check for any strange sounds or any difficulty in closing them.
Tips for buying a used car
Always look around the vehicle and look for any dents or damage to the bodywork, or changes in the paint tone

3. Check the engine bay

  • Check that the engine bay is clean and that there are no signs of oil leaking, in particular oil deposits on the cover below the engine. You can use the lamp on your mobile phone to help you check.
  • Check the level of engine oil and coolant, and the general look of the battery for anything abnormal.
  • Check that the area around the headlamps is not bent or with signs of repair, which could indicate the car was involved in an accident.
  • Start the engine and make sure it starts without any problems (that will allow you to check the power of the battery). Listen to the engine idling and make sure the idle is regular and there are no metallic sounds from any pump or belts.

4. Interior inspection

  • Test the safety aspects like the mirrors, seatbelts, handbrake and lights of the vehicle.
  • Check if the car has Isofix fixtures and if you have a child car seat, check the compatibility.
  • When the engine is running check the dashboard for any red or amber warning lights that remain on.
  • If the car has a trip computer, check the average consumption. Normally this value can give you a good idea of the fuel economy of the car and what you will be able to get from it.
  • Turn on the aircon and check that it is blowing cold air.
  • Test the main equipment of the vehicle. Turn on the radio, open and close the windows and test the central locking system.
  • Open the boot and check the status of the spare tyre. Make sure all the tools necessary to change it are present.
  • If the spare tyre is stored in the boot check that the area is circular. If it is an oval shape or with any strange marks it can be a sign that the vehicle had a big impact in the back. This area is particularly difficult to fix so it is a good way of checking if the car has been in an accident.
Tips for buying a used car
Check that all the main equipment in the car is working

5. Test drive

  • When test driving the car, switch off the radio so you can listen for any strange sounds coming from the car.
  • Check the condition of the clutch. Check that you get the car moving easily, can change all the gears and listen for any strange noises.
  • Try to drive at the maximum speed limit and check if you can feel any vibrations in the steering wheel.
  • On a straight road, carefully centre the steering wheel and take your hands off it (but near enough in case you need to react). Check if the car runs to one side or does it stay straight on the road.
  • If the car runs more to one side or you find vibration in the steering, you need to get the wheel alignment checked, or even to check if there is damage to the disc brakes or rims.
  • Check there is nothing behind you and test the brakes in an emergency stop. Check if the car comes to a smooth stop and without any noise (a metallic noise can be a signal that the car will need new brake pads or it could be an issue with the brake discs).
  • Pay attention to the way the car reacts to bumps, sharp corners and poorly surfaced roads. If the car bounces or does not have a stable reaction it can be a sign that the suspension will need to be replaced.

6. Security and vehicle documentation

  • Make sure the seller provides you with the spare key of the vehicle, and the radio and alarm codes.
  • The car should have a manual and a service book.
  • Check the service book to make sure the previous owner did all the scheduled services.
  • If the seller doesn’t provide the service book, it can be a sign that they didn’t do all the appropriate maintenance for the car.
  • Check if the chassis number on the vehicle matches what’s printed on the vehicle registration certificate.
  • Do a car history check using an online provider to check the vehicle doesn’t have any outstanding finance and has genuine mileage.
  • Confirm if the vehicle has an NCT certificate of road worthiness and how many months are left until the car is due to be tested again.
  • If you are buying a vehicle from a dealer, find out the terms of the warranty.
Tips for buying a used car
Ask for the spare key for the vehicle

7. Negotiation

  • After you have inspected the car thoroughly, you will be able to negotiate a better deal for the car. Ask the seller to repair any problems or to give you a discount.
  • Ask if the next service can be included in the deal, especially if the car is approaching a major service, for example a timing belt change. That is normally a very expensive service.

Hope this guide helps you to get a good deal on your next car and wish you safe journeys in your new vehicle.

Nuno Bandeiras