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What to look for when buying a used car

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What to look for when buying a used car

Buying a used car can be a bit of a minefield as you try to distinguish the good deals from the bad. Secondhand cars from private sellers don’t come with any of the assurances of a dealership, but in either case it is useful to know what to look out for before striking a deal. In this article, we will cover some of the main questions and checks you should perform before deciding to buy a secondhand car; this will help you determine whether the car in question is worth the money, or one to be avoided.

Outside the car

Don’t underestimate what a good visual inspection of a car’s exterior can tell you, if you know what to look for. Always view a car before deciding to buy. When inspecting the vehicle, try to view it on flat ground in daylight to get the clearest impression.

  • Check there aren’t unusually wide gaps between panels or any mismatched paint colouration – this can be an indication large repairs have been carried out.
  • Check the paint job, noting any scratches, rust or dents. Uneven coverage or traces of paint on handles, windows or plastic moulding can be a sign it’s been repainted.
  • Are the tyres in good condition? Make sure the tread depth meets the legal requirement (1.6 millimetres) across the central ¾ of the tyre, and that there isn’t uneven wear.
  • Check under the bonnet for any signs of damage, rust or dents on the internal parts. Look out for any signs of leaks, and ensure all fluids are clean and at acceptable levels.

Inside the car

Internal aspects of a car can be very telling of its potential pitfalls. For example, many important vehicle features will have warnings on the dashboard if something is amiss.

  • Check the car’s mileage matches the claims on documentation. Furthermore, check to see whether the mileage seems in line with the car’s age and condition. Signs the dashboard has been removed could be a clue that mileage has been doctored.
  • Turn on the ignition; all warning lights should illuminate and then turn off. Any that remain lit indicate a problem.
  • Check that all lights, windscreen wipers, electric windows, locks, radio, air con and other such controls function properly.

Test drive

You should test drive the car before buying as this is a clear way to see how the car truly functions. Not only can you get a feel for the car, but you can also test whether important parts of the mechanics operate properly in action.

  • Check that the brakes work properly. The brake pedal shouldn’t vibrate or feel spongy when initiated, or make any screeching or unusual sounds. Braking should also be even – pulling to one side is a sign of worn or faulty parts.
  • Test the handbrake – it should be easy to operate, but not have excessive give.
  • When using the clutch, make sure the pedal isn’t hard to use – too high or low a biting point indicates problems with the mechanism.
  • Listen to the sound of the engine when driving. Abnormal sounds can be a sign of problems in several parts of the vehicle.


Having the correct documentation to go with the vehicle in question can give you peace of mind over the legitimacy of the seller.

  • Check the car’s service and MOT history and certificates. These will tell you about the history of the car in relation to repairs and any problems; you can easily check recent MOT histories online at
  • Ask to see the V5C registration document. Check that this looks legitimate – there should be a watermark and no spelling mistakes – and that the seller matches the registered owner.
  • Make sure that the vehicle identification number (VIN), number plate, engine number and vehicle colour all match the V5C.
  • Note down any damage you find so you can call a garage to see how much it would cost to repair. This can give you a better idea of whether the price is a good deal or not.

If you follow these guidelines, you should be on your way to getting a reliable secondhand car. For any repairs, MOTs or car servicing your new vehicle may need, Munster Tyres can offer you high quality workmanship at a competitive price. Based in Fulham, our garage has been carrying out professional car services for over 40 years – giving you peace of mind we have the expertise to dependably deal with any car issues. Get in touch with our friendly team today for expert advice or further enquiries.


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