For many a used car is a natural choice as it’s a cheaper alternative than a new one. Generally they lose value more slowly than a brand new car and you may be able to buy it outright.
- Key checks
- Look for bodywork damage. Poor panel fit suggests crash repairs.
- Have the tyres worn evenly or are they bald? Uneven wear suggests poorly aligned tracking (usually easily sorted) but could be something more serious.
- Does the chassis number (usually at the base of the windscreen on the passenger side) match the one on the registration document? Also check the engine number, which is usually on the top of the block, down the one side.
- Are all the keys available? Think carefully about buying a car without a spare. Lose the only key and you may have to have everything reprogrammed – which can cost hundreds of pounds.
- Is the interior undamaged, along with all the glass? Are there stickers on the windows to cover an old registration number etched into the glass?
- Have the steering wheel and gear knob been worn smooth? Does this tally with the recorded mileage?
- Do the speedo digits line up properly? Are the old MOTs to hand? Does the mileage recorded on these ties in with what’s displayed?
- Check for rust that’s been painted over, plus filler in the wheel arches.
- Ensure all the electrics work – check everything.
- Take a test drive
Start the car from cold, and make sure it ticks over happily. Let it warm up then take it for a good run. Check for a smoky exhaust, ensure there’s no misfiring (that the engine pulls cleanly) and listen for any untoward noises. Also, feel for pulling to one side under braking. Other issues could include a worn clutch.
- Check the paperwork
Make sure all the paperwork is in order. The key documents you need are:
- Service history: for proof of regular servicing and to see if the mileage is correct.
- Tax: When a car is sold, the vendor has to cash in the car tax, so you’ll have to buy your own. Current rates are listed at gov.uk/vehicle-tax-rate-tables – the DVLA no longer issues tax discs though.
- Registration document or V5C: This tells you the basics about the car, such as how many owners it’s had and who it’s currently registered to. The person named on this form isn’t necessarily the legal owner of the car though. Don’t buy a car without a V5C and make sure it’s genuine by looking for the watermark.
- MOT: If a car has no MOT it can’t be taxed, and it probably isn’t roadworthy.
- Doing the deal
Your goal is to pay less than the asking price. Any seller should set the price above what they’re prepared to accept – so don’t pay a penny more than you have to. Use any minor faults you discover when checking the car over to chip away at the price.