Saturday, 6 April 2013

Buying Used Cars! A Guide

Buying Used Cars
Used Cars
Unfortunately not everybody selling used cars was created equally. That is the most important fact to remember when buying used cars! You get the I'm having a baby, need a bigger car, honest type of people and the well respected used car dealer who has got many years of customer satisfaction under their belt. Sadly though at the bottom end of the totem pole you have the unscrupulous dirty little so and so who is trying to flog their used car with endless faults. These are the kind of faults that are not cheap to fix and in order to sell the car they have usually gone to surprising lengths to hide the faults, just long enough for you to road test the car and buy it.

So what can you do to spot these 'ringers' when your thinking of buying a used car? Well the truth is, there is plenty you can do before even going to view the car! Lets take a look at what these are.

First thing to do, simply call the seller and tell them you are interested in the car they are selling. Explain you would like to carry out some back ground checks and that you require the following information.

  • Registration Number
  • Chassis or VIN (Vehicle identification number)
  • The V5 (Registration document) number
  • The contact details for the garage they used to maintain the car 

If they are reluctant to give you any of these details, stop right there! This is not the car for you! Move on to the next seller.

If you get what you need use the details we have acquired to do some checks!

  • Check to MOT history of the car. 

Go to this site here MoT History Checker. On this site if you have the information above you can check the entire MoT history since MoT testing went computerised. Useful when buying used cars, as each MoT records the mileage, shows what the car has failed on each year and lists the advisory items. Best of all this service is entirely free and provided by the government.

Check the MoT history for the following things.

  • A rise in mileage each consecutive year. As and fall in mileage could simply be that the speedometer was faulty but could also indicate something far more devious like 'clocking'. 
  • Check the vehicle has a current MoT and is as long as the seller says it is.
  • Check the advisory items. See if they appear in consecutive years previous to the current MoT. If they do this could result in a failure at the next MoT. 
Another check to be completed making sure the car is not stolen, has no outstanding finance and was never an insurance write off. Unfortunately this can involve parting with a bit of money, the good thing is it will be a lot less than what is will cost if you buy the car and it gets either repossessed or given back to the owner or insurance company by the Police. One site I have found which appears to be recommend buy 'What Car' is here.
Used Car Buying Check through I recommend the Gold, this also comes with a £10,000 guarantee and a list of common faults. However if you would would prefer a £20,000 guarantee a Platinum version is available. You may be able to find these services elsewhere just look for good reviews when your looking.

Professional Tip! 

Ask the seller if you can take the car to a Garage local to them to have the car checked over. If the seller is genuine they wont mind this. Phone various Garages get a quote for them to give the car a once over on the ramp. Find the best price and take it to them. This can be cheap and allows you to get a professional opinion on the state of the car. If you are viewing close to your current Garage call them if your a loyal customer they may even do it FREE! You could also take a look at things like the RAC's checking service.

Call your local Garage and ask if they can provide a list of warning lights that are supposed to come on with the ignition, the location of the diagnostic socket and whether the car is EOBD OBD2 compatible this knowledge can be valuable when inspecting the car.  

If you made it this far and everything checks out, book a viewing with the seller. If the seller is private make sure this is at there home address and check to see if the address on the V5 matches the location.

 When you arrive you will want to check the car thoroughly. Ideally you could go armed with an EOBD OBD2 Scanner if they car is compatible. This can allow you to check for underlying engine management error codes as not every fault will bring the warning light on. See this article here

Next your going to need to inspect the car if you haven't opted to take it to a Garage or another checking service. Let me give you a list! This list is by no means exhaustive and highlights Key Points. I recommend you download this MoT Checklist and check out these two articles also:

  • Check all the warning lights come on with the ignition they should go off as the vehicle completes its self checks and definitely after a few seconds of engine starting.
  • Check everything works. Things like the heater blower on all speeds, air conditioning, windows, seats, dash illumination with the side lights and light switches are all things to consider.
  • Check the seat belts have now cuts and frays, check they have no warning flags showing that the 'pre-tensioners' have been activated. These can be expensive to replace and may indicate the car has been involve in an accident.
  • Check the mileage is inline with the information provided and the MoT history.
  • Check the steering and steering column for signs of tampering or breakage.
  • If you have an EOBD OBD2 Scanner, plug it in and check for fault codes.
  • Check the tyres are worn evenly, any uneven wear could indicate steering or suspension faults. Check the tread depth including the spare are well the above 1.6mm legal requirement. 
  • Check the VIN number, it is either at the bottom of the windscreen under the bonnet or under the drivers side carpet. Make sure it matches the V5.
  • Check the registration plate is the same as the V5.
  • Check the paint work has the same finish all the way around the car. Check that it doesn't bubble anywhere. And discrepancies could indicate damage repair and bubbles indicate rust.
  • Check convertible roofs for operation and condition.
  • Check all the doors work as intended and also the boot, bonnet and fuel cap.
       Under Bonnet
  • Check the engine oil level as described in this article. Also check there is no creamy gunge on the oil cap.
  • Check all fluid levels including things like Coolant (check it looks either Blue, Green or Pinkish this indicates it contains some Antifreeze) and brake fluid. Low brake fluid could indicate a leak or the brakes could be worn. 
  • Check the battery terminals for cleanliness and check the security of the battery.
  • Check for leaks around the engine and underneath the car.
  • Check the service history. Call the Garages that carried out the servicing to check it is genuine.
  • Only accept original paperwork. The V5 should be watermarked. 
  • Check for previous bills. This can be a sign that the owners took care of the car.
As I said this is by no means exhaustive but can really give you a head start when looking at buying used cars. I hope you found this informative. I'm sure it will save you money. Have you had issues buying used cars? Leave us a comment below.

For further reading check out these links here.


  1. We bring over a decade of online automotive experience, specializing in sales, management and consumer advocacy and are committed to bringing together dealers and real customers with a trendy and social source of information.

  2. I’ve found your post a useful one. It is a perfect guide to buy best used cars . Thanks for your time mate.

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  5. Many of these resources require the VIN number of the vehicle, which you can get by asking the vendor to look at his/her insurance papers. This reported number is also located on the dash of the vehicle (you can see it by looking though the front windshield), on the drivers side pillar, and somewhere in the engine compartment. The reported number should be checked against one or several of those numbers on the vehicle, and should be checked for any apparent evidence of tampering. It is possible to use this VIN number decoder. It may show extended tech info and factory options plus vehicle history.

  6. Guide your very detailed. However, you should share more details about how to select OBD scanner, because as I know, some older vehicles will not interact with the OBD type on the market. I really do not want to buy an OBD scan tool that can not be used on the car I was going to buy.

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  9. I agree that ground check is important. My aunt once bought a used car and the first time she tested it, it was great but in just a few weeks, she noticed the speedometer and A/C is not working correctly. She's too trusting. And don't forget, car insurance in Lynnfield MA is very important as well. Thanks!

    - Gwen

  10. Your advice: using OBD2 scanner to test the used car before buying is very helpful Mechanicalee.

    With our eyes we can check what we see but we cannot check engine. So OBD2 scanner is right tool for us in this case.