Buying a used car? Here’s what to check when you’re viewing it

Buying a used car is a great way to enjoy cheap motoring. You stand to save thousands against buying a new car. But, of course, there are many pitfalls, so you need to keep your wits about you.

When you have seen the car you like and you’re going to view it, what should you be looking for?


You’ve heard the old cliché of being a “tyre kicker” but the tyres the car is fitted with can tell you a lot about how well the car has been looked after. If the tread is under the legal limit, 1.6mm, for example, it can tell you the car has either been driven hard or neglected. Luxury cars with low-quality tyres tell you they’ve been run on a tight budget – if so, what else has money been saved on?


Check for scratches, dents, and of course rust. Be realistic, a used car is bound to have a few little scuffs here and there. But think about the advert, did the owner mention it? If the car has been described as mint and there’s a big dent in the door, you should either walk away or push the owner and haggle considerably on the price. Also check for panel gaps, mismatched paint, or any other signs of body repair work.


Bad smells, rips on the seats and signs of any dampness or dirt are all signs that a car hasn’t been treated very well. Check all the gadgets the car has, if any, to make sure that they all work. It might not seem like it, but electrical issues can be a severe drain on your finances if your car develops them – so try everything before you buy.


Ensure the car is running with the correct fluid levels. Start it up and listen for any knocks, bangs, rattles, or squeaks while the engine is ticking over. Be sure to check for any leaks or signs of damage in the engine bay. Lift the oil cap, if you see a white mayonnaise-like substance it could be an indication of an expensive impending head-gasket failure.

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