Used car buying checklist

Buying a secondhand car can be a minefield, especially if you're purchasing it 'sold as seen' from a private seller. Follow our simple tips, so you don't get caught out...

Used car buying checklist

If you’re buying a used car, it's vital to check that it is in good condition and has been well looked after. A poorly maintained vehicle could cause you a string of problems later on.

If buying privately, used cars are usually ‘sold as seen’, so check everything carefully. It is also advisable to check the vehicle's history to make sure the car is what it claims to be.

Here are the key areas that are worth closer inspection:

1. Check the condition of the tyres. Don’t forget tread depth and sidewall damage. If a tyre has uneven wear, it could be a sign that the wheels are not correctly aligned.

2. The steering wheel should rotate smoothly from lock to lock without any unusual noise or vibration. Such irregularities could point to steering rack issues or even suspension troubles, both can be pricey to fix.

Honda Civic Type R gear stick

3. The gears should engage easily and smoothly without any grinding with the clutch fully depressed. A weak or extremely stiff clutch pedal could be a sign of worn components.

And if you're in the market for a used automatic, make sure to check for any gearbox warning lights and that when test-driving, the 'box kicks down as it should, changes smoothly without any jolts or juddering, doesn't rev erratically and that there isn't any fluid leakage. Automatics can be very pricey to repair when they go wrong.

4. The engine should idle smoothly and rev evenly. Check the oil dipstick and the inside of the oil filler cap. If you find a brown sludge, walk away; the engine is damaged and will need expensive repairs.

exhaust with smoke

5. Check the exhaust doesn’t produce lots of blue smoke when you rev the engine. This is a sign of excessive internal engine wear.

6. Check the bodywork and underside of the car for rust. Look at the exhaust system; does it look like it needs replacing soon? If, when driving the car, it sounds like it belongs on a rally stage, there's probably a hole in the exhaust.

7. Be suspicious of a very clean engine bay. Has it been cleaned to hide something?

8. While you're looking under the bonnet, check for signs of flaking paint and rust around the panel joints at the front of the car. This could denote repairs that have been done after crash damage.

car odometer

9. Does the wear on the interior of the car match the mileage on the odometer? A low-mileage car with very worn seats and pedals could have been clocked.

10. Open and close the doors to check they work correctly, and examine the rubber seals for signs of paint, another indication of crash-damage repairs.

11. Look down the side of the car to see if all the panels and bodywork line up smoothly. Be suspicious of wavy panels or cars with uneven gaps between panels.

Peugeot 3008 being driven

12. When on a test drive, the brakes should feel responsive and provide adequate stopping power when travelling at speed.

13. Check all electrical items work correctly, including the windows, sunroof and electrically adjustable seats, as well as the stereo and infotainment system.

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