Buying a car can be a stressful process; Will it be reliable? Will I get a good deal? Can I trust the seller? So here’s our top 5 tips for checking a used car before buying.

1) Exterior check

Let’s start with the basics. What you want to do are quick visual checks have a look at the body panels and the wheels. Are the tires in good condition? Yes? That’s awesome because you can save yourself a bunch of money because you don’t need to replace those.

Are there any dents or scratches? Move to the front of the motor vehicle and you’re looking for any panels that seem out of place or misaligned. On the side of the car, you can see if the alloy wheels are looking a little bit sorry for themselves. If the lacquer is starting to peel, it’s a nice bargaining tool and you probably want to get that sorted because it looks pretty ugly.

Have a look at the lenses; are they filled up with water or misted? While we’re on the subject of the exterior of the car, have a look at the brake discs and the brake pads. If there’s a massive lip on them, then you know you’ll need to replace the brake discs soon. Also the brake pads, how much meat is there on them? While you’re also down here make sure that you stick your head, underneath the car, have a look at the CV boots, have a look at the wishbone bushes because they could be expensive and also annoying to fix. And finally look out for rust under the arches and sills because these can be expensive to repair and, in many cases, can be a car killer.


2) Warning lights

Once you’ve done those checks the next thing to do is to have a look at any fault codes which might throw up some check engine lights. And for that, you get yourself an easy-to-use OBD II device usually compatible with any car post-1996. An OBD II can also recognise intermittent issues that might not throw a permanent warning light, codes describe problems in plain English without any unnecessary and confusing jargon. So once you’ve detected any problems that there might be with a car you can also have a look at the service timeline. You would hope to see a stamp in their service book and that the engine oil has been changed as well.

3) Engine check

The things I’m looking for here are oil levels so take the oil cap off, make sure that there’s no gunk on there which could mean that the head gasket is gone. Have a look at stuff like brake fluid and also coolant. Once you’re happy they’re all good, take off the cap. And make sure there is no white residue that means that water and oil have mixed which means that a head gasket could be gone. Once you’re satisfied that the engine oil is in good condition, have a look at the coolant. Remember, DO NOT open the coolant cap if the engine has been running for a while because it’s pressurised and it could explode in your face! Have a look inside, has the owner kept it topped up? Stick your finger in there and have a look at the coolant, if you can still see it’s dripping down your finger and it’s still blue that it’s probably been swapped out fairly recently.

Have a look at the brake fluid reservoir is a brake fluid in there. While you’re down there as well, have a look at the belts. Make sure that they’re not too perished because they drive stuff like the alternator, air conditioning and all the rest. Make sure that there’s not too much slack in the belt so give it a quick turn and a quick twist. You don’t want to twist it more than a quarter really. Ask the owner, when the cam belt has been done, if they don’t know and if you do buy the car, then you know the first thing you probably need to do is to get that changed.

Also, while you’ve got the bonnet up, have a look at the chassis legs here make sure that they’re not bent or deformed in any way. If they are, then you know the car’s probably had a front end impact and you don’t want that so have a look down the side of the engine, down the back, down the front and make sure that there are no oil leaks and that the rocker cover gasket isn’t buggered up. The last thing you need to do is to get underneath the car, stick your head under the engine and again, check for any untoward leaks.

4) Get inside the car for an interior check

Check all the basics like do the windows go up and down. A little tip if you’re buying a hot hatch, you want to check that the gear knob is in fairly good condition and the steering wheel isn’t too worn because if these look really worn, then you know that the cars probably being driven hard as well. Check stuff like the handbrake as well; does it feel nice and tight? Check the seats as well; are they in good condition, do the bolsters seem supportive? And while you’re inside, don’t forget to check the service history and that all the lights work. The next thing you want to do, is check the boot. Pick up the carpet, and if you can see an original spare wheel, that’s always a good sign. Also check that the all the kit is there so you’ve got the jack, you’ve got the screw drivers, then you want to have a look at the boot floor itself. Are there any ripples which could indicate that it’s had a rear end shunt. Also check there’s no rust or anything in the boot floor which is a sign of water ingress.

5) Test drive

The next thing you want to do, obviously, is to go for a test drive so make sure that the engine is switched off. Make sure that it’s been cold for a little while and then start the engine up. That way you’ll be able to hear any untoward knocks or squeaks coming from the engine. Sometimes belts like to squeak when they’re cold and they stop squeaking when they’re warm. It could be bearings, it could be the belt itself. If the owner is with you on a test drive, then make sure that he or she is nice and quiet, because sometimes they like to talk. Sometimes they like to put the radio on to mask the fact that there are knocks coming so politely ask them to be quiet. You should be able to feel and hear any knocks if you’re in a bit of a potholed carpark.

Warm up the engine and listen out for any rattles, have a little feel of the steering as well and go through all the gears to check they all still pull nicely and, if applicable, that you can feel the turbo starting to spool up. Test the brakes at the same time so to do that, accelerate hard and then hard-ish on the brakes. Make sure the car doesn’t pull to either side, because that could indicate anything from tracking and alignment issues to suspension and serious braking system faults like sticking callipers or collapsed brake lines.

You get a good feeling of a car in the first two minutes really. Once the cars warmed up, it’s also a good opportunity to make sure that it keeps its temperature. You want it to be around 90 degrees. If it goes above that, then you ought to be a little bit concerned. If it stays below that, not too bad. It’s better than a car runs cold than it runs warm. Also check the heating as well does that heat up nicely, because that could indicate that there could be a thermostat that’s out. So overall that leaves you with the value of the motor and if the price is right, then I reckon the car is too.