Buying a car can be a complex matter. You have a great long list of things to look out for, and it’s not helped by the ‘spur of the moment’ decisions that many of us have experienced.

There are things that can help with this, though.

Research is key, as is looking at any warning signs that may crop up to ensure the car you want doesn’t have any hidden faults. Another issue is wading through the sheer number of cars for sale, and the disparity in price between the best and worst examples.

Our handy guide is here to help you with this, and give you some pointers that insiders use when buying a car.


Listen to the car

It is always tempting to play around with the sound system, and while this is important to check, what you really need to be on the look-out for are the hidden mechanical faults.

While on the test drive, turn the speakers off and listen for any minor rattles or mechanical issues that you might not have heard otherwise.


Check all the sides of the car – even underneath it

It’s important to have a proper look around all of the car. If it’s parked in a spot where you can’t see all sides of it, politely ask someone to move it so you can see it better.

It’s easy nowadays to be clever with photography – and some sellers may even go as far as editing their images to make the car look even more appealing.

Also look at each side from different angles, as it might reveal door dings and dents that you may not have noticed otherwise. And while the cosmetic condition is important, you should also look underneath it to check for any corrosion, or perhaps loose components.


The overbearing smell of air fresheners

Air fresheners are commonly used to hide any unpleasant fragrances – the smell of pets and smoke, for example.

If the clutch is faulty or the engine isn’t in the best condition, a seller may try to cover any odour that would make you decide not to purchase the vehicle.

Strong air fresheners are commonly used, so just be weary that these may be used to mask any tell-tale smells.


Is the engine warm?

A cold engine can reveal a lot about a car’s state, and if it’s difficult to start.

If your car sounds quite gruff on cold start-up, a warm engine can make a host of difference. Put your hands carefully on the bonnet before you test drive. If it already feels warm – and it’s not a hot day –  this could mean the seller has had the engine running before you arrived to hide some potential issues.


Who drove it?

While we don’t like to stereotype, it’s always worth noting who the former keeper of the car was. Someone will often be far more likely to tell you that an old lady had driven it since new, rather than someone who has had it as their first car.

Have a look through the V5C certificate to see what you can establish about the car’s past whereabouts, too, as this may affect its value marginally.


Stick to your budget

It’s easy to get carried away when buying a new car. The classifieds are usually a minefield of more expensive cars that can tempt you into something that you potentially can’t afford. Set budgets when looking on classifieds and only search for cars within these.

For this reason, know what you want to pay and stick to it. This also applies to monthly finance payments.


Do your research

Looking up a car’s history is vitally important, and something you should not neglect.

The first way of doing this is through an MOT history check – a free government service that gives you an insight into how the car has been looked after in the past. A string of MOT advisories/failures could mean that either the car hasn’t been looked after or it simply isn’t reliable compared to other model.

An MOT check casts some light on a car’s condition but should also ask to see the service history, to confirm that the service intervals have been followed and the car has been actively maintained.

Another way of doing this is by paying to have a vehicle history check done. Dealers often do this when purchasing stock, and it can tell you vital information, such as if it has outstanding finance and if it’s been written off. These start from as little as £3.


Take it on a decent test drive test drive on a mix of roads

Driving on a smooth stretch of dual carriageway will not give you the best idea as to how the car will perform in the real world.

For this reason, it’s always best to test the car on a mixture of roads and surfaces to test a car’s comfort and to see whether or not it suits your needs. This will also help you identify if everything on the car is fitted correctly, or if there are any loose or wobbly parts…


Preparation is key

Before you even step foot in a showroom, it’s best to know the ins and outs of the car you want to buy. The best way of doing this is by looking up the common faults of the car, and how to look out for them.

Buyers’ guides are available on online, or alternatively you can get in contact with dedicated owners’ clubs for that car. They are usually happy to help and are useful in helping you know what to watch out for.


Don’t feel pressurised

It’s quite easy to get lured in when you test drive a car and it’s easy to end up falling in love ad buying it. If you’re unsure though, it’s best to rest on any decision, and never feel pressurised into buying a car. Sellers will often say someone else is on their way to look, and while this might be true it also might not!

The best way of holding a car is by paying a small deposit, to give you extra time to see if it’s definitely the car for you. It’s worth noting, though, that these are often non-refundable.

Final thoughts…

While all the above is important to helping you make the best decision, it can’t be stressed enough how vital research is when buying a car. It’s also important to always be polite with sellers, as they don’t have to sell you the car either and courtesy will usually go a lot further than tyre kicking!

Ted Welford


April 15, 2018