Welcome to our third feature in the Motors.co.uk How to Car series. Last time, we checked out how to make budgeting sexy – and you can take a look at that here. However today, we’re turning our attention to the next part of the process – what to look for when you’re about to buy a car.

So you’ve found a car online and through the different options of paying for it, but what happens when you’re up close and personal with a the car? Though it can be a little daunting at times, we’ve got some of the key tips and tricks to bear in mind when you go and check out a used car.

The checklist

At times like this, it’s a good idea to keep things simple, which is why we’ve opted for a checklist to tick off. So let’s take a look at what you need to know.

  • Don’t part with any money unless you’ve seen the car. Unless you’re buying from a reputable seller, do not part company with any cash until you’ve been up close with the vehicle.
  • Give the car a visual inspection and look out for any damage.
  • Check the paintwork to ensure that it’s even across the exterior of the car. Flat or discoloured areas of paint could signify a repair has been conducted badly.
  • Try to avoid viewing a car at night or in the rain. Both of these things can hide potential bodywork flaws, so it’s always best to look at a car on a dry, bright day.
  • Turn on the ignition and look out for any warning lights. Check all of the major electrical components – including the lights – work as they should.
  • Check to make sure that key items are in place. These include the spare wheel (or tyre inflation kit) and don’t forget to make sure that the locking wheel nut key is there too. If you can’t find it, ask the seller.
  • Look at the tyres. If they appear dry and cracked then they may have been on the car for some time. Likewise, ensure that there’s at least 1.6mm of tyre tread – the UK’s legal minimum – by placing a 20p coin into the grooves. If the outer band is obscured, then they’re within the limit. If the band is visible, however, the tyres will need to be replaced – and you’ll have to speak to the seller about getting this sorted before you purchase.
  • Sounds. Start the car up and listen for any odd noises. Knocking or whistling noises can be a bad sign. Likewise, turn the steering wheel from lock to lock to make sure that the rack isn’t making any strange sounds, either.

Car history

Now when it comes to vehicle history, there are a few more things to consider. We’d always advise doing a vehicle history check by using the car’s registration plate. Offered by third-party providers, these showcase outstanding finance on the vehicle, as well as if it’s ever been stolen, written off or recalled.

You can also use the government’s online history checker, though that only gives basic information about MOT and mileage.

We’d always ask to see a car’s service manual too as this will give you a clear indication about its history; look for service stamps in the manual and at what mileage they were conducted at. Ask to see any receipts for work carried out, too. Gather as much information as you can in order to get a clearer idea about the car’s past. Always make sure that the vehicle has its logbook (V5c), too. Without it, you won’t be able to tax the vehicle, leaving you open to a potential fine and penalty points if caught by police.

If you’re not one hundred per cent happy to check over a car’s mechanicals, then many experts – like the RAC – offer full vehicle inspections which can help to throw light on any potential issues that could be lying underneath the car. Not only will this give you added peace of mind, but it could save you costly future repairs.

In the next feature, we’ll be taking a look at the key things you need to ask a seller when buying a car from them. It’ll incorporate some of the main questions to pose to someone selling you a car – so stay tuned.