Viewing a car for sale is the time for making those all-important checks to the paperwork and the car itself. A large proportion of your buying decision should be based on the results of your vehicle check, so it’s important to know what you’re doing.   

We’ve pinpointed some of the ‘vitals’ to guide you through.

Vehicle Checks

Whilst you can expect to find superficial damage to a used vehicle, your dealer or private seller should be up front with you about any deeper problems. Whilst any bumps or scrapes should really be included in the advert for the car, be sure to have a thorough look over the interior and exterior during your viewing.

  • Body panels – look for any variance in the colour, which could reveal replacement parts
  • Interior – look out for scuffs or tears in the fabric which have potential to become much worse over time
  • Mod cons – test any mod con features to see that they’re all in place and operating as normal

Your dealer should be able to show you all the specifics of a vehicle and tell you about anything not immediately visible.

"If you’re not an expert, take someone with you who knows what they’re looking for." – Simon Palmer, Hendy Group


A seller should be up front with all the documentation required to sell a vehicle, without needing your prompt – but it’s worth knowing what to ask for so you can identify anything which is missing. Typical documents you should be seeing are:

  • Full service history of the vehicle
  • HPI check (also known as a provenance check)
  • V5C vehicle registration certificate (formerly known as a log book)
  • Current MOT certificate
  • Any vehicle handbooks

Any reputable dealer should have all the paperwork relating to that vehicle readily available.” – Simon Palmer, Hendy Group

Test Drives

Test driving a car you intend to buy should be made as easy as possible, and is something which comes highly recommended to ensure a vehicle meets your expectations and needs.  

A car dealer should be happy to offer you a test drive without many restrictions (within reason). You should look to take the car on the types of roads you would normally travel on, even if they are not the type of roads found immediately outside the dealership. As close a simulation to your car needs as possible is the best way to inform your purchasing decision.  

There should be no feeling of commitment to buy, and if at any point you feel pressured or uncomfortable with what you’re being offered, it’s best to walk away and give yourself some time.

We actively encourage test drives in our dealerships, with a travel of various road surfaces; motorways, dual carriageways, A-roads, just to cover all different types of driving.” – Jason Pritchard, Wessex Garages

Faults with a newly purchased car

If you find any faults soon after buying a car, or you realise it really isn’t the right vehicle for you, get in touch with your dealer straight away. There are often money-back options available the sooner you get in touch with them. 

If it’s a problem beyond your control, your dealer may be able to solve this on your behalf, or in extreme circumstances could buy the car back from you and find you an alternative vehicle. 

As with every sale, each condition is unique to the vehicle and the relationship between the dealer and buyer. Make sure you’re comfortable at every point and that the person who is selling the car covers the vehicle history and specs in as much detail as you require. 

For more on successful car buying tips, head over to our ‘Ask an Expert’ page, packed with advice and best practice. 

Sarah Lewis


February 16, 2015

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