06 Oct 2022

What should I be checking when buying a used car?

What should I be checking when buying a used car?

Used car prices are still in hot demand, as the semiconductor shortage puts the squeeze on new car supply. With more people flocking to the used market than ever, prices continue to remain strong. So how can you make sure you’re getting the best deal and what should you be looking out for?

We’re going to take a look through some of the key areas to check on a used car to make the best choice.

Set a budget for yourself

It’s a good idea to start with a budget. As well as the cost of the vehicle itself, remember that there are insurance and maintenance fees to go along with it, so it’s worth bundling this all up into one figure so you’ve got a ballpark idea of what you’ll be able to afford.

If you’re planning on trading in your vehicle for a new one, then have a look at similar examples that are already for sale online or in dealerships so you can get an initial figure in mind prior to looking for a new car.

Check the car’s mileage

Once you’ve found a car you’d like to investigate further, its mileage is a good place to start. Though there’s no need to be concerned about a high-mileage car if it’s been well-maintained, it’s worth remembering that after a lot of use certain, more expensive parts will begin to wear out.

It’s also dictated by what type of fuel the car uses. A diesel vehicle, for example, can handle higher mileage a little better than a smaller petrol. But in contrast, be wary of a used diesel car with very low miles for its age – it might’ve only been used on shorter trips, which can lead the car to get ‘coked’ up and not run as efficiently as it should.

Service history

A car’s service history is very important if you’re after a hassle-free driving experience. If you’re looking at a slightly older vehicle, then there’s a good chance that it has been taken to an independent garage instead of a main dealer – but this is no cause for concern.

Likewise, if you’re looking at a sporty or high-performance vehicle, it could be an idea to check to see whether it has been taken to a specialist for repairs and servicing as this could show greater care for the car.

Interior finish

Everyday life can be hard on a car’s interior, so it’s best to give the cabin of any car you’re looking at a thorough going over. Some immediate places to check are the seat bolsters, which can wear as occupants leave the vehicle, as well as key touchpoints like the steering wheel and gear stick.

In fact, areas such as the steering wheel and gear selector can be great indicators as to whether or not the car has had a hard life – more wear in a low-mileage car suggests that it has been driven hard.

Give everything a press

Don’t be afraid to prod, press and try all aspects of the car inside. Make sure that the lights are working, along with the wipers and electric windows if the car you’re looking at is fitted with them. It’s a good idea to check that the air conditioning is blowing cold, as this could be a costly fix to sort afterwards if it isn’t working.

If your car is fitted with an infotainment screen, ensure that all of this is functioning correctly too and that you can easily perform certain functions, such as connecting your phone.


Tyres are the one point of contact that a car has with the road, which is why they’re so important. When looking at a used car it’s paramount that you give the tyres a good looking over, not only for safety reasons but to save yourself money – you might have to replace them further down the line if you don’t flag any issues right away.

The legal minimum depth for tyres in the UK is 1.6mm, by using an appropriate tyre gauge reader. You can also use a 20p coin; insert it into the tyre’s grooves and, if the outside band is obscured then they’re within the legal limit. If you can see the band, then they’ll need replacing.

It’s also worth checking what type of tyres are fitted. Though new budget tyres may have been fitted, they don’t offer the same wet weather braking or noise reduction as more premium alternatives – so factor that into the car’s overall price.

Background check

A used car is a big investment, after all, so it’s a good idea to be certain that there aren’t any background issues with it. This could include outstanding finance on the vehicle which, if you become the new keeper of the vehicle, you could be liable for.

Many companies offer background check services. They usually incur a small fee, but it’s well worth it to ensure that you’re absolutely certain about a car’s history. It’ll also flag up if the vehicle has ever been crashed and repaired, too.

Test drive

Once you’ve been through the car properly, it’s time for a test drive. It’s best to get yourself comfortable – and make sure that you can sit properly to begin with – and think about how easy it would be to live with the car you’re looking at.

Listen out for any odd sounds or clunks and make sure that the engine responds properly. Give the brakes a good try too and ensure that they give back decent, measured braking force.

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