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Used car checklist

Follow our car buying checklistWhen viewing a car with a view to buy, there is far more to do than just walk around it and kick the tyres. Even a seasoned car buyer can miss a few standard points, so we thought we'd create a checklist for buyers to work through when you're viewing a used car. A few of the points are quite in-depth, but these can help identify any possible clocking or questionable legality.

As well as your own checks, there are many services such as HPI Check that can give you the background on a car you're thinking of purchasing. These services have access to many different databases, such as finance and insurance companies, the DVLA and the national police computer, so should be able to spot any possible problems for you at a low cost.

You can click on each of these points to check them off if you wish.

Document checks

Ask to see the the vehicle's V5C registration certificate. Without this, you will not be able to tax the car if you purchase it.

Does the seller appear on the V5C as a registered keeper? If they don't, they should explain who they are selling it for and for what reason.

Check the V5C is watermarked. A number of fake V5C certificates have been doing the rounds in the past few years.

Is everything spelled correctly on the V5C? As above, fakes do turn up, but also any inaccuracies in data due to spelling errors can also be trouble.

Check the vehicle's VIN and engine number, and make sure they match the data from the V5C certificate. If you don't know where they are, ask the seller - they should be able to tell you.

Does the VIN look to have been tampered with?

Are there any signs of scratches or tampering on windows, in an attempt to remove etching?

Check the colour of the vehicle matches the one on the V5C.

Check the number plate of the vehicle matches the one on the V5C.

Check the car has a current MOT certificate, if older than 3 years. Ideally there should be more than 3 months left on it too.

Odometer checks

Does the mileage look high or low for it's age? An average mileage is 12,000 miles per year (or 1,000 miles per month), but of course this can vary.

Are the screws around the odometer or other instruments worn? They may have been opened up and tampered with if so.

Mileage should be checked on any MOT certificates or service receipts and records that come with the car. It should increase steadily as the years go on.

Damage checks

Check the colour of all the car's panels match up. A mismatched colour could indicate major repairs to that section.

Check the finish of the paintwork all over the car. Are there sections where it is not even?

Check for splashes or spots of spray paint on windows or door handles.

Are there any patches of another colour showing through underneath the current paintwork?

Does any of the welding look messy or inconsistent?

Safety checks

Check what conditions the tyres are in. If their tread depth is below 3mm they will need replacing.

Check in the boot for the spare tyre. Is this also in a decent condition?

Whilst in the boot, check for additional tools that should be there.

Check all seatbelts work and lock when pulled sharply. Also check for any damage or fraying to them.

Check all sets of lights work, as well as windscreen wipers.

Test drive checks

Check the hazard lights work. Hopefully you'll never have to use them, but they should work.

Try braking at various levels of effort and various speeds. Does it seem to take too long to stop?

Does the car pull to a side when breaking?

Does the handbrake work effectively?

When going straight along the road, does the steering pull to a side?

Engine checks

Start the engine from cold if possible. Check for any strange noises.

Do any warning lights extinguish when the engine starts?

Are there an extreme amount of exhaust fumes when the car is started?

Is there blue smoke coming from the exhaust? This indicates that oil is burning somewhere.

Is there black smoke coming from the exhaust? If the car has a diesel engine, this is extremely bad.

At what point does the clutch bite? If it's high up, this indicates it's on it's last legs.

How are the engine levels? If they are very low, it may have been neglected.

Note when the last cam belt change was on any service history documents.

General checks

Check that all the doors lock properly, and also unlock properly.

If the vehicle has a central locking mechanism, or a remote control for it, do these work too?

Can you open and close all the windows properly?

Does the sunroof open and close with no problem?

Can you see any sign of damage to the locks, or a mismatch in the lock type? This may indicate the car has been broken into in the past.

Does the car come with the proper keys? Today's keys can be expensive if replacements are needed.

Check the minor internal units - audio system, air con, heating, and so on.

You may think that giving a second hand car a proper checking is intimidating, but in actual fact most of what is needed is a pair of good eyes. Keep our checklist in mind when doing your inspection, and all should be good.

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