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Things to check when buying a used car

Car dealer shaking hands and handing over car keys

Are you thinking about buying a used car? Buying a pre-owned vehicle can be a great way to save money and find a reliable set of wheels. Although it’s always worth checking over it thoroughly before purchasing. 

To help make you aware of what to look out for, we’ve compiled a list of 10 important things to check before sealing the deal. From assessing the vehicle’s history to inspecting its mechanical components, these key takeaways should help you to decide whether the vehicle you’re looking at is worth buying or not.

If you’re considering buying a used vehicle, check out the benefits of purchasing a vehicle from an auction.


10 things to check when buying a used car


1. Check Vehicle History

It’s always worth knowing about the vehicle’s history, so make sure to ask the dealer for a history report. Here, you’ll learn about any past accidents, ownership history, and any potential red flags.

For example, if you’re looking at ownership history you will be able to see who owned the vehicle and when they owned it. If the car has had multiple owners over a short space of time, you might have some questions as to why this is.

It’s easy to check a vehicle’s history report, get a free one here

Checking the accidents and damage report also gives a good indication into the condition of the vehicle. This information is always useful to understand the extent of previous repairs and any potential underlying issues that may cost you in the future.


2. The Bodywork

Checking a vehicle’s bodywork can give you a good indication of any previous damage. Make sure to carefully examine the car’s exterior for signs of rust, dents, or scratches.

You shouldn’t worry much about minor scratches and dents as these can easily be repaired and won’t break your bank. It’s the larger dents and rusting that might be more costly if you decide to get these repaired later down the line.

Top Tip: It’s also worth noting that you should inspect the vehicle during a clear, bright day to ensure you don’t miss anything. 

Female Driver Taking Photo Of Damage To Car On Mobile Phone

3. Tyres

Another thing to check when buying a used vehicle is the tyres. The legal minimum tread depth for a car is 1.6mm to guarantee safety on the road. So if you’re looking at a used car with a tread depth below 3mm, you’ll want to factor in the fact that you’ll need to change the tyres soon. 

You should also consider changing the tyres if they’re underinflated, overinflated or the wrong tyres for your vehicle. These factors can be detrimental to wasting fuel and can be costly, especially if multiple tyres need to be replaced at once.


4. Engine 

Checking the engine is crucial when looking at the condition and overall performance of a vehicle.

Make sure the engine has cooled down, then lift the hood of the vehicle. You’ll want to inspect for any leaks or damage to avoid any future costs. Oil leaks, coolant leaks, or visible damages to components such as hoses or belts can indicate potential problems.

Take a look at how to check the engine when buying a used car.

It’s also a good idea to listen out for any unusual noises coming from the engine. If you notice any abnormal sounds or vibrations, there could be an issue with the engine’s components or internal mechanisms.

man looking at his car engine

5. Fluid Levels and Leaking

Next on the list is checking the fluid levels under the bonnet. Fluids to check include oil, brake and power steering. If the level is low, it might be a sign that it’s been neglected and has had poor maintenance in the past.

This is also a good opportunity to look for any potential leaks, not just under the bonnet but also where the car has been sitting. Vehicle leaks could be due to various reasons. If you notice a brown liquid where the car has been sitting, it could be the sign of a petrol or diesel leak

Alternatively, if you see red fluid this usually indicates a leak of transmission fluid. These leaks can happen for a number of reasons, from broken seals and cracked fluid lines to failing gaskets and general wear and tear. The issue should be looked at as soon as possible and we’d advise avoiding purchasing any used car that shows these signs of leaking.


6. Electrical Components

Checking a vehicle’s electrical components is a simple thing to do, yet can easily be forgotten. So be sure to test all electrical features in the vehicle, including lights, windows opening/closing normally, air conditioning, and audio system, to ensure they’re all working properly.

If you find anything needs replacing, you don’t always have to splash the cash on brand new parts. Instead, consider purchasing green parts.

Top Tip: It’s also sensible to check you have all the correct keys before purchasing a used car. Check the vehicle’s handbook to see which keys were provided when the car was new, as modern keys are expensive to replace.


7. Mileage

Mileage plays a significant role in determining the value and pricing of a used car. Generally, lower mileage vehicles tend to have higher resale value, as they are perceived to have more life left in them.

So make sure to check the odometer reading to ensure it aligns with the age and condition of the car. If it seems too low or too high, there might be a cause for concern.


8. Test Drive

This seems like an obvious point to make, but taking the vehicle out for a test drive is probably the best thing to do when checking out any car you’re thinking of buying (whether it’s brand new or pre-loved). 

When taking the car for a test drive, make sure you’re paying attention to things like engine performance, braking, suspension, and overall handling. This should give you a good sense of how the vehicle drives, and if it’s right for you.

Young man testing new car before buying

9. Windscreen

Another vehicle check to make is the glass on the windscreen. Are there any chips? If so, they could turn into cracks. 

A small crack in the windscreen can quickly spread and worsen, especially due to temperature changes or vibrations from driving. This can lead to a larger, more expensive repair or the need for a complete windscreen replacement.

If there’s a crack in the driver’s eye line on the windscreen, it can also lead to a failed MOT test which is always costly.


10. Safety Checks

Lastly but certainly not one to ignore is checking all the safety aspects of the vehicle. 

Here are some things to remember:

  • Ensure seatbelts work and are in good condition
  • Check all the lights and windscreen wipers are working
  • If an airbag is fitted, check warning lights work as they should

Your safety while driving is the most important thing, so it’s important not to skip these safety checks.

woman hand fastening a seatbelt in the car


Although buying a preloved vehicle can be a lot cheaper than buying brand new, it’s always worth carrying out as thorough checks as possible to save you from spending a fortune in the future. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek professional advice to ensure you’re getting a reliable vehicle that suits your needs.

Thinking about buying or selling a vehicle? Check out our auction site today https://overton-automotive.co.uk/auction/ 


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