What You Need to Check for When Buying a Used Car

If you’re looking at investing in a new vehicle for your or a friend or family member, there’s always a good reason to learn what to check for when you’re buying a used car. It can feel like quite the gamble if you’re not sure what to look for, and with so much at stake with what can be a big investment for your wallet and for your overall safety too, there’s a lot riding on your decision. Identifying the most crucial areas to look for is just one of many ways to help add an extra layer of protection to your purchase, and we’re here to help you do that since nobody does it better.

In order to help make it simple and easy to understand too, we have split this into four separate sections to learn. They’re all just as important as each other so don’t miss anything out, but make sure you’re playing to your strengths and minimising your weaknesses with what you already know as well. 

External Damage 

One of the main things that need to be looked at and one of the easiest signs of a problem to check when you’re buying a used car is the external health of that vehicle. Its condition more than anything else has a massive impact on the value of the car above all, and that’s the first step in making sure you’re being smart with your money. 

Paintwork 

The paintwork again is one of the easier things to look at. It’s always a good idea to take a hard look at the paint all the way around the vehicle to ensure that it’s all up to standard. Any scratches or peeling can be a big and expensive issue aesthetically if you choose to get them fixed yourself and decrease the value if not. 

Even on top of the most basic things here, there’s also the aspect of repairs to remember as well. If someone has tried to fix the kind of damage you are looking for themselves, this could be bad too. Don’t be too granular if you’re not sure what to look for, but ensure all of the paint is even, and the same colour above all else. Even slight differences can exaggerate over time. 

Dents 

An even easier one still to identify for the most part when you’re looking at what to check when you’re buying a used car is the more prominent damage that can affect a vehicle’s health. That is usually bumps and dents as again, these are a double-edged sword. Mostly, they affect the price just like the paintwork issues do too. Unlike the pain, however, in more severe cases, this is even worse. 

In actual fact, a really severe dent can do a lot more damage than most people would care to think. You have the initial issue of the aesthetics, but even above that, you have the structural impacts. A bump or dent can have a ripple effect on other areas of your car that you may not even know about. That can cause even more issues still, as well as worsening on the outside by often resulting in rusting or more long term damage. Don’t underestimate them, and definitely don’t pay for them. 

Parts and Features 

Lastly, there’s the even easier to spot the issue of parts and features on the car that you’re looking at purchasing. An easy thing to think about here is things like the doors, bumpers and the wing mirrors, as these are often the first to take damage on a car. If any of these have had some issues, it’s always a possibility that they have been replaced, even incorrectly. Ensure they’re all standard and original, or fixed correctly if not.  

The same actually applies to windows in this instance as well. Really check the glass on your vehicle to ensure you aren’t missing any cracks or chips that could have slipped through the window. Again, these easily worsen for a multitude of reasons, even like temperature. Always be aware of what could happen as well as what has done already. 

Wear and Tear 

Wear and tear is just something that all used cars have to work with. It’s usually less of an issue with dealerships, but you can never be too careful because of how permissible it is to see. It can affect all kinds of things on your vehicle, and if you’re wondering what to you need to check out with buying used cars, it doesn’t get much more talked about than these.  

Usually, anything that moves excessively with friction is the first to go, but it does happen to practically even different part of your car to some extent. 

Brakes 

The health of the brakes and what kind of condition they’re in is actually not always something that people check when they’re buying a used car, even though they are fundamental to your safety. 

Because of their very nature and the purpose they serve in your car, they get hit hard with wear and tear as they have to stop a moving vehicle using friction. That’s a hard job. Always make sure that the brakes on a car are still effective, and ideally, not making any noises either (as that can be a sign their time is up). 

Tyres 

Tyres being made of rubber is another thing that needs to be remembered all the time when you’re looking for your overall costs. Although not too detrimental and responsibly cheap to replace (especially if you go part worn). 

Remember that they’re also one of the easiest ways for a car to fail its MOT if that isn’t something on your mind already as well. Don’t be afraid to bring this up with a seller and to get a good idea of what the tyres on that vehicle will be costing you in the long run. The coin test is another useful thing to remember to check the tyres there and then for signs that they’ll need replacing

Suspension 

Something that is slightly more difficult to check when you’re looking into cars and what kind of issues to expect is the health of the suspension or general framework of the car. Sadly, it’s something that again has to take a huge amount of strain while in use, but this time, can’t actually be seen unless you know where to look (and that’s not an easy thing to do).  

The best way to really get an understanding of the situation you’re going to face is by driving it. The test drive is always a good way to check for things like that. If there’s any creaking, squeaking or excessive bumpiness in the vehicle, chances are that there’s a big issue, and it may not be cheap to fix unless it’s caused by something like a coil spring. 

Battery Health 

Somehting that underpins even more than all of these, however, is also the battery, and that’s just another thing to add to the list of things you need to make sure you’re aware of. Batteries are responsible for a lot more than they usually get credit for, and without them, you won’t be going anywhere fast. Battery maintenance is vital

Always take the time to pay attention to how the car’s battery is performing. Check that there’s no excessive ticking or straining when starting the engine for example. Ensure the windows and electrics are all performing well. Always lagging or laboured motions likely means the battery is on its way out. Remember that. 

Serious Problem Areas 

Sadly, wear and tear is only the beginning of what issues that could be out there that you need to check for in a used car. Although they’re nice and cheap to put right for the most part, they don’t even come close as to how important other areas are for you to check through. This is where things do get more specific and complicated but are still areas that can have a large impact on your vehicle. 

Smoke Colour 

Blue smoke coming from the exhaust is one of the easiest things to spot going wrong if you know to look for it. It is a big signifier of oil-burning which always means bad news for the engine, so this is a huge red flag right off the bat that you need to be aware of at all times. 

The same goes for if the engine is labouring or exhausting especially think smoke too. With newer cars, in particular, there shouldn’t be any excessive smoke being produced for efficiency reasons, and this is somehting else to think about, especially if a turbo is involved. It could be a range of issues like the exhaust problems, engine issues, or even more technical aspects like the catalytic converter

Cambelt 

Cambelts are a massive part in keeping your engine system working as it should, ensuring everything is working in the right order and allowing the car to run at all. Without it, there’s not much chance of a car working in any way shape or form.  

The issue, however, is that these belts are made of a rubber-type compound, and with them moving so much, they’re also susceptible to wear and tear but over a much longer time. This leads them to degrade and potentially even snapping if left for too long. Take a look and see what kind of shape it’s in if you can, or get a pro to do it for you. These are the questions you really need to ask. 

Clutch 

Although this applies to manual cars almost exclusively because of their operation type, the clutch is another constantly moving part that does degrade over time. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue again for newer cars, but if the car has done excessive mileage, it could well be a problem just as much as a car that’s years old. 

Always test this out on your test drive to ensure everything feels like it should do, and to make sure that there’s no labouring as you use it as well. It should be smooth and easy to use, without any noises or skipping. 

Engine 

This one goes without saying, but do check in on the engine of the car you’re looking into buying. Make sure there are no obvious problems and check your dashboard for help as well. Ensure the temperatures are where they should be, there are no dashboard lights, and that everything sounds healthy as well. 

This is one of the issues you need to be slightly more intuitive about in being able to tell what’s wrong, but the engine is pretty much the fundamental of driving. It will cost an awful lot to put right and there’s a huge amount of mechanical engineering going on inside it that needs to be appreciated. 

History 

Finally, as with any car decision, if you truly want to make sure you’re looking for what could be the biggest time, money and safety saving aspects a used car has to offer, don’t forget the history either. There are tonnes of different types of car history out there but at the very least, check these. 

Always check the MOT like with our free service. It helps you to see the mandatory info on what has been working with the car year on year and tells you what could be in the future as well if you understand the advisories that are included. 

The service history is another useful tool, but ultimately, nothing car really tells you the future of your vehicle other than a vehicle inspection that is looking at it there and then in more depth than any other vehicle service can do, designed for this reason and this reason only. 

Conclusion 

Ultimately, there’s always a lot of things that need to be you need to check when buying or even looking at what could be wrong with a used car and the essentials of protecting yourself and your money. Follow our advise and take a look at our used checklist for a more thorough breakdown, but remember these minimums. 

If you’re still not feeling confident and need the assurance that only professionals can provide, don’t hesitate to get in touch with carExamer today either. We have the most thorough and affordable inspections on the market that can save you thousands in the long run. We’re always happy to help however we can. 

reminder for car inspection check list