Viewing and Checking the Car

As with many things, first impressions are so important when buying used cars. Your check of the car you want to buy should be done on a sliding scale allowing for the age of the car.
The newer and more expensive the car, the more critical you should be.

If you are considering buying an older car then it will have more blemishes and faults because of the car’s age. This all needs to be carefully assessed and weighed up taking into account the price which the person selling the car is asking.

Before you even open a door or look under the bonnet or take the car you are considering buying for a test drive, slowly walk all around the vehicle and take a long hard and critical look.

At this preliminary stage, if you feel that the car you’ve come to look at and hopefully buy is not as good as you had expected and that the car is not for you, tell the seller there and then that you don’t want to buy the car.

This will save your time and the seller time. Further, if you feel that the car is not as described in the advertisement, then also tell the seller.

It is far better to do this in the early stages rather than acting as though you are still interested in the car and waste everyone’s time.

You are also in danger of fooling yourself and by continuing the once over, you may convince yourself that the car is not so bad, even though deep down you know that it is not the one for you. So walk away from it and go and find another. There are plenty more cars for sale out there.

As you continue your inspection, look at the gaps around the doors, the bonnet and rear door/ boot lid to see if they are all even and parallel. Badly fitting panels could be the result of accident damage which has not been repaired properly. Stand away from the car. Does the car look to be sitting properly, straight and squarely, not leaning or down on one side?


Look at the paint work. Is the paint work good without signs of scrapes or repairs. Can you see any mismatched paint? Lift up the door handles and take a look under them. Is there any sign of paint over spray due to poor masking? Are there any areas of the car where a different colour of paint is showing through, (ie stone chips) which may indicate that the car has had a colour change at some time?

Is there any rust on the body and if there is how bad is it? If there are small rust spots, providing these are not serious, then they can easily be repaired. But if the rust from the spots is starting to lift the outer edges of the paint surrounding the rust chip, then it will take some stopping and cost considerably more to repair.

Are the wheels and tyres in good order? A well maintained and cared for car should have four tyres from the same manufacturer so check that they are all matching. Additionally check that the tyres are the correct size and speed rating for the car (check in the owner’s handbook, or the tyre data plate if fitted.)
Look at the windscreen for chips or other damage. Likewise the rest of the windows on the vehicle. Are the headlights and other lights undamaged?

Some headlights and taillights on modern cars today can cost hundreds to replace and it is an MOT failure if there is a cracked lens even if the light still works.

Does the car’s registration match up with the registration number etched on the windows?
Are all the rubber seals around the windows in good condition? Look closely at these as they are often damaged by careless sanding of the adjacent bodywork during car body repairs. Also look at the sealing rubbers to check for paint over spray due to bad masking when the car was painted.

Look under the car for covers or guards which are hanging loose or missing. These are often not put back in place properly after work has been done on a car.

Are there any signs of leaking oils or coolant?

Check under the car and the floor area where the car has been parked for tell tale signs.

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