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Tips on buying a used car

Tips on buying a used car

Buying a 'new' used car can be difficult and even stressful. Here we try to offer you a little advice to ensure the experience is a smooth as possible and make closing the deal more fun and exciting, by giving you more confidence in the vehicle you are choosing!

Budgeting for a new/used car

  • Is the car value for money? (or is it maybe too good to be true?)

  • Is the fuel the right option for your needs?

  • How much will it cost to run and maintain? Price up a full service on that vehicle to see what you'll likely need to pay for parts.

  • What is the tax going to cost you? You can check in advance online.

  • Insurance costs? Get quotes and compare prices.

  • Finance options - is this better through the car dealer or through a bank loan?

Buying from a garage or dealership -vs- buying privately

Garage / Dealer

The benefits of buying a used car from a garage / dealer is that you will have peace of mind if there is a problem as you will receive a warranty. No matter what the warranty is that the seller gives you, they have legal obligations to meet under The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

If the car comes with a third party warranty, or you choose to add this on to the deal - make sure you check the terms and conditions. These are sometimes capped to an amount of money and/or amount of claims you can make. They also have a number of exclusions or criteria to be met - such as how often you have your car serviced, when the Timing Belt / Cambelt is replaced and how you maintain it (such as having MOT advisories carried out).

Buying a car online from a garage / dealer gives you the same protection under The Consumer Rights Act 2015 as it would if you purchase it from the showroom or forecourt. However, it is worth thinking about how far away the physical garage is if something goes wrong with the vehicle and you need to take it back for repairs or a refund.

If you buy a car online from a garage / dealer, from the date you order you have until 14 days after receipt of the vehicle to cancel. Once you have cancelled, you have 14 days to return the car. The garage / dealer then has 14 days to process your refund.

You may pay more when you buy from a garage / dealer than you would from a private seller, but you are paying for the service and protection.

Private Seller

Unfortunately, you do not have as much protection if you buy from a private seller, but you are still covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. You need to make sure you have the correct information from the seller to ensure you can enforce this.

You will pay less than buying from a garage / dealer, but you have less protection if something goes wrong.

Check the reviews of car sales garages / dealer

Some have reviews on third party sites they list their vehicles on, but see if you can find Google, Facebook or Trustpilot reviews and testimonials.

If the seller has bad reviews, look at how they respond and if they resolve the issue. Sometimes things will go wrong, but it's how they are resolved that matters.

Checking a car over

Too good to be true?

There may well be bargains out there, but if it looks too good to be true - it usually is!

You can find cars which do have very low mileage for it's age, but does it seem right? What's the story?

Pre-Purchase or post-purchase inspections

We would advise that you perhaps ask the AA to do one of their pre-purchase checks? They do cost you money, but they can carry out a very detailed inspection (and go into greater depth with things like code scans) before you buy, which can give you more confidence. Here's a link to their page for this, and there is even an example report for you to view

For customers who have recently purchased a vehicle, we are happy to carry out a free visual inspection which can give them a good overview of the vehicle.


If the car is three years old or more make sure there's a continuous series of annual MOTs carried out. If the seller does not have a paper copy, you can view MOT history online on the government website by clicking here

When was the last time the car had an MOT - ask the seller if this can be carried out before you commit to buy. If it was failed or advised on items which have been rectified, do they have evidence of this?

Check that it has been tested every year and the mileage is consistent between tests. Cars may have not been tested on time or been stood for a while, so you might want to know why? Obviously, Covid meant that a lot of people couldn't use their cars much or at all in 2020, and MOTs were allowed to be deferred for a period of time.

Service history

Does the seller have a service book, or does the vehicle have an online service record?

If it is online, do they have printed/emailed copies from the garage.

Do they have invoices to show what was done during services and repairs?

If there is no history then you should ask why not.

Service history will help you preserve the value if you choose to sell it on in the future.

Garage Service

Car repair history

Check the paperwork to see if there might be a persistent fault that still may not have been fixed yet?

Having history of what has already been done to the vehicle will help you in the future.

Timing Belt / Cambelt

(same thing, just known by two different names)

As well as regular annual servicing there are scheduled maintenance items such as Timing Belts / Cambelts, Auxiliary Belts, Brake Fluid and Antifreeze changes which the manufacturer will specify should be done at a certain age or mileage (whichever comes first).

If the Timing Belt / Cambelt fails it can cause catastrophic engine damage which could cost thousands of pounds for a new engine, if the vehicle is worth spending the money on.

Some engines have a chain instead of a belt and these normally last the life of the vehicle but if your car does have a belt you must make sure it's replaced when due.

If a belt change was due but the service record doesn't show clearly that it was done then the belt will have to be renewed as soon as possible for peace of mind.

Taking a look at the car

Don't view a car at night, in low light or in the rain

You need good light to be able to see the car properly both inside and out!

Under the bonnet

Look under the bonnet to see if you can see any oil leaks or coolant (or dried coolant residue). If the engine bay looks like it has recently been pressure-washed. The seller could be trying to hide evidence of oil or coolant leaks.

Exterior checks

I once went to buy a car which had an 'orange-peel' effect on the paintwork, but the seller was adamant it hadn't been painted recently...until I pointed out the thick layer of dust on the dashboard from where they'd been sanding it down!


Look for any mismatched colours, finishes or spray paint, or misaligned panels that could indicate that the car has been repaired after an accident.


Look for chips or cracks which may get worse.


Check the tyres for tread depth, uneven wear and deterioration/cracks/damage.

Interior checks

Do all of the switches and controls work?

Does the air conditioning work?

Does the interior look in good condition?

Look for stains, tears or cigarette burns in the seats, carpets and head-lining.

Test drive

This is your opportunity to check the car's general feel of condition and comfort.

Before you take a test drive, make sure you have insurance to do so, or that you are covered under the dealers policy.

Make sure you know how to drive the car and are comfortable with all of the controls. If you're driving an automatic or electric for the first time, things can feel different. Do you know how to operate the parking brake and other instruments?


Is the engine cold before you leave? You won't notice a starting issue or a problem which only occurs from cold. It should start quietly and drive smoothly.

Warning lights or fault messages

Are there any warning lights or fault messages on the dashboard?

Steering, brakes and suspension

Listen for any unusual noises, rattles or clunky sounds.

Steering should be smooth, have no free play, no vibrations or feeling of "pulling to one side".

Clutch & Gears

Does the clutch feel ok and the biting point feel normal?

Are the gears and reverse smooth without crunching?


  • Is the driving position comfortable?

  • Can you reach/operate all the controls easily?

  • Do the child seats fit? Does it have Isofix if you need it?

  • Can you, any children or family members with mobility issues get in and out easily?

  • Does the weekly shopping or pushchair fit in the boot?

  • Can you unload the boot easily and reach to the back?

  • Is it too big or too small for your needs?

  • Does it have the convenience options and specifications you want?

  • Does the sound system, heated seats etc work?

Car Handbook

As well as the service book/records, you should make sure that you have the handbook for the car.

This will contain important information and instructions for the car such as the security and sound system.

Car Keys

Does the car come with two keys? If not, can the seller explain why? You should have a spare in case of emergency.

Do the keys work properly? If you buy the car and need a spare key or key repair, we can put you in touch with someone to have a new key.

Locking Wheel Nut Key

If locking wheel nuts are fitted, check to make sure the locking wheel nut key and equipment is in place. We often have customers come to have a service or work done on a new vehicle and we can't get the wheels off because the locking wheel nut key is missing. Unfortunately, the customer then has to spend money on having this rectified before we can proceed.

Buying a used car from a dealer

Electric Cars

There are additional considerations if you are buying an electric car:

  • Range - Can you get to work and back on a single charge?

  • Charge points - What is the local area like for charging facilities?

  • Charging time - How long will it take you to charge the battery fully?

  • Space - Does the car have enough room?

Logbook / V5C registration document

Make sure you ask to see the logbook / V5C vehicle registration document - this shows the registered keeper, but that's not the legal owner.

Is the present keeper the person selling you the car? If not, then why are they selling the car for someone else?

HPI checks for outstanding finance and more!

We'd highly recommend that you get a HPI check done on the vehicle (if the seller hasn't already got one available for you) to check for things like outstanding finance and insurance write-offs. This is important and well worth the small fee companies charge for this service. You can find companies such as

This is particularly important to if you're buying from a private seller or online auction/advertising site. Most reputable dealers will have carried out a HPI check before advertising the car for sale, but you need to make sure they have and that it is fully clear.

Leasing or buying a car on finance is increasingly popular. This means that a large percentage of vehicles on the road are actually owned by finance providers until the customer pays off the finance agreement in full. If you do buy from someone who has not paid off their finance agreement in full, the finance provider could recover the car, potentially leaving you out of pocket and without a car.

People also take out loans which are secured against the vehicle, which also mean that the finance company could legally come and take the car away.

It is worth paying the small fee before you commit to buying a car to have the peace of mind and protection.

A HPI Check can also identify issues with things such as:

  • Outstanding finance

  • Stolen vehicles

  • Scrapped vehicles

  • Insurance write-offs

  • VIN/Chassis checks

  • Imported vehicles

  • Lookbook checks

  • MOT history

  • Mileage discrepancies

  • Safety recalls

Buying a used car with confidence

Before you hand over money for a car

  • Don't rush - If something doesn't feel right and you have unresolved concerns - walk away

  • Confirm what is included in the price in writing

  • Confirm any work that the seller has agreed to carry out

  • Confirm you are happy with the receipt showing vehicle details, agreed total price, terms of sale and the seller's details

  • Confirm collection or delivery arrangements

Need any more advice?

If you would like any further advice, please feel free to get in touch on 01636 550852, or email

PW Auto Repairs Limited, Unit 4, Brunel Drive, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG24 2EG

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