Inspecting a car

Before buying a used car and handing over the money, you should check the car out thoroughly. This is especially true when buying privately. Take someone with you who knows what to look for. Inspecting a car before you buy it is invaluable.

Before buying a used car and handing over the money, check the car thoroughly, especially when purchasing privately.

Viewing the car

Take someone with you who knows what to look out for when buying a second-hand car.

We know you wouldn’t do this – but some people view a car in the dark with a torch and don’t even test drive it.

Viewing in dry weather is best and makes it easier to spot damage.

Remember to look at the underneath of the car, and ask yourself: does the mileage match the car’s condition?

Outside of the car


  • Is the paintwork failing? Is the colour and texture of the paint patchy?
  • Have body panels been repaired – do the body panels and doors line up correctly? If not, this could be a sign of an accident.
  • Is the bodywork free from rust? Check wheel arches, door bottoms, door and window frames.

Doors and windows

  • Do the doors open and close smoothly? Do they line up correctly?
  • Are the locks and handles in working order?
  • Do door and window seals show signs of leaking?


  • Have repairs been carried out on the boot? Check under the carpet!
  • Has any welding been done on the boot?
  • Is there a spare tyre and, if so, is it roadworthy?


  • Check the suspension by pushing the corners of the car down. It should bounce and then return to the starting point. Extra movement or noise may mean new shock absorbers are required.
  • Are the springs in the wheel arch leaking a sign of being worn out?

Brake pipes

  • Do the brake pipes have rust on them, this could cause a burst pipe when you brake?


  • Check all the lights work.
  • Headlights.
  • Fog lights.
  • Brake lights.
  • Hazard lights.
  • Reversing lights.
  • Indicators.


  • Tyres should have even wear and no damage. (Inconsistencies could mean alignment, steering or suspension problems.)
  • The legal minimum tread (the depth of the rubber pattern) is 1.6mm. A simple check is to insert a 20p coin in the lowest tread depth of the tyres. If you can’t see the outer rim around the edge of the coin, then your tyre is safe and has a minimum tread of 3mm.

The engine

  • Check the bonnet lines up with the body panels.
  • When was the engine last serviced?
  • Check the oil – if you find sludge on the oil cap, it may be signs of a gasket problem. If the oil level is low, find out why.
  • Check the radiator – if coolant is brown or empty, it may be a sign of a leak. Check for any damaged hoses.

Inside the car

Make sure you check all the items in the vehicle are in working order, both manual and electric.

  • Interior linings – check seats and carpets for tears and stains
  • Windows
  • Windscreen wipers and washers
  • Locks
  • Radio / Stereo – is there a radio code?
  • Heater / air conditioning
  • Light switches
  • Dashboard lights
  • Seat controls
  • Seat belts and mountings

Buying a car

Other Young Car Driver information – buying a car

Buying from a car dealer


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Checking a car’s history

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Questions to ask when buying a car

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Test driving a car

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