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.

Inspect the car in daylight

This may seem an obvious one – and we know you wouldn’t do this – but there are people who view a car in the dark with a torch and don’t even test drive it.

Inspect the car in daylight and preferably when it’s dry. This makes it easier to spot damage. Always 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 properly? If not, this could be a sign of an accident.
  • Are wheel arches and door bottoms as well as door and window frames free of rust.

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? This is 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 items in the car 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
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