Our Guide On What To Check When Buying A Used Car

Thinking about what to check when buying a used car can be a very daunting process. From fears about the vehicle’s history to its performance and durability. Buying a used car can often feel like navigating a minefield. 

Through the years, however, the process has gradually become safer and more reliable. The government has stepped in to become more active in its regulation. Putting into place a series of checks and balances. Aimed at limiting the sale of fraudulent or falsely advertised vehicles. 

The internet has empowered buyers in a similar way. Offering advice and professional services to help anyone find their next car. 

An AA survey found that most new cars lose a staggering 40% of value in their first year alone. Making buying used cars an economical way to get around bloated premiums and high deposits. 

However, buying a used car remains stressful and often difficult for many people.

This article will provide a beginner’s guide on what to check when buying a used car. And hopefully, provide some insight into some common pitfalls and solutions to problems.

Do Your Homework

Because of the multitude of sellers, dealers, and other used car outlets, buying a used car can feel overwhelming.

Entire websites are devoted to the community sale of vehicles. Often with little information and contact between the vendor and buyer.

Thankfully, there are several key steps that any buyer can take to stop the process from feeling like the wild west.

One of the first things to check when buying a used car is the reputation of the company or person selling it to you. It may sound simple. But the fact is that many used car companies have a history of shady dealings that leave the customer to suffer the consequences. 

If you’re buying from a trader (a dedicated car selling business), it’s important to first find out if they are an established firm with a strong track record in providing reliable services.

To do this, you can look at independent customer experience websites such as Trustpilot or look for some form of accredited membership on their website. This could be from The Retail Motor Federation, for example. But any reliable board of vehicle sale etiquette will also do. 

What you’re looking for here is an indication that the company follows the Motor Ombudsman’s Code of Practice. A set of rules that allows you to take action against the trader if they have acted unethically. 

Before moving on to the nuts and bolts of the car itself, it’s worth checking the vehicle’s history.

You can do this relatively easily on the DVLA’s website. Another tip is to ask the seller to provide you with the vehicle’s registration number, MOT test number, mileage, and the make and model, before checking this against the information registered on the website.

Look for glaring mistakes at this stage. As small differences in estimated mileage for example can usually be clarified through a conversation with the seller. 

Criminal Implications

The big red flags are the crucial details. Such as the registration number or logbook – don’t match the details registered with the DVLA. In the case of the logbook not matching, the citizen’s advice bureau suggests that you should report the seller to the police.

The criminal implications of buying a used car can seem scary. It is important to not be scared, but diligence is no bad thing if you want to avoid trouble. Because of this, it’s often better to put in the leg work early to make sure you’re not buying an illegal car. 

A private history check costs up to £20. But it will provide you the peace of mind of knowing if the vehicle has been reported stolen, remains unpaid for, and if there are any major discrepancies in its mileage and accident history. 

In the past, it has not been uncommon for private sellers to not declare serious repairs to a vehicle after it was written off. But a private history check is an easy way to find this out.

It may be an annoying additional expense, but in the long run, it is well worth it.

Additionally, you can check the vehicle’s MOT history through the free service on the government’s website. Doing so will allow you to check how often the car has undergone its MOT.

Again, government advice is that you do not purchase a car if you are unsure of its MOT history. So thoroughly researching any used car will ultimately pay dividends down the line. 

Things To Watch Out For

Unfortunately, buying a used car (particularly from private sellers) puts you in a position to be scammed. 

Certain less moral sellers often go to great lengths to trick you into overpaying for a car in an attempt to boost their own windfall from the sale. It is important to have an idea of some of the most common scams if it’s your first time buying a used car.

Car cloning is the term used to refer to one vehicle’s number plates being transferred to a different car. As a result, the registered details held by the government and the DVLA will differ from the car that you see.

Car cloning scams usually involve very similar cars. They might, for example, be the same make, model, and colour. 

Be thorough when you check the car. Note discrepancies in mileage or condition that might point to a cloning operation. Scams like this underscore the importance of conducting a vehicle history check prior to purchasing the car.

If you buy a car that has been cloned, you could yourself face legal action. So take the time to be sure that the details match up when you’re thinking about what to check when buying a used car. 

Cut And Shut

Private sellers have also been known to use a scam known as ‘cut and shut’. This refers to the welding together of two written off cars that are themselves no longer suitable for use on the road. 

When combined, the AA notes that more sophisticated scammers do an excellent job of hiding any cosmetic damage. To the naked eye, the car looks absolutely pristine and roadworthy. However, a test drive would normally unearth major problems with the car’s key functions.

Alternatively, you can decide to run a car data check to make sure the vehicle is as advertised. As these two examples show, the world of buying used cars can be quite murky. Especially if you are buying from private sellers. 

As long as you take the time to investigate properly and make your decision based on a close examination of the car’s history and performance, it should be easy to spot fraudulent advertisements. 

What To Check When Buying A Car

The good news is that as a buyer, there are a number of ways you can make yourself confident about the car’s condition.

Don’t underestimate the value of giving the car a once over to check for undisclosed issues. As you would with your own car, check the tread levels on the tires and that they match the specifications given in the car’s advertisement.

Be sure to examine the bodywork, both on the outside and underneath the car. Inconsistent paint jobs and mismatched colours are often signs the car has undergone extensive repairs. 

Once you’re satisfied that all is fine, have a look at the car’s interior. Ask yourself questions such as: Is there damage to the upholstery, stains or spillages, or other signs of poor maintenance? 

One of the most important things you can do is to look at the dashboard. Making sure to note any mileage discrepancies or warning lights that might pop up.

Of course, you shouldn’t buy any car without knowing what sort of state the engine is in.

Take The Car For A Test Drive

Most sellers will let you test drive the car and you should be wary of any situation where you haven’t personally driven the car. A lot of the time, this is the only way you can truly feel how the car’s statistics translate to actual performance. 

Remember to take your time on the test drive and only stop when you’re sure all of your questions have been answered.

If you’re looking to buy a manual car, the test drive should give you the perfect opportunity to examine the gearbox. Try to remember how shifting gears feel (are the transitions smooth or do they feel clunky?). And test the bite point for anything unusual. 

Additionally, you should check if the steering pulls one way and if the brakes work well. Test the handbrake to see if it is still functioning properly. 

As a general rule, ask the owner about any of the problems you encounter, as there may be a reasonable explanation for a minor fault.

With that being said, the goal of the test drive is to highlight any safety concerns or mechanical issues, so be thorough. It’s better to be safe and look for the ideal car than to accept problems that could come back to haunt you. 

Looking Online

Every customer has their own set of unique preferences when it comes to buying a used car. Some may prefer an older, cheaper car with more mileage. Others may opt for a newer, energy-efficient car. 

Add to this the variations in car finance, and make and the world of used cars can seem massive. Sometimes it is exactly this variety of choice that puts people off buying a used car.

But now, thanks to the massive growth of the online use car market, it is easier than ever to find the right car for you.

Starting in the right place is key, and FairSquare represents an ideal jumping-off point. FairSquare offers a wide selection of used cars for any preference and budget. 

What’s really great about the website is how customisable it is.

Customers can search by a number of different variables and the search engine will then return only the cars that match the terms. No more scrolling through endless pages of irrelevant and unsuitable cars. FairSquare’s search algorithm will save you time and stress.

And ultimately, make it as easy as possible for you to get what you’re looking for.

Of course, one of the big advantages of using a trader like FairSquare is the added security.

All their cars are subject to rigorous safety checks before being listed on the website. So you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re protected from the kind of scams that are all too common in the private market. 

What’s more, FairSquare is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, a sign that your purchase will be underwritten by independent regulators. 

Making The Right Choice

There are so many competing factors when buying a used car that can seem really complicated. 

This is especially true if you have never bought a used car before. You need to be able to cut through the jargon and get to the heart of what every seller, every contract, and every technical term means for you. 

Hopefully, this article will have explained the steps necessary to do so.

Above all, the most important things to check when buying a car are the seller’s reputation and the car’s history. If you’re buying privately, this might mean conducting private history checks and consulting authoritative entities like the DVLA. 

Often, it requires a test drive and an examination of the car itself to make sure you are not buying a vehicle that will break down as soon as you drive it away. Or worse, could end up in hot water because of a scam.

If you’re buying online or through a vendor, the same things apply.

Except, companies like FairSquare give you the best chance of getting the best outcome. With its excellent search engine, FairSquare simplifies and condenses a crowded market to showcase only the best cars. It conducts its own security checks on each car, saving you both time and money. 

Ultimately, even seasoned buyers of used cars would agree that having the most knowledge you can about both the process and the car your buying is vital to making the right decision when thinking about what to check when buying a used car

The time you spend prior to laying out money will ensure you are prepared for any future challenges you may face.

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Legal disclaimer: FairSquare Europe Limited is a company incorporated in England & Wales (Reg No: 08023305). and having its Registered office address at 3 Brindley Place, Birmingham, B1 2JB. FairSquare Europe Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for credit-related regulated activities, Firm Reference Number 715086

We act as a credit broker not a lender. Fairsquare shall act independently in sourcing credit from our panel of funders.

As a credit intermediary, we maintain a panel of Lenders who are reputable and experienced in the motor finance industry and consumer credit sector and offer products and services to suit a variety of credit strengths.

FairSquare is committed to ensuring that applications for credit to finance your car are placed with the most appropriate funder for a transaction. As we act as a credit broker, we will receive a fixed commission for introducing you to a finance provider, any such amount a lender pays us will not affect the interest rate you pay under your finance agreement, all of which are set by the lender concerned.

Finance is subject to status. Applicants must be 18 or over.