Who is selling? If there is a ‘T’ in the advert, it’s a trader who is selling
Find out as much as you can: MOT and tax expiry dates, mileage and number of owners are good starting points
If the bonnet is warm when you arrive, it may indicate the car has problems starting cold
If you can, take along a qualified mechanic or someone who has good knowledge of cars.
Checking the tyres
Look at the tred – are they legal?
Is the tyre wear even?
Remember to look at the inside of the tyre as this could indicate steering alignment problems.
Looking over the bodywork
Are all the panels the same shade/colour?
Is there paint on the windscreen rubbers or door handles? This may indicate a respray.
Are there any ripples on the panels? This could indicate that filler has been used to do a repair.
Are the gaps between the doors, bonnet and boot the same: Larger than normal gaps indicate a poor repair.
Is there excessive rust?
Are the door mirrors present and do they match?
Inside the car
Look out for theft damage around locks and handles.
Shiny plastics, such as the steering wheel, gear knob and the pedal rubbers, indicate high mileage. A worn, saggy seat is also a giveaway.
Seat belts should run free and easily.
Lift the carpets in the boot to look for accident repairs and any dampness.
Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) tallies with the logbook (V5). The VIN is usually etched into plates on the dash surface visible through the windscreen, bonnet scuttle panel or on the glass itself. They are often also found on stickers on the door post. In older cars they can sometimes be found underneath the carpet.
Under the bonnet
Look for leaks of water and oil hydraulic fluid. Check under the oil filler cap; if it’s white and frothy the cylinder head gasket may have gone.
Check the oil level. Is it high enough and not sludgy? If it is white and watery there may be an engine problem.
Looking over the car documents
When buying a car from any person, the most important thing is to confirm that they actually own the car and are entitled to sell it. One of the most important documents is the V5C issued by the DVLA and often referred to as the logbook. This gives details of the vehicle and the registered keeper. Check the details on the form with those physically attached to the vehicle. Being the registered keeper may not necessarily confirm ownership.
Ask the seller to show you previous service records, MOTs and any other documents which confirm the history of the vehicle.