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09 May 2023

Checking a Used Car

09 May 2023 8 min read
mg car | Checking a Used Car | EUROCOC

Have you been thinking about buying a used car? What should you be looking for before you commit to buying?

This blog post will cover all you need to know about checking a used car. You will discover what checks to do before you commit to a sale and learn about the DVLA checks you should do before buying the car.

Want to know how to register a used car with the DVLA? Do you need a new registration for your vehicle when moving to a new country in Europe? Looking for more detailed information on what to do on a used car test drive? Click these links to find out more!

Vehicle Details Check

You should always carry out a few checks before buying a used car. It is essential to be diligent and check these details whether you are buying a used car through a reputable dealer or a private seller.

Ensuring that you carry out these simple checks before you make a purchase will reduce your chances of buying a car that has had significant repair work carried out on it or is being sold illegally.

We recommend doing this no matter who or where you buy the used car from.
Gov.UK provides detailed information on the checks you should complete from a legal and safety standpoint before purchasing a used car.
To check that the information provided to you about the vehicle is correct, you will need the vehicle’s registration number, make, model and MOT test number.

You will also need to see the V5C vehicle registration certificate (log book).

You can use this information to check the following through the GOV.UK website:

  1. Check the details you’ve been given match DVLA’s information
  2. Check the vehicle’s MOT history
  3. Check if the vehicle has been recalled because of a safety issue
  4. Check the log book isn’t for a stolen vehicle.

If you are satisfied that all of the information you have been given about the used vehicle is correct, legal, and up-to-date, you can then arrange to see the vehicle in person and take it for a test drive.

Vehicle Inspection

Before you commit to buying any car, it goes without saying that you should always go and check the car over. You must ensure the vehicle is in good condition, meets your needs, and drives well.

When checking a used vehicle, you should expect to spend more time checking the car than you would with a brand-new car.

Not only should you be checking that the car meets your needs in terms of how it drives, the practicality, and the size of the car, but you also need to ensure that a used car is in good working order.

Before you take a seat behind a used car’s wheel, you should ensure that you conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle inside and out and take note of any areas that are cause for concern.

That means looking over the outside and inside of the car, under the bonnet, and in the boot.

Outer Checks

Firstly, look for any damage to the car’s body, noting any scratches, dents etc.

Look for uneven gaps between the panels, as this could indicate problems underneath the car, such as inadequate repair work or damage from a historical accident.

Next, look at the roof, ensuring it is in good condition. If you are considering purchasing a used convertible, look for any tears in a soft top and check the roof operates smoothly.

The paint should be an even colour all over the car. If it isn’t, that could indicate bad repair work. Be sure to note any signs of rusting, bubbling or crumbling paintwork.

Check that the tyres have enough tread and that any wear is even across the tread. If not, this could signify something wrong with the suspension.

Check the suspension by pushing down on each corner of the car. If the car doesn’t smoothly bounce back up, this could signify a suspension issue.


Check that all lights and indicators work. This will involve getting in and out of the vehicle to ensure everything works.

Check that the mileage is consistent with the paperwork, then check the wear in the car matches the miles on the clock. If the odometer says low miles, but there is extensive wear within the vehicle, the mileage may be much higher.

Take a moment to check if the cabin is comfortable. Can you see and reach everything easily enough?

Some key things to check that people often forget are:

• Seat belts. Do they pull out and retract smoothly?
• Can you adjust and move the seat?
• Check the steering wheel. Can you turn it and do any controls on the steering wheel work as expected?
• Do any electric windows or mirrors work as expected?
• Check that the ventilation blows hot and cold and listen for suspect noises
• Check all internal equipment, including central locking, interior lights, and fitted sat nav.

When conducting your inspections inside the vehicle, you should also consider whether there is enough room inside. If you use child seats, take them with you and check they fit. If you regularly have passengers in the back seat, consider if they will have enough room.

Check the boot. Is there enough room for everything you usually carry in your car? Do the rear seats fold easily? Be sure to check if there’s a spare wheel and that it’s in good condition when inspecting the boot too!

Are You Insured?

Before you test drive a car, you must ensure that your insurance covers you.

The seller may be able to extend their insurance to cover any test drive should your insurance not cover test driving another vehicle. You should always check the seller’s insurance if they claim this is the case.

Alternatively, ask your insurer for temporary comprehensive cover. This will be useful if you plan on test-driving several cars.

If you are satisfied that the vehicle meets your needs and is in good working order from your visual inspection, you are ready to test drive.

Test Driving a Used Car

Now you are ready to take the car for a test drive. Always endeavour to test drive a car with the radio off. This will allow you to be more aware of how the vehicle runs.

Listen for unusual noises or any rattling coming from the engine. The engine should be running smoothly. Also, check for smoke when starting the car and when driving.

Be sure to pay attention to how the vehicle is steering. There should be no vibration. The steering should feel smooth and responsive.

Pay attention when changing gears. There should be no crunching. Does the clutch bite reasonably? If the pedal is too high, the clutch may be worn.

Remember to pay attention when testing the brakes. Ensure they are responsive and the car stops in a straight line.

If you can drive routes familiar to you in your day-to-day driving routine. Practice parking, and be sure you can carry out any manoeuvres in this vehicle you regularly need to use.

Remember that you are not only checking to ensure the used vehicle is in good working order, but you are also checking that you are comfortable and able to drive the vehicle well.

If you are satisfied that the vehicle is in good condition and meets your requirements, you are ready to purchase.

Please make sure you always get a receipt of purchase when buying a used car that includes the details of both parties; it might also be worthwhile to take records of the seller’s identification.

Checklist Summary

  1. Check vehicle documents and information, including V5c, service history and MoT.
  2. Check the bodywork of the car outside and underneath. Always check during the daytime.
  3. Check wheels and tyres, paying attention to tread depth, rubber condition and the make of each tyre.
  4. Check the car’s interior thoroughly, including the boot, dash, and electronics.
  5. Remember insurance! Make sure you are covered before you get behind the wheel for your test drive.
  6. Test drive. Take your time and drive around until you are satisfied.
  7. Check the engine for leaks, oil level, head gasket condition and exhaust smoke.
  8. Check the gearbox and clutch. Be sure to feel and listen to the smoothness of the gear change, and test the clutch biting point.

Are you thinking about taking your used vehicle abroad? You will need to show a Certificate of Conformity for your vehicle. We can help you to obtain a COC for your vehicle in a simple, hassle-free way. Click here to obtain your COC now.

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