How to check a car before buying

Checking a car’s general condition is one of the first and most important steps when buying both a new and a used car.

You may have read the advice in any number of buying guides, together with a list of checkpoints to take a look at when investigating a possible purchase.

Of course, there is plenty more to take into account when looking at a new car, including cost, avoiding car scams, test driving and checking documentation.

However, a good check of the car’s general condition can give you an insight into how the car has been treated, what sort of condition the engine and other parts are in and in the worst cases, it can also give you first warning that the car may not be what it seems.

Checking the outside of the car

Rust – Rust is incredibly damaging to cars. In older cars, rust can often be unavoidable, but there is a big difference between a little surface rust that can be treated and corrosion to the body work, which can be expensive to repair and even compromise safety if widespread enough.

A simple test is to press the area gently. If the rust makes a cracking noise it could indicate a serious problem.

On the other hand, less serious rust can be treated easily at home or in a garage if you feel more comfortable with a professional doing it.

Paintwork – Paintwork can tell you a lot about a car. Flaking or discoloured paint can indicate the car has not been looked after particularly well.

More seriously, if parts of the car are coloured differently it could mean the car is a cut ‘n’ shut and could be unsafe. Similarly, patchy paint could indicate repairs in the past, and any suspicions should be checked in the car’s history.

Leaks – Before you even take a peek under the bonnet, it is always useful to check underneath the car. This can show you if there are any leaks – which can be extremely expensive to repair in certain cases.

This should be repeated after a test drive of the car, not just when the car has been stationary. Remember, a well-looked after engine usually means the rest of the car has been looked after as well.

Tyres – Tyres can be expensive to replace depending on the car, so it is always important to check the tyres on any potential new car.

The legal minimum depth for tyre tread depth is 1.6mm – or the length of a 20 pence coin’s outer edge. If the tyre tread is not that deep, it is illegal to drive on it.

It is also important to look out for tears, worn patches and lumps, all of which can lead to damage in the tyres and make the car more difficult to control.

Checking the inside of the car

Seatbelts – Seatbelts are compulsory in the UK and can be a lifesaver. Always check the seatbelts carefully for signs of fraying or other damage. It is also important to check the mechanism is working correctly.

Leaks – A different kind of leak to those from the engine. However, leaks around the windows should also be checked. Not only can this cause water to enter the car (and condensation to freeze in winter), but it can also damage electrics, especially with today’s cars featuring so many pieces of digital equipment.

Electrics – Speaking of electrics, checking the electrics before buying a car can reduce the chance of an unexpected surprise later on. If the electrics are faulty, it could indicate other, deep-lying problems with the car.

Other things to look for

Repairs – We touched on this when talking about the paintwork. It is important to look out for signs of repairs to the car. This means checking under the carpet in the boot, along the bonnet, all four wheel arches and the bumpers.

The reasons for this are simple, these are the place most likely to be damaged in an accident and as a result, the most likely places for bodged repair jobs and even cut and shuts to take place.

Upholstery – The upholstery of a car is one of the easiest things to check. Ripped, torn, stained or damaged upholstery can affect the value of a car and negotiations on price should take this into account. Once again, this can also indicate the car has not been looked after, and could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of damage to the vehicle.