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Total Guide to Buying a Used Car

Here are James Goodenough's top tips for buying a used car...

Buying a used car is a great way of cutting costs, not only is it one of the cheapest options available but it's much faster and simpler too. 

However, if you're thinking of purchasing a used car, there are a few things to look out for; so make sure you browse following tips before you put pen to paper.

Exterior Condition

It can be widely assumed that the better the car is on the outside, the better the car looks, and crucially, the better the car is underneath. You are less likely to come across any nasty surprises if the car looks as good as possible on the outside, as it shows that the previous keeper cared the vehicle he or she was driving. Be wary slightly discoloured panels, as this could indicate a bad job at masking damage, and corrosion in the seals, as the seals are particularly vulnerable to rainwater and are likely to have not been prepped for exposure to the elements.

Steer well clear of damaged bumper frames – they may appear to only be slight, but can often mask much greater, hidden damage like a cracked suspension for example.

Test Drive

To make sure you’re getting the right car for you, and to make sure you come across any hidden nasties before you put pen to paper, a test drive is an absolute must. A test drive will allow you to not only have a taster of what the car will be like to live with, how easy it is to use and what specs it has, but it will also give you an idea of what’s wrong and what needs to doing: things like brake distance, wheel tracking and power input are things that can only be noticed when you’re driving it, so try before you buy!


One thing that people have to look out for and often gets overlooked are the brakes, both for foot and hand.  Excessive brake wear can not only be an expensive nuisance which can erode any savings you made in the purchase, but also a potentially dangerous thing which can put yourself and other’s lives at risk. Test the handbrake and footbrake before setting off, by applying them one after the other. Would work best on a gradient.

Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs)

Check the vehicle has VIN stickers where they are meant to be, and that they match that of the V5C document that comes with the car. If they don’t, it could mean that parts have been replaced which indicates something has gone wrong or an accident has previously occurred.

Vehicle Checks

To make sure you get accurate information on the vehicle, go to the DVLA’s car check page on their website, it’s free and should tell you important information such as specification, registration, insurance and tax information. If you are buying an older with a varied car history or you’re buying from a private seller it may be worth investing in a comprehensive car check; the prices for them vary with how comprehensive the test is, but it should flag up anything of concern.

Remember, as of autumn 2014, vehicle tax is now automated and specific to both the car and the driver, so car taxation cannot be carried over between keepers.

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