Whether you’ve just turned 17 and have a brand-new driving licence, or are coming to it later in life, choosing your first used car wisely is hugely important. Avoiding breakdowns, feeling comfortable and safe, and affordable running costs should be just as important as liking the colour, style or brand of car.
Fortunately, there’s a wide range of vehicles to choose from – so finding a car that fits your image and lifestyle isn’t impossible, even with a new licence. But first, it’s good to ask yourself this: what’s my car worth? Knowing this is paramount for getting the most for your old car and will give you more budget to play with.
The good news is that with reliable cars available for as little as £1000 if you buy carefully, there really is a good secondhand car for everyone. Here are the top tips for ensuring you buy the best for your money:
Check a used car’s MOT history first
Did you know there’s a free servicing for viewing a car’s entire MOT history online? That means before viewing any car, and armed with the car’s registration number, you can check that its mileage is genuine, how well it’s been looked after, and what jobs could need doing for the next MOT test.
One item above all others will be the most useful when buying a used car – a friend, relative or independent expert who can check the car over with you, accompany you for financial transactions and provide sensible advice.
You’ve found a car you like, and the history checks out, so now it’s time to check it over and satisfy yourself that the car is legal and safe to take on the road.
Checks before test driving a used car
- Ask to see the logbook and all other paperwork. Check if the vehicle is taxed online – without MOT or tax, it’s illegal to drive on the road, unless it’s with a dealer who has trade insurance.
- Walk around the car and look for signs of accident damage, such as mismatched paint and damaged bumpers that have been repaired badly.
- Inspect the tyres for safe, legal tread depth and condition.
- Look across the windscreen for cracks and chips.
- Open the bonnet and check the oil on the dipstick.
- Check the coolant level, either through the radiator cap or in the expansion tank.
- Check the brake fluid is clear and honey colour.
Satisfied that it all checks out, it’s time for the test drive. Ask to take it on an extended route that includes speed bumps, roundabouts and a stretch of dual carriageway or motorway to test the car at speed. Take your time, don’t be flustered by a seller in a rush, and make sure you listen out for any tell-tale signs of impending trouble with the car.
Checks on the test drive
- Does the ABS (anti-lock brakes) come on then go off? If it doesn’t come on at all, or stays on, the system isn’t working properly and it could be costly to fix.
- Are there any other warning lights? There shouldn’t be on the move.
- The car should start easily. If anything sounds untoward, ask the seller why.
- Look in the mirrors or ask a friend check for smoke from the exhaust when starting.
- Listen for odd noises and sniff for burning smells when operating the clutch.
- Ensure seat, mirrors and steering wheel are comfortable and the seatbelts work.
- Make sure the brakes work and you know how much pressure to apply.
- Listen for rattles, clicks or grinding sounds when steering.
- Most owners and dealers will accompany you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the car.
What’s the takeaway?
Buying a used car involves a lot of unknowns. These simple checks will go a long way to ensure there’s nothing obviously wrong with it. Be unemotional and thorough, and follow these checks, and you should end up with a car that provides reliable and dependable service in the future.