We and our third party partners use technology such as cookies on our site. This is to give you a better experience, analyse how you and other visitors use this website and show you relevant, tailored advertisements. By using this website you agree to the use of cookies. You can read our Cookies Policy using the link in the footer of this page.

Accept cookies

Before you buy

Decide what you want and how much you can afford. Include the cost of insurance, MOT, road tax, petrol, repairs and servicing. If you are taking out a loan, add up the repayments.

Don't rush into a decision. Shop around. Look at car magazines and price guides to see what is available for the price you want to pay.

If your knowledge of cars is sketchy, use our checklist. It gives the main things to look out for when assessing a used car's condition, and tells you the signs that point to a car which has been stolen or clocked (had its mileage altered).

If you don't know much about cars, it's a good idea to take someone with you who does. Or you could pay for an independent inspection by a professional mechanic or one of the motoring organisations. It costs between £100 and £300, but could save you money in the long run.

Click here to print this checklist (Printer friendly)

Is the car in reasonable condition?

Before the test drive
Are sills, wheel arches and door bottoms rusty or the paint bubbling?
Is the paintwork faded, blemished or excessively damaged?
Are there oil leaks or damaged hoses/drive belts under the bonnet?
Are tyres worn or damaged?
Are seat belts showing signs of fraying?
Do door and window seals show signs of leaking?
Are electrics faulty (lights, washers, horn and indicators)?
When you start the engine and before you drive away does the vehicle emit blue or black smoke from exhaust?
(indicates badly-worn engine)
Has it been clocked? Physical checks
Are mileometer numbers out of line?
Is wear and tear heavy, given mileage?
Have pedal rubbers/gear knob/steering wheel been changed?
Paper checks/questions to ask
Does mileage on last MOT certificate contradict mileometer reading?
Does mileage on service documentation contradict mileometer reading?
Does mileage when car was last sold contradict mileometer reading?
(check with previous owners – named on V5)
During the test drive
Are brakes defective? (eg, car takes a long time to stop)
Does car pull to one side when you brake?
Do brakes squeal?
Is the brake pedal soft or spongy? Do you have to put the pedal to the floor to brake?
Park the car on an incline with the handbrake on. Does the car roll backwards?
Does the steering wheel vibrate? Is there a lot of free play?
Does car pull to one side?
Is changing gear difficult?
Does gear lever jump gear when you brake or accelerate?
Is the clutch difficult to use when moving through the gears?
Does engine sound different if clutch is pressed when car is idling?
Is there a strong smell of petrol or oil?
After the test drive
Open the bonnet and take a look while the engine is running.
Then switch the engine off.
Does the engine make uncommon noises?
Are there water or oil leaks?
Is there excessive smoke from the exhaust?
When engine has stopped, remove oil cap
– do you see white liquid like mayonnaise?
Look under the bonnet and underneath the car, with a torch if necessary. Are there any leaks?
Is it an insurance write off?
Have body panels been repaired?
Is colour/texture of paintwork patchy?
Has welding been carried out on the engine/boot?
Have repairs been carried out on the boot?
(check under the carpet)
Is it stolen? Physical checks
Has the vehicle identification number (VIN) been tampered with?
Are glass areas such as windows, lights or sunroof etched with incorrect VIN? (as a security measure some cars have the VIN etched on their glass)
Have surface areas of glass been scratched off windows, head lights, tail lights, sun roof?
Do stickers conceal altered etching?
Are there signs that the car has been resprayed, for example is there paint on the wheels or seals?
Are there signs of forced entry?
Has the locking petrol cap been forced and replaced?
Do the locks differ?
(thieves often change locks they have damaged)
Paper checks/questions to ask
Is the seller unable to produce the registration document (V5)?
Does the seller give an inadequate reason for not having the V5?
Are there spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5?
Is watermark missing from V5?
Is seller’s name and address different from V5?
(ask seller for proof of identity and address, eg, driving licence, utility bill)
Is number plate different from V5?
Is engine number different from V5?
Is vehicle identification number (VIN) different from V5?
(check VIN plate in engine compartment and under both bonnet and driver’s seat)
Is the seller unable to produce an insurance policy and an up-to-date MOT certificate for the car?

Buying from a dealer

Buying from a dealer is the safest way of buying as you get the maximum protection of the law. But there are dodgy dealers, so look for an established firm with a good reputation. Ask the advice of friends and look for a trade association sign which should mean the dealer follows a code of practice.

The Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association can give you a list of dealers that are trade association members and follow a code of practice.

Look for a dealer whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or one of the motoring organisations. Ask to see the report on the car you want to buy. It will not be as detailed as one you pay for yourself, but will provide useful information. Or choose a dealer with a quality-checking scheme, such as Ford Direct, Rover Approved or Vauxhall's Network Q.

Your rights
When buying from a dealer, the law says a car must be:
• Of satisfactory quality - it must meet the standard a reasonable person would regard as acceptable, bearing in mind the way it was described, how much it cost and any other relevant circumstances. This covers, for example, the appearance and finish of the car, its safety and its durability. The car must be free from defects, except when they were pointed out to you by the seller.
• As described - a car said to have 'one careful lady owner' shouldn't turn out to have three previous owners, all males under 22
• Reasonably fit for any normal purpose - it should get you from A to B
• Reasonably fit for any other purpose you specify to the seller - for example, towing a caravan.
These rights are not affected by any mechanical breakdown insurance (often sold by dealers if the manufacturer's warranty has run out), guarantee or warranty giving additional protection.

If you inspect the car, or someone does so for you, the dealer is not liable for any faults which should have been uncovered by the inspection. It's a good idea to get a description of the vehicle's condition from the dealer: ask whether there is a pre-sale inspection checklist.

Buying Privately

Buying privately should be cheaper than buying from a dealer. But it is also riskier: the car may be stolen, or it may have been used as security for a loan or hire agreement and actually belong to a finance company (see 'what to watch out for').
You have fewer legal rights if you buy privately.
The car must be as described but the other rules don't apply. If a private seller lies about the condition of a car, you can sue for your losses – if you can find the seller.
Some dealers pretend to be private sellers to avoid their legal obligations and to get rid of faulty or over-priced cars. They advertise in local newspapers and shop windows.

Warning signs to look out for include:
• Ads which give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call (it may be a public phone box, not the seller's home)
• The same phone number appears in several ads
• When you phone about the car, the seller asks 'Which one?'
• The seller wants to bring the car to you or meet you somewhere, rather than you going to the seller's home.
If the seller is really a dealer, then your full legal rights apply (see 'buying from a dealer').
Buying privately

Buying from Auction

You can pick up a bargain at an auction but auctions are probably the riskiest way of buying a used car. You need to know what you are doing – go as a spectator first and see what happens.

If you don't know much about cars, take someone with you who does. Decide the maximum you can afford and stick to it. The entry form attached to the windscreen will give you an idea of the car's history.

Your usual legal rights (see 'buying from a dealer') may not apply if the seller issues a disclaimer, such as the term 'sold as seen', which excludes all or some of those rights. Read the auctioneer's conditions of business carefully to check whether this is the case.

Buying from a dealer internet

When buying a used car from a business over the internet, your rights are the same as the rights you would have buying a car in person from a business. In many circumstances, you may also have additional rights under the Distance Selling Regulations, which cover on-line purchases.

However, if you are buying a used car from an individual over the internet, your rights are the same as those for buying a used car from an individual.

If you find a car you would like to buy, take steps to protect yourself. We strongly advise that you go and see the car in person, if possible. A checklist can be found here


As you surf the internet, make notes of what is on offer. Make comparisons. If a picture of a car is shown, check that it matches the car for sale. Some sellers may use representative pictures as opposed to 'real' ones.

Once you have found the car you want - try to discover as much as you can about the seller:

get their geographical address - you'll need it if you want to complain, and your rights vary depending on the location of the company you're buying from. A '.co.uk' or '.uk' internet address doesn't always mean the firm is UK based

EU countries have similar rights to UK ones, but you'll find it much more difficult to solve problems or disputes outside the EU. You could look at government consumer rights internet sites for the country concerned.

Ensure you are dealing with a reputable company and, if possible, that the site is a 'secure' one. Often a warning will flash up as you enter a secure page and you might see a closed padlock symbol in the status bar at the bottom of your screen. The TrustUK logo means that the trader has agreed to abide by certain standards.

If you decide to buy, print off the details of the company you are dealing with, including terms and conditions, quotes and completed order form.

If possible, ask other people who have used the company what their experience has been.

Read the small print before deciding to go ahead. If an online seller cannot provide satisfactory responses to questions on warranty terms, delivery or product quality, it would be safer to shop elsewhere.

Before concluding the deal, you would be well advised to have the car inspected by an expert and a vehicle data check carried out which will give you details of the car's history. Contact details for the different agencies undertaking these checks can be found in the OFT leaflet Buying a used car. The results of the inspection and/or the vehicle check can help you to decide whether you want to proceed, or negotiate a better deal.

Pay safely. It is rare that you will be asked to send cash before you receive goods. Be very cautious if you are. Using a credit card does have some advantages - you're protected against home shopping fraud - if your card is used fraudulently, you'll get a refund from the card issuer. You may also have rights if the trader ceases trading before you get your car.

If you are planning to pay either a deposit or the full amount by credit card over the internet it is advisable to ensure it is a secure site. Ring them to check if you are unsure.

Always get confirmation of your order by post, fax or email. As a minimum, your confirmation should give you an order number, the main specifications of the vehicle ordered including the price agreed, and the expected date of delivery.

What to watch out for

Mechanical condition and safety
Assess the car in daylight. Take it for a test drive. Our checklist gives an idea of what to look for, but take someone with you if you don't know much about cars.

If a car has been in an accident, it may be unsafe. Sometimes, two damaged cars are welded together to create a new one. These are known as 'cut and shuts' and are almost certainly unsafe.

There are companies that can tell you whether a car is an insurance company write-off - you can usually find details of these companies in motoring magazines.

Stolen cars

If you buy a stolen car, the police can take it from you to return it to the original owner or the insurance company. You will not get any compensation even though you bought the car in good faith. You can sue the seller for your losses but this might be difficult if you bought privately and the seller has disappeared.

And if you bought the car on credit, you may still have to pay off the loan – it depends on the type of agreement you have.

It can be hard to tell whether a car is stolen. Its identity may have been changed. For example, the identity number and number plate of a legitimate car may be transferred to a stolen one. Vehicle registration documents can be forged or obtained by fraud.

But there are tell-tale signs to look out for.

Warning signs:

• The seller can't produce the vehicle registration document (V5) - a common excuse is that it has been sent to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for updating. This may be true – for example, the seller may have changed address recently. But be wary: it means you cannot check the car's ownership and identity details; if the seller claims the car was bought very recently and the V5 is with the DVLA for the change of ownership to be recorded, the seller should have a green slip (this applies only to cars issued with V5s from March 1997);

• There are spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5, or it does not have a watermark;

• The name and address on the V5 are different to those on the seller's driving licence, passport, or recent gas or electricity bill;

• The three main identifying numbers listed below don't match the numbers on the V5: the vehicle registration mark (the number plate)the vehicle identification number (VIN) - this can be found on a metal VIN plate, usually in the engine compartment, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver's seat. As a security measure some cars have the VIN etched on their windows or lamps the engine number;

• The engine and VIN numbers have been tampered with areas of glass may have been scratched off the windows, or stickers may cover up etching which has been altered;

• The seller cannot show you the insurance policy for the car.
Use the checklist to help you spot the signs of a stolen car.

Cars still owned by a credit company

A car bought on hire purchase or conditional sale belongs to the finance company until the payments have been completed. If you buy such a car, the lender can take it back. You can sue whoever sold you the car, but only if you can find them.

There are only a few exceptions to this. If you were not aware the car was subject to an outstanding credit agreement and bought it in good faith, you may be allowed to keep it. This does not apply to stolen cars or cars which are subject to a hire agreement.

There are companies that can tell you if a car is clear of any outstanding finance deals -you can usually find details of such companies in motoring magazines. If you are buying from a dealer, ask whether this check has already been carried out.

Clocked cars

Low mileage can be a selling point, but the clock can be turned back to reduce the number of miles shown. Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering up the mileometer or issuing a disclaimer saying that the mileage may be wrong. To be valid, such a disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as the mileage reading and as effectively brought to your attention.

If the mileage is low but wear and tear on the car looks heavy, the car could have been 'clocked'. Clockers sometimes change pedal rubbers, steering wheels and gear knobs to hide this. Another sign is that the mileometer numbers don't line up correctly.

There are several ways you can find out about the history of the car:
• Check MOT certificates and service documentation for mileage readings taken by mechanics;

• Contact previous owners named on the V5 and ask what the mileage was when they sold the car;

• Get mileage information from companies that research the car's history (you can find these in motoring magazines);

• If buying from a dealer, ask whether the dealer has used trade-only database companies such as IMVA and VMC to check mileage.
Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering up the mileage reading or issuing a disclaimer saying the mileage may be wrong. To be valid, the disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as the mileage reading and as effectively brought to your attention.

Cookie Policy | Privacy | Terms & Conditions | Contact Us |  © 2019 UK Webwise.com Limited