Used Car Checklist: What’s Worth Checking Upfront?
There’s huge demand for used cars nowadays, especially because of the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shortage of semiconductor chips affecting production of new cars. Those in need of a new car may feel pressure to choose and confirm a used car as quickly as possible since there are many interested buyers and great deals will be snapped up very fast. That’s quite true, but buyers should still be vigilant enough to check several important things upfront.
In today’s blog, we’re sharing the most worthwhile things to check upfront on a used car before you start the process of buying it. Making these checks will ensure that your purchase goes more smoothly and you end up with a great car that works for you.
One of the simplest things you can do is to first perform a quick vehicle history check. There are several quick options you can use, some of them free and some involving a small payment. If you are serious about a car, investing in finding out more about its past that a current owner or dealership might not reveal in any detail is an extremely good idea.
Three good options are:
- www.carcheck.co.uk – offers free basic checks, with optional “premium” reports with damage check, finance check, theft history check, mileage history, car features and more. Premium reports start at £23.95 but at the time of writing are starting at £7.99.
- www.theaacarcheck.co.uk – gives you a free basic check on model, year and colour, but for more detailed checks on insurance write-off history, previous owners, outstanding finance and more, you’ll need to pay £14.99 for a single check, but the AA offers a multi-car discount at £6 per car for up to 5 vehicles. That’s useful if you’re looking at several cars simultaneously.
- www.gov.uk/get-vehicle-information-from-dvla – a free, easy-to-use service that gives you detailed specs on things like tax, SORN status, year of manufacture, fuel type, engine size, etc.
Vehicle history is the ideal place to start since it gives you many points to bring up with the seller or dealer and gives you a clearer picture of the car’s overall health.
2. Visible Paint Damage
Another thing to check up front is any signs of corrosion, rust or other visible damage to the paintwork, including chips, scratches, bubbling, orange peel and more. You should check all over the car to be sure, but typical areas of vulnerability include the wheel arches where corrosion can be accelerated by contact with winter road salt, the bumpers and on the bonnet where a lot of UV radiation is concentrated.
If you find signs of paint damage, you should ask if the seller is willing to get it fixed first, and if not then you should consider offering less money to account for the costs that getting paint correction will bring you.
3. Under the Bonnet
No pre-purchase check of a used car would be complete without looking under the bonnet. Pop it open and take a look for signs of the following things:
- Cracked belts and/or hoses
- Oil level and condition on dipstick
- Signs of corrosion, especially on the battery connectors
- Transmission fluid dipstick if possible, looking at consistency and colour
- Coolant levels
When checking the fluid levels and/or condition, engine oil should be glossy and light brown in colour, while transmission fluid should be a rich red or pink. Both of these should also be free of any signs of grit or other contamination.
Next you should turn to the tyres. Ask when they were last replaced and ask to see evidence of that. If they tell you they are new but can’t prove it, you should treat that with suspicion. You can also check the tread yourself by using a 20-pence coin. Place the outer edge of the coin into the tyre tread and see how deep it goes. If you can still see any of the coin’s outer edge, then the tyre is too worn down.
Besides the condition of the tyre tread, you should also inspect the health of the sidewall to make sure it’s free of tears. Any damage to the sidewall is fatal to the tyre, so the seller should really replace them to justify their price. If it is revealed that the current tyres are more than 5 years’ old, you should also reject these tyres regardless of their apparent condition.
An easy thing to check is that the odometer reading matches that given as the mileage for the car wherever you saw it advertised. If you saw it online, for example, and the listing was posted some time ago, has the mileage changed since then? Large discrepancies in advertised and actual mileage are cause for concern because it indicates that the seller is potentially trying to conceal damage to the car.
The general rule of thumb is that the higher the mileage on the odometer is, the greater the chance of wear and tear on key components, especially when the mileage exceeds the car’s warranty number. The perfect balance you can strike is a car with below-average mileage, which in the UK is about 7,400 miles per year, but anything between 7,500 and 10,000 can be considered pretty normal.
Using these numbers you can work out if a car is “high-mileage” or not. The more miles it’s done in less time, the greater risk you have.
6. Other Useful Checks
Below are some other useful checks you can do to make sure the car is in good condition:
- Interior gadgets and electronics: stereo, touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, digital instrument cluster (if applicable)
- Instrument gauges: petrol, oil temperature, RPM gauge (tachometer), dashboard lights, etc.
- Upholstery: look for tears, stains, signs of undue wear and tear, discolouration, cracked leather, etc.
- Lights, indicators, brake lights, headlights and full beams, etc.
Finally, don’t forget to test drive the car through different roads and weather conditions if possible. Check especially how easy it is to adjust the seat for optimum visibility when driving, and how intuitive the controls feel. These should complete your preliminary checks and inform you enough on whether or not a used car is worth purchasing.