Buying a used car

Buying a used car

A handy guide


Buying a used car can be a daunting process. With so many factors to consider, being as informed as possible can help minimise the risks and helps you to know when to walk away from a car.

To help you navigate these risks we have compiled this brief guide. With 1 in 3 used cars having a hidden history, it’s important you take your time to review all the information about the vehicle you’re interested in and not rush in to any purchase.

Get a car check

Check the car has a valid V5C

Check the car has a service history

Check the MOT history

Spare keys, spare wheel and manuals

Check for cosmetic damage

Check the engine


Used car history check

Before you go to view a car, make sure you buy a used car history check.

Something that costs a few pounds could save you hundreds or thousands in the future. Used car history checks provide vital information on whether a car has outstanding finance, has been stolen or written-off, in addition to many other important details that help you verify that you are purchasing the car that you think you are.

Make sure you purchase your own check and don’t rely on a history check provided by a dealer or private seller.

Your car check results


Never buy a car without a V5C.

Make sure the V5C is available and it is genuine by checking the watermark.

The V5C shows you who the registered keeper is but that person is not always the legal owner of the vehicle.

To ensure you are looking at a genuine vehicle, check the following details of the V5C against your used car history check:

If the car is sold privately make sure you are viewing the car at the location of the registered keeper.

Service History

The service history is one of the most important pieces of information about a car.

If a car is serviced to the manufacturer’s guidelines then it is a good indication of how well it has been maintained, which is often indicative of how reliable it will be in the future.

Service history

Make sure you know the servicing schedule of the car you are checking as every make and model is different. Every car is due a service either due to the mileage covered or its age, which ever comes first.

To ensure you are looking at a genuine vehicle, check the following details of the V5C against your used car history check:

Some dealers and sellers may state that due to a cars low mileage it didn’t require a service and that is why there is a gap in the history. This is not true!

A car that isn’t serviced to manufacturers guidelines will make any warranty claims invalid.

Make sure the service book is stamped up to date. If the service book isn’t available (a lot of main dealer service history is now electronic as are Motability cars) make sure you have invoices as proof or an electronic print out from the servicing dealer or garage.


Make sure a MOT has been completed within at least 6 months, preferably 3 months. If not, negotiate this in to the deal.

If a car isn't MOT’d it can't be taxed and therefore cannot be insured.

Compare the MOT dates and mileages with the service history to check for any mileage clocking and discrepancies.


Other Documents/Equipment

Check the car has two working keys, a handbook and manuals, a spare tyre or inflation kit, tool kit and a locking wheel nut.

These parts can be costly to replace so either ask for them to be supplied before sale or negotiate these into the price if not available.

Two spare keys that work

Handbook and/or manuals

Spare tyre and/or inflation kit

Tool kit with locking wheel nut key

Keys Tools Tyres

Cosmetic Checks

Never view a car in the rain, poor light or at night.

Water hides scratches, dents and other cosmetic damage.

To ensure the car hasn’t had any major accidents covered up check for the following things:

Misaligned or mismatched coloured panels

Any paint on the body trims that you wouldn’t expect

This could indicate where repair work has been carried out.

Tyre tread depth

If the tyres are below 3mm, even though they’re above the legal limit try to negotiate these to be replaced or on price as they will need changing in the near future.

20p test

Simply place a 20p coin in the main grooves of the tyre. If the outer band is not visible then your tyres are above the legal limit.

Ensure all lights, electronics and buttons are operational

Check the air-conditioning is working properly

A dealer or seller may say it only needs to be re-gased. However this isn’t always the case and could be a much bigger problem that can cost £100s or £1,000s.

Check the interior is free from stains or major damage

Tears and broken trim are notoriously expensive to repair and the smell of smoke is very difficult to remove.

Excessive wear to the steering wheel, gearstick or seat bolsters can be an indication of a clocked car if the mileage is very low.

Engine Checks

If possible, try to not give the dealer or seller a specific time when you will view the car. This ensures that you get to start the car cold.

Check the bonnet to see if it’s warm

If so the dealer or seller could be covering up an issue.

Make sure you check all the fluids

Check the power steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. Both should be red, not black.

If it’s an Automatic, ensure the Automatic transmission fluid is not below the mark.Check the oil dipstick level and colour.

Yellow is good but black is bad news in petrol engines. Most diesels will have black oil apart from some very modern HDI engines.

Check for any leaks under the car

If you do not feel comfortable doing these checks yourselves then get an independent inspector to view the car. This will give peace of mind and also potentially help in the negotiation stage.

Engine (one) Engine (two) Engine (three)

Test drive

A few key things to look out for when on a test drive include:

Check the brakes work and that the car doesn’t pull to one side under braking.

Check the car doesn’t drift to one side without you steering it.

Listen for any engine misfires.

Listen for any loud noises from the suspension.

Check the gears are easy to operate and they’re not slipping or jumping out of gear.

All the on-board electrics work.

Test drive

What to do once you are ready to buy the car

Ensure the invoice is filled out correctly

Check the the vehicle details [VRN, VIN, mileage and engine number are accurate and that the invoice is signed and dated.

Have written evidence of agreements

Ask for any work to be carried out or extras agreed between you and the seller to be listed on the signed invoice or on email.

V5C is filled in and signed

Like the invoice, double check the information to make sure that it’s accurate and matches up with your car check information.

Tax the car

This is no longer transferred over to you when you purchase a car, so make sure your tax is sorted out before you drive away.

Insure the car

Like Tax, you need to make sure that you are insured properly on your new car, you don’t want to get fined!


If the manufacturers warranty has expired and none is provided, it may be worth considering buying a new warranty for your own peace of mind in case you come across any unexpected issues.

Your used car struggles are over

Your used car struggles are over

Cazana can help you find and check your next used car. Start your search at