8 important car checks to make before buying a second-hand car

Written by

Stephanie Reid

Stephanie Reid is a financial services expert with over eight years of experience writing money-saving articles at Novuna Personal Finance. She has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics including interior design, home improvements and weddings - with a keen eye for spotting money-saving opportunities and passing these tips onto readers. As a mum of two, Stephanie knows how important budgeting effectively is for parents and often incorporates family budgeting tips into her guides.

Tuesday 1st November 2022

According to Auto Trader, they expect a record number of Britain's cars to be at least 10 years old by 2027.

The forecast has been made based on Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data, and claims the rise is due to disruption to car production caused by the pandemic.

But used cars can be a great investment, as they don't depreciate in value to the same extent as a new car and can be very cost-effective to run, IF you know what to look out for. And that's where we come in.

Our essential checklist is a great starting point and will give you a must needed overview of what to look out for.


Spend some time looking at each one carefully. Make sure that there are no cuts or bulges and check the tread depth as well. The legal tread minimum is 1.6mm. If it's below 3mm then you may have to replace the tyres quite soon, so it's worth factoring this into your negotiation.


Try EVERYTHING – put the windows up and down a few times, turn the radio on and off, test the aircon; basically, press every button and feature to ensure they are in good working order. The last thing you want is to get into your new car the next day to find out the headlights won’t turn on.


It’s best to try and check bodywork on a good clear day as dim lighting or bad weather can make spotting issues harder. Small chips and dents are to be expected on a used car but if there are visible gaps between panels or the colour doesn’t quite match then this could indicate a poor repair job. Alternatively, if the body work looks near perfect with no visible signs of wear and tear for its age then it may have been repaired after a crash.


Check for any signs of cracks or chips. This could be an added expense as it will need replacing and this is also a MOT fail. While you’re at it, check all lights for cracks, fogging or internal moisture.


Stains and tears in the upholstery can be off-putting as well as any bad smells such as cigarette smoke. It may be costly and hard to remedy later and could affect your own resale value further down the line.

Under the bonnet

Don’t be afraid to pop the hood and check all the fluid levels. If they are low, this could indicate poor upkeep. Check the oil cap for a white creamy substance – this is a sign of coolant mixing with the oil and a sign of head gasket failure. Also, it’s worth looking for any oil leaks by checking where the car has been parked.


Have the wheels been kerbed? If so, they will have tell-tale scratches to the alloys. Check if the car comes with a spare tyre as well as lifting jack and adapter for locking wheel nuts.

Wear and tear

Ensure that the signs of use match the age of the car. Low mileage yet heavy wear on the steering wheel, pedals or seats could indicate that something isn’t quite right.

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