If you’re strapped for cash, buying a used car is your only option, but if you buy a complete heap it could end up costing you more if it needs lots of new parts. That’s why you’ll probably need to spend at least £1000 on something worth having; sometimes there are perfectly good cars available for half this, but they can be a gamble.

The Paper Trail

Make sure all the paperwork is in order. The key documents you need are:

Registration Document

Registration document or V5C. Tells you the basics about the car, how many owners it’s had and who it’s currently registered to. The person named on this form isn’t necessarily the legal owner of the car though. Don’t buy a car without a V5C and make sure it’s genuine by looking for the watermark.

Tax Disc

The tax disc. Make sure there’s a genuine tax disc, not just a copy of one; look for the metallic strips in the paper. If the tax is about to expire, haggle.

The MOT

The MoT. If a car isn’t MoTed it can’t be taxed, and it probably isn’t roadworthy.

Service History

Ask to see the service history, for proof of regular servicing and to see if the mileage is correct.

The Test Drive

Never buy a car without test driving it first.

Start the car from cold, and make sure it ticks over happily. Let it warm up then take it for a good run so you can check everything – make sure you’re insured though. While you’re driving, check for a smoky exhaust, ensure there’s no misfiring (that the engine pulls cleanly) and also feel for pulling to one side under braking. Other issues could include a worn clutch (feel for slipping) and listen for any untoward noises – rattles, clonks or whining – that don’t sound right.

Basic Checks

Follow these tips to make sure the car is up to snuff

  • 1

    Bodywork

    Look for dents and scrapes; also check panel fit. Any damage will be costly to put right. Check for rust that’s been painted over, plus filler in the wheelarches.

  • 2

    Wheels

    Have the tyres worn evenly; are they worn out altogether? Uneven wear suggests poorly aligned tracking (usually easily sorted) but could be something more serious.

  • 3

    Interior

    Have the steering wheel and gearknob been worn smooth? Does this tally with the recorded mileage?

  • 4

    Glass

    Is the interior undamaged, along with all the glass? Are there stickers on the windows that cover an old registration number etched into the glass?

  • 5

    Dashboard

    Do all the speedo digits line up properly? Are the old MoTs to hand and does the mileage recorded on these forms tie in with what’s displayed?

  • 6

    Electrics

    Ensure all the electrics work – look at everything, including the instruments.Do all the speedo digits line up properly? Are the old MoTs to hand and does the mileage recorded on these forms tie in with what’s displayed?

  • 7

    Chassis Number

    Does the chassis number (usually at the base of the windscreen on the passenger side) match the one on the registration document? Also check the engine number, which is usually on the top of the block, down the one side.

  • 8

    Keys

    Are all the keys available? There should be at least a spare and probably a master too. Lose the only key and you may have to have everything reprogrammed – which can cost hundreds of pounds.

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More Info on Buying a Used Car

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