Checking and inspecting a used car
It’s often wise to pay a professional to inspect a used car before you buy it - click here to go through to Dekra vehicle inspections.
If you decide to check the car yourself, here's how to do it. You'll find more checks in our advice on what to look for during a test drive.
If you uncover anything, it doesn't mean you should walk away. But make sure any answers are convincing, especially if you suspect an accident. And use what you find as a bargaining tool to negotiate down the price.
Outside the car
Check that everything on the outside the car looks good.
- Signs of damage or repairs, such as buckling, paint finishes that don't quite match or signs of painting (such as on seals).
- Rust. It's most obvious on the outside, but also check under the wheel arches, around the windscreen, and around the door frames. If you find rust, gently push on it. If you head a crackle, there's corrosion underneath which will cost more to fix. Use a magnet to check suspect areas to see if some repairs have already been done with filler.
- Bits of the car, such as doors and side panels, that don't line up properly (a sign of an accident).
You should manually inspect the car all round - and underneath - in dry, bright conditions.
Open and close the doors to check they open and line up correctly (there should be no creaking), and that the locks and handles work. You shouldn't need to slam the doors to close them.
Check the windows for scratches or chips.
Any signs of rust will mean you'll need to replace the pipes (there's a risk the pipes will burst when you break - and as a result they'll fail an MOT). Slight surface rust is less of a risk but it's not worth taking a chance.
Make sure the lights work - check headlights, foglights, indicators and reversing lights.
Make sure there's a spare tyre (and that it's not flat). Look for signs of flaking paint or ripples. People may be less likely so spot or repair problems in the boot so it's a good place to check carefully.
Push each corner of the car down. It should bounce just past, and then return to, the starting point. Any more movement or noise means the shock absorbers may need replacing. You should also check around the springs (in the wheelarch) for signs of fluid leaking, another sign they are worn out.
Check the tyres (including the spare). They should have even wear and no bulges or damage. Any inconsistencies you see could be a sign of alignment, steering or suspension problems. The legal minimum tread (the depth of the rubber "pattern" on the tyre) is 1.6mm - but ideally you want more. If the wheels aren't all the same make, find out why.
If you have a friend with you, get them to watch the wheels, which should turn as you turn the steering wheel. Any delay will fail an MOT.
Carry out the same sort of checks as on the bodywork - make sure the bonnet lines up and opens smoothly. Watch for rust or unexpected paint around joints or seals.
Check the condition of the engine and under the bonnet. If it's very dirty, this might suggest it hasn't been serviced. On the other hand, some people clean the engine to hide any problems, such as oil leaks. Be suspicious of extremes either way.
Then check the oil. If you find beige sludge on the cap, it could be a sign of an expensive gasket problem. If the oil level is low, find out why - was it not serviced properly or has it leaked?
Finally, make sure the coolant in the radiator is a bright colour. If it's empty or brown, this could mean there's a leak.
Even if you're not going for a test drive just yet, still turn the engine
on and make sure it turns over smoothly. The exhaust should be smoke
free when the engine is warm.
Inside the car
Check that everything in the car works, whether it's manual or electric.
- the radio
- heater / air conditioning
- light switches
- dashboard lights
- seat controls
- seat belts and so on
Also check for stains, tears, holes and leaks on the carpets, seats and dashboard.
Anything that's broken or needs replacing will cost you, so negotiate on price.
Also check that the inside matches the mileage. If a low-mileage car has worn pedals, for instance (or brand new ones), it could have been clocked.
Make sure the numbers on the odometer line up properly, too. And check the odomoter against the MOT and service information.
If you carry out a car history check with AutoCheck, we'll give you any mileage information that's available - another way to spot clocking.
Get a professional view
With a Dekra vehicle inspection, a professional inspector will give the vehicle a full safety check and road test before you buy.
Inspections are usually available within 3 days.
Make these checks too:
Can you see the service history? Can you see the MOT certificates? ....
Checking the paperwork is a crucial part of establishing the car is what it appears to be...
It's often wise to pay a professional to inspect a used car before you buy it...
The vehicle identification number, is unique and never legitimately changes...
Any person buying a used car should also seek their own independent advice
Start your AutoCheck now
Help and advice
Some relevant frequently asked questions
When does the 60 days start? When I register, purchase or when I check the first vehicle?
The 60 days start from the date of purchase of the AutoCheck.
Can you buy a check over the phone?
This service is an online service only, so we are unable to carry out a check over the phone.
When do I get my check?
You report appears as soon as you have successfully made your purchase. The results are instant.
How much does the data check insurance cost?
There is no extra charge for the data insurance, it is included in the cost of your check.
Other articles you might find useful
View a sample report
Here you can see an example report of an AutoCheck.
This will show you how your report will be presented to you once purchased.