Research – don’t go blindly into a purchase

Researching is the most important part of the car buying process. In most cases the purchase of a car comes only 2nd to the financial cost of buying a house so it makes sense to not go purchasing blindly.  It ultimately affects every aspect of the purchase so it’s well worth getting your head down and finding out as much as possible about what is on the market and potential problems.

There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet with regard to potential problems with certain models giving you hints and tips of what to look out for. A particularly good site for this is Honest John, where users submit common faults that can occur on vehicles – letting you know what to look out for.


Ultimately you need to figure out what your budget is for the car purchase, so how much money have you got to play with? Crucially you also need to remember that sometimes the actual cost of the vehicle can pale in comparison the cost of insurance, vehicle tax and general maintenance.

Again this comes back to research, look around on comparison sites to get an idea of what the cost of insurance will be on the particular car(s) that you are interested in. It can be time consuming but it makes sense to figure out the costs that can be involved with insuring particular cars. Too many times I have heard the story of ‘Bought a car, can’t get insured now have to sell it’ make sure that does not happen to you.

What is the right price?

Ok, so you’ve looked around and got an idea of what you want and you have of course checked that the insurance is not going to be astronomical right? Now it’s time to figure out what is the right price to be paying for the car that you want. It might sound obvious but have a look round in all the usual places (Autotrader, eBay, local paper) to get an idea of the ‘asking’ price for the spec and year that you can afford. Remember the price in an advert is what the buyer wants and not necessarily what you are going to give them! Always room for haggling in car purchasing…

Generally when cars are only a couple of years apart in age you want to be looking for lower miles rather than the younger vehicle. In most cases this will mean that the car will cost less in terms of having to maintain the vehicle.

Bear in mind that cars sold from dealerships rather than private sellers are going to command a higher price due to the fact that they should be offering a warranty and you have some buyer protection if there are issues with the car.

What should I be looking for in the advert?

It can be incredibly frustrating to go and see a car and then find out that you travelled afield only to find that something is wrong. While not entirely preventable it does help by looking for key things in the advert or by calling/emailing the seller to find out.

You want to be checking in the advert that all the key components are there: MOT? Tax? Mileage? Full or partial service history? Year? Specification? Another crucial thing to find out is what is the reason for sale?

Don’t be afraid to call the seller and ask if it has ever been involved in an accident, is the service history complete and are there any issues with the car. It might sound pedantic but remember cars and travelling to see cars can be costly and time consuming.

The car is in front of me – what should I be looking for?

You don’t have to be a fully qualified mechanic to be able to give a vehicle a quick going over to spot any of the more obvious potential issues.

The most obvious one to start with is the bodywork. Have a good look around the car paying particular attention to how the paint reacts to the light, do all the body panels match in colour? Are there any large gaps between the bodypanels? Metal bodywork may have been repaired using bodyshop filler then do a test with a magnet on any suspect panels.

It’s a similar situation with the interior, have a good look round for any damage or ill-fitting trim-panels. Make sure that all electric gadgets work, windows, stereo, ventilation/aircon. Something that seems like a simple issue can be an expensive electrical nightmare to fix.

Next you may have to get your hands a bit dirty. Get underneath the car and see if there is any potential accident damage. Check the conditions of the exhaust and see if there are any fluids leaking from the engine. Under the bonnet, check the fluid levels of the oil, water and brake fluid. If any of them are low you need to be asking why.

Check all the tyres, to make sure that they have reasonable tread on them. Tyres can be expensive and if they need replacing this can of course be a haggling point.

It’s also key to check to see if the vehicle has been ‘clocked’ a check with the national mileage register will help but also look for any undue wear to the bodywork, steering wheel or pedals. Do they reflect the stated mileage of the car? A decent service history will help to back up any mileage claims.

Paperwork – a crucial and possibly one of the most important parts of the purchase make sure that everything ads up. An authentic V5 registration document must be present, a valid MOT and plenty of receipts to go with any work that has been carried out on the vehicle. Make sure that the service book has been stamped and that any crucial items that should be replaced such as cambelts have been completed.

Test drive

With all the paperwork and the checks of the vehicle done it’s time to take the vehicle for a test drive, make sure yourself or anyone who you are with is insured to drive the vehicle. If not then although not preferable ask the seller to take you on a test drive.

When driving the vehicle be sure to listen out for any strange noises under acceleration or braking. Make sure that the steering is true and that there is no vibration at speed.  Make sure that the clutch is not slipping and that the gearbox feels tight and has no crunching.  Be sure to look out for any excess or blue smoke coming from the exhaust as this can indicate that the car is burning oil.

While you’re here make sure to utilise your research in finding out if there are any common faults that you should be checking for.