The most common car in the UK is the Ford Focus followed closely by the Ford Fiesta. In 2011 approximately 2.38 million cars were first registered with the DVLA. In the current economic climate the used car market is booming. For many of us buying a used car may be the easiest, quickest, and cheapest way to ownership of an ideal car.

The potential used car buyer in the UK is spoilt for choice when it comes to finding vehicles for sale. Used cars for sale can be found in plentiful supply in car showrooms, some well-known websites, magazines, newspapers, supermarket notice boards, and with signs in their windows parked on the street.

There are many things to consider when opting to buy a used car from any source and there is an element of risk involved in each case. Our aim is to provide you with the necessary information to help you understand the risks involved and to buy your ideal car with confidence.


Setting your budget

Check your finances including the value of any vehicle that you wish to sell to help fund your new purchase. Be realistic ensuring that you set aside extra funds for insurance, road tax, and fuel. Once you are content with how much you are willing to spend its time to start looking for that dream car.


Finding the right car

Generally speaking, like for like used cars are more expensive to buy from car showrooms. If you are willing to pay this premium and want a certain degree of comeback this might be the best method for you. Alternatively, some very good bargains can be found if you search the internet and check out the relevant magazines and newspapers.

It can help if you write down the details of any cars that you find, including; the make and model, age, mileage, service history, price, and where you found the car. This list will help you to compare any vehicles you find and will help you find them again quickly after looking at many cars.


Take nothing for granted

When you find a car that ticks all the boxes it is very important to dig a little deeper. It is a well-known fact of life that many people are unscrupulous and dishonest, and these people often try to make money from selling used cars. Other people may have no knowledge of the chequered histories of vehicles they are selling if they themselves have bought the vehicle in a used condition without carrying out appropriate checks.

When you find a vehicle that you are interested in, ask the seller to provide you with the cars ‘registration’ so that you can carry out background checks. If the seller has any problems with this request you should not go to view the vehicle, and should move onto the next one on your list.

For a modest charge you can check the history of any registered vehicle provided that you know the vehicles registration. You can take your pick from the various websites that provide this service. Chequered histories can include:

1)      Outstanding Finance- imagine buying a car that belongs to a finance company, technically it doesn’t belong to you and can be taken from you at any time.

2)      Written Off- if a vehicle has been involved in an accident that the insurance company deems to be too expensive to repair it will be ‘written off’. There are four different levels of ‘written off’ cars, namely; CAT A, CAT B, CAT C, CAT D. It is worth noting that it is perfectly legal to buy CAT D cars, many of which are perfectly safe, but some trouble may lie ahead for those who choose to buy this type of car.


Many cars fall into this category because airbags have been deployed. It is often too expensive to replace the airbags hence the CAT D. Make sure you check that this is not the case before buying. Additionally some insurance companies will not provide cover for a car that has been classed as CAT D.

It is also legal to buy repaired CAT C cars but these vehicles have sustained heavier accident damage. It is our advice to steer clear of these vehicles as serious structural damage may be present that is impossible for the untrained to spot.

3)      Mileage Discrepancies- it is possible that a vehicles mileage reading has been tampered with. Criminals will often lower the indicated mileage of a vehicle in an attempt to fraudulently increase its resale value.

4)      Vehicle Details Discrepancies- if the vehicles details do not match the details held by the DVLA on their database it is a good sign that the vehicle is a ‘ringer’. This is illegal and you should always walk away from this vehicle and report it to the police.

We recommend that you check the vehicles details on the website in addition to any other private services that you wish to use.


Vehicle Inspection Time

After the background checks are completed with satisfactory results there are a few other things that can be researched that may prove invaluable.

You should check the market value of the vehicle that you wish to view, to make sure that it is reasonably priced. This information may help you to make a better decision, and may help you haggle later on. There are two reference books that are commonly used in the industry, namely; Glass’s Guide, and The CAPP Guide. Both can be purchased at good newsagents and many filling stations.

Additionally, you may wish to check online for common faults and problems associated with the vehicle you are planning on viewing. This can help prevent some nasty surprises from surfacing after buying the vehicle.

You do not need to be trained to inspect a vehicle, but it may help if you have a checklist to hand to prevent anything from being overlooked. These are the main things to inspect:

1)      Inspect the cars paperwork including the logbook (V5), service history, and all MOT’s to ensure all details match up with the registration, and the information found previously on the DVLAs database. You are checking to ensure that the car is not a ‘Ringer’ and that the mileage has not been tampered with. Do not feel pressured by the seller into rushing through this. If you feel any pressure being put on you it is possible that there is a hidden problem with this car.

2)      At this time it is important to check the vehicles VIN (vehicle identification number). This reference number can be found at the bottom of the windscreen, under the bonnet, and stamped into the chassis under the carpet near the drivers’ seat. You must check for signs of tampering, and check that the numbers are the same in each location as well as in the vehicles logbook.

3)      Check for any rust around the car especially around the wheel arches, inside the bonnet and in the boot under the carpet. Bubbling paint is an indication of rust under the surface. Check for any damage around the entire car including the gaps between the bodywork panels. The gaps should be consistent throughout. Check for signs of water ingress by checking for discoloration and wetness of the carpets. You should also check under the carpets in the boot.

4)      Check that all electrical equipment is working including the lights and horn.

5)      Check under the car for oil and rust

6)      Check under the bonnet for signs of oil leaks

7)      Check the colour of the oil to ensure that it is not completely black, check the oil level by referencing the dipstick.

8)      Check for signs of faulty Cylinder Head Gaskets- ensure that the engine is cool and open the oil filler cap, check the underside of the cap to ensure it is not covered in a milky coloured goo, remove the oil dipstick and check for the same substance. This may indicate water mixing with oil a classic sign of a faulty Head Gasket. Next start the engine and ensure that no smoke emits from the exhaust after the engine heats up, check that hot air blows though the heaters.

9)      Now it’s time to take a test drive. Ensure that you have adequate insurance in place. Do not rely on the word of the seller it is your responsibility. Check that the acceleration is smooth and the engine responsive. Check that the engine does not overheat after driving and idling for a time. Check that the brakes are responsive and the car slows in a straight line. Check the steering to ensure that it is free and responsive, and free from knocks, bangs, and strange noises in particular when steering is held hard over and negotiating tight turns. Check the clutch to ensure responsiveness without judder and the position of the biting point. If the biting point is high, this could indicate a worn clutch plate. Check the gear box for ease of operation through each gear.

10)  Check the suspension by pushing down on each corner of the car. There should be no noise and the suspension should rise immediately without hesitation.

11)  Check the interior for cleanliness and damage.

If there are no problems with anything detailed so far then it just comes down the feeling you get inside when you know that something is right or wrong. Only you will know whether to buy something or not. Always remember that there are many other cars for sale. You may even decide before a viewing that you will not buy the first car you see. It is good to have something to compare the car to.


If you decide that this is the car for you do not be afraid to haggle. The buyer normally expects you to haggle. Many cars are overpriced to accommodate this process. You never know the discount you may get. If you do decide to buy make sure that you read the guidance notes on the V5 logbook document. These will help you to fill out the form properly. Make sure you read through this at least twice to avoid mistakes on the form. Make sure that the seller signs the V5, including the New Keeper Supplement, as this is the only part of the V5 that you will take away with you. You will need this if you need to tax the car before you receive the new V5 document.


This procedure may seem daunting to the uninitiated but isn’t so bad if you refer to a list throughout. If it still seems like too much work for you, you can enlist the help of the AA or the RAC, or other qualified mechanic to carry out an inspection for you. These inspections are priced depending on the age of the vehicle and size of the engine. They range in price from £150-£350.


In summary, do the research, come prepared, be thorough, and be prepared to say no! Hopefully you will find your ideal car and have many years of stress free motoring.