What to look for when buying a car

Arm yourself with enough information and confidence to check out a used car.

Checklist of what to look for:
(extracts from excellent Driving section of the Sunday Times website)

Documents and Data
First Impressions
Rust and Stonechips
Interior Trim
Starting Up
Engine Behaviour
Clutch and Gearchange
Suspension and Brakes
Crash Damage
General Tightness

read more at driving.timesonline.co.uk

Documents and Data

Always view all documents before starting an inspection, including the log book. Do the details tally with what the seller is alleging? Check the VIN plate for signs of tampering or even replacement, and see the service history book is all present and correct. Read more

First Impressions

First impressions are critical. A good car will look clean and tidy but not overly so, suggesting that it has been tarted up just for sale. Beware of a clinically clean engine bay-which has been thoroughly washed to hide hidden horrors. Best sight of all is a cleanish, dry under bonnet area which displays no leaks, damage and signs of neglect. Are the fluid levels correct, the engine oil clean, the battery tray free from corrosion and signs - such as new gasket edges - that major work has recently been carried out? Read more

Rust and Stonechips

Thanks to advanced anti-rust treatments, cars don't crumble away like they used to, but check all the usual areas with care; around the wheel arches, along the sills and door bottoms and under the carpets. A small magnet is a great trick to determine where filler lurks, although beware - shady sellers have been known to mix metal filings with filler to disguise a bodged repair. Read more

Interior Trim

The state of the interior and boot compartment can tell you more about a car's past life than a gleaming exterior. Damp, musty smells, shabby, torn or worn trim and general grime really show up a car's age and can be difficult to hide or repair. Read more

Starting Up

A cold start up can tell you a lot. The car should fire up easily and the choke work efficiently. Monitor how long the oil pressure light stays illuminated - no more than a few seconds at best if the engine is okay. Expect slightly more clatter when cold but not adversely so. Read more

Engine Behaviour

Warm up should be quick and the engine should settle down and pull cleanly. Flat spots or hesitation, particularly on fuel injected engines signal fuel injection or even engine computer trouble so have it checked out if in doubt. Read more

Clutch and Gearchange

Check for clutch wear by trying to move off in top gear with the handbrake on: it should instantly stall. Similarly, apply full throttle up hill in a high gear and listen for excessive engine revs. If they soar the clutch is worn and slipping. Juddering when taking off means a replacement clutch too as it is oil-contaminated. Read more

Suspension and Brakes

See that the car sits on an even keel. A tail-down attitude suggests tired suspension due to a hard life. Bounce each corner of the car to check for damper wear. Generally one and a half bounces before coming to rests points to the shock absorbers being okay. Read more

Crash Damage

Look for evidence of crash damage. Are there ripples in the bodywork, creases under the bonnet or boot floorpan, signs of deft filler work, and evidence of overspray on the exterior trim - all suggesting a cheap repair? Other tell-tale signs are shiny new light units and number plates, wonky bumpers, doors which don't close flush, mis-matched or patchy paintwork and tyres with odd wear patterns - which can indicate worn bushes or tired dampers, or could point to severe chassis damage. Read more

General Tightness

Does the car feel good and tight? The suspension shouldn't crash over bumps and the steering should not feel slack. Handling should be taut and sure and the ride comfortable. On power steering systems, feel for roughness when turning lock to lock and check there's no "kick" at parking speeds or undue hissing noises. If the car pulls to one side, don't buy because it points to suspension or chassis damage. Read more

What to look for when buying a car

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