What Should I Look for When Buying a Used Car

You might be about to splash out on a new motor, but then you find yourself asking, what should I look for when buying a used car? Well, there are so many small, detailed items to check when buying a used car that we could probably write an entire book on them. Sadly, we don’t have the time to write a book, but we can give you some of the more important tips and hints.


The first thing to check when buying a used car is the documentation. This not only verifies the car’s history and previous ownership, but it’s always a good sign if, when asked, the seller can produce a thick file of documents, from the registration form, to the service history and NCT data, to individual receipts for work done.


Next, check the mileage, and verify it against previous NCTs and the service record. Also check the interior and the car’s overall condition against the indicated mileage — cars, in general, wear their years a little more easily these days, so if the cabin looks worn out, then that could be a sign that the car has lived a very hard life indeed.After that, go around the bodywork and check for accident damage. Obvious dents and scuffs will be pretty easy to spot, but look more carefully. Do the various body panels line up reasonably neatly and are the panel gaps consistent? Is there any sign of paint being badly sprayed to cover up a repair? Look for ripples and uneven surfaces. 

Check the basic safety requirements, too. Are all the lights and indicators working? Do the tyres have legal tread (preferably a little bit more, really)? If the car is fitted with a spare tyre, is it there, is it in reasonable condition, and is there a jack and wheel brace? Do the windscreen washers work? Are all the seatbelts clicking into position properly?
Take a test drive, and when you start up the engine look carefully to see that all of the warning lights flick on, and then quickly off. Listen carefully for unwanted noises from the engine, or clonks or rattles from underneath the car which may indicate worn suspension or steering. Check that the brakes work properly and that the car stops quickly and in a straight line. 

Obviously, we’d advise you to check the history of any car you’re thinking of buying — perhaps using a service such as Motorcheck?

Why are checks important

These are all pretty simple checks to make, to be honest, but the worrying fact is that — apparently — many of us are not carrying them out. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has warned Irish drivers of the dangers of putting too much trust in the vendors of used cars. The Commission has studied Irish car buying habits, and found that only a minority (44 per cent) “reported checking if the vehicle had been previously crashed or seriously damaged before purchasing.” More worryingly, 20 per cent said that they carried out no pre-purchase checks at all. 
Grainne Griffin, Director of Communications with the CCPC said: “Buying a car is one of the most important purchases a consumer can make. Not only is it a substantial financial investment, but buying an unsafe car can have tragic consequences. Since March, we have seen an increase in the number of consumers contacting the CCPC because they have unknowingly purchased a crashed car. The Irish used car market has been significantly impacted in recent months by both COVID-19 and Brexit. Consumers in some cases are taking increased risks by buying cars from private, or less reputable sellers without checking the car history. Brexit has had an impact on the cost of used cars and consumers may be tempted to cut corners to get a lower price. We are strongly advising consumers to use our car buyer’s checklist if they are buying a used car and always independently check the vehicle history.”

While the motor trade has significantly cleaned up its act since the fly-by-night days of the 1970s and 1980s, the fact remains that buying a used car can still be fraught business, especially for the significant number of Irish car buyers who purchase from private sellers. While a private seller may well be entirely trustworthy and above board, the CCPC says that it has to: “remind consumers of the important differences between buying from a business compared to an individual, and that if they buy from a private seller then they do not have rights under consumer protection law, if something were to go wrong.”

Hopefully we've been able to answer the oft asked question 'what should I look for when buying a used car', and provided you with some useful tips. Why not check out our other blog posts while you're here?