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Used Cars: Banging Bargain or Buyer Beware?

used cars

The used car market is awash with quality motors, yet your ability to pick out the banging bargain from the model which should be decorated with a neon ‘buyer beware’ sign, will ultimately decide whether you’re equipped for the drive of your life, or an alternative to the ‘off-road’ experience.

Firstly, if you can lean on the talents of a mechanical mind who can give your prospective purchase a once-over, do so. Better still, agree with the seller that you want to book it in for a professional health-check.

Before you get to that stage, there are a number of checks you can perform yourself on the driveway:


Beginning with the outside of the car, have a good look at the wheels and tyres. Make sure that you confirm the tyre depth and tread are road legal and do the 20p test by inserting a coin into the grooves. If you’re going to need to buy new rubber, then negotiate on price.


Make sure you take a torch along on a viewing in order to check bodywork, both the exterior and underneath. Rust, leaks and splits should be evident.


Next is the interior – that also includes the boot space and dashboard. Check all warning lights work properly, and that the mileage is ticking along properly on a test drive. Electronics are important and could be costly to get replaced, so check that windows, stereo system and any LCD screens are all functioning properly.


Pop the front hood of the car and look at the engine. Check for leaks (when you previously looked underneath the car, you may have seen liquid on the tarmac. This could just be an air conditioning outlet, or potentially something more serious).

Inspect pipes and hoses for any splits or abrasions.


The test drive is where you will truly put your new motor through its paces. If you have someone else with you, get them to check the colour of the smoke from the exhaust. If there’s a head gasket issue, the smoke will be blue, possibly denoting a blown gasket, engine seal problems, or oil in the cylinders. If it’s white smoke, there could be a possible coolant problem, while black smoke means too much fuel is being burnt by the engine.

Drive along with windows open and music off so that you can listen out for any unexpected noises – squeaks, purrs and grinds should cause alarm.

Ensure you drive at varying speeds to get an accurate idea of what the engine has in it (or doesn’t!).


Gear box and clutch issues can be particularly expensive, so ensure you move through all configurations. If the car doesn’t get through each of the gears happily, there could be an issue.

Similarly, if you have to push the clutch more than halfway to the floor, you’ll need an expert opinion.


Documents and paperwork should include the car’s previous service history. Perform an online vehicle history check to confirm nothing is outstanding regarding MOT and tax.


Summing up, although the fun of landing a new car can seem like it’s being taken away by an exhaustive look at possible motor issues, you may well save yourself a lot of money in the long run.


Image: shutterstock_1764717902

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