Car Buying Tips From The Pros

Car Buying Tips From The Pros

Buying a car is an exciting time but can also prove a little daunting for some, especially if contemplating a second hand car being sold privately, as opposed to one from a trusted car supermarket group like CarShop. Our car consumer consultants are ready to offer plenty of suggestions and advice on useful and, sometimes vital things, to check when buying a car. For this week’s feature, we’ve summarised their key pointers.

Always test drive the car. Many people wouldn’t part with their cash without trying on a pair of jeans, shoes or other clothes to make sure they fit first. So when it comes to buying a car that costs thousands of pounds, and is for many people one of the biggest purchases they will make, it’s essential to take the car(s) you’ve set your sights on for as long a test drive as possible.

You should seek to drive the car on a variety of roads at differing speeds, ensuring that it accelerates smoothly on motorways and A-roads, doesn’t make any funny noises or feel out-of-sorts on winding country roads or poorer surfaces, and reverses and brakes as it should do. When manoeuvring, turn the steering wheel on full lock to listen for any knocking, grinding or other strange noises, which would indicate problems with track rod ends, CV joints, drive shafts or similar parts. White, steam-like vapour is normal from an exhaust when a car is cold, but if you spot blue smoke it suggests that oil is burning. Black smoke indicates an even greater engine problem.

Some sellers let you test drive cars alone whilst others accompany you, the benefit being you can ask any questions along the way. Test-driving enables you to see if you like the car and can get comfortable in it, and will enable you to rule out cars that may not have been very well cared for. Don’t be embarrassed about taking a companion along on a test drive, such as a spouse or friend, as they can offer their opinions too.

HPI checks are vital when purchasing a used car from a private seller, whereas a trader or garage will be able to show you the HPI certificate. What will such a check or certificate give you? Peace of mind, in a nutshell, as it will indicate whether a vehicle has been written-off, stolen or has any finance still outstanding against it. They will also give you an idea of its approximate market value, how environmental it is in terms of CO2 emissions and whether the car has been ‘clocked’ (the mileage illegally altered) or if its log book has been stolen. If you buy a car from CarShop, it will have received a thorough 114-point safety check along with a HPI check, taking away any stress.

MOTs are necessary for vehicles of three years and older, ensuring that they safely meet various minimum requirements such as tyre condition, emissions, lights and mechanical roadworthiness. When buying a car, find out when its MoT certificate expires, as it will probably be your job to book it in when that time comes. Ask the seller for the vehicle’s MoT certificate and check that it matches the data on the DVLA website.

Warning lights on the dashboard should be observed when starting the car. Hopefully any warning lights will go out after a short while as they should do; otherwise it could indicate a potentially serious problem, especially if you see an engine management or ABS light stay on. Unless you’re willing to foot any repair bills yourself after accepting a discounted price, it’s unwise to buy any car displaying warning lights, even if they’re intermittent.

Insurance costs need to be factored into your equation as to whether you can afford the car you’ve got in mind, so do some research beforehand. You can contact your current insurer to find out the cost difference, or use one of the many car insurance comparison websites out there. A great thing about CarShop is that we provide all customers with free, 5-day insurance, meaning you have plenty of time to sort out your own insurance once you get home with your new car.

Cambelts are often quite expensive to replace and manufacturers quote different timing intervals for this work to be done, which are usually stated in terms of miles covered and months/years elapsed. It’s often advisable to do some online research to find out if your desired car has a cambelt or uses a chain, which is typically stronger and requires less frequent replacement. The seller should also be able to provide this information, too. If, for example, the cambelt needs changing at 60,000 and the car you’ve seen for sale has 58,000 miles on the clock, try to negotiate with the seller to cover all or most of the cambelt replacement costs. If a cambelt isn’t changed, it can result in catastrophic issues, right up to engine failure.

Tyres should also be checked when buying a car. If you’re not so confident using your fingers to determine the tread depth, evenness of the wear and the general condition of the tyres, you’re perfectly within your rights to take along a digital or analogue tyre tread depth meter. Make sure the tyres don’t have any significant damage, such as to their sidewalls, and check alloy wheels for kerb damage. Ideally, all four tyres should be the same brand and age, or at least the two rear tyres and the two front tyres should be the same. This is to provide optimum road handling and safety. Stoop down and try to look along the car on both sides to see if the wheels look straight. It’s also important to check that a spare tyre is included and in good condition, or a tyre inflation kit is present, along with the tools for undoing the locking wheel nuts.

Exterior and interior condition and damage should be assessed as best you can, looking at the bodywork from various angles to spot any stone chips, scratches or more significant dents. Check for signs of rust and suspicious areas of paint, too, as they may indicate that the vehicle has been involved in a collision, however minor. Are the seats in good condition or can you see rips, tears or stains? Do all the interior switches and systems work, from the radio and air con to the indicators and handbrake? Wear and tear is to be expected, especially with older vehicles, but any significant damage can be taken into account when agreeing a price.

A 2nd key and an owner’s handbook are typically expensive to buy if they’re not present with the car at the time of sale, as some keys need programming by a dealer or garage; so check whether a second key is provided. It’s also worthwhile checking if the sat nav CD or DVD containing the maps is present in the car, as these are also usually pricey to replace.

Service history is so important and vehicles possessing a service booklet which is up-to-date with timely stamps showing when the services were done are highly desirable. Servicing intervals differ between various makes and models, so this is also something you can research and talk to the seller about. Cars which have been serviced in-line with, or in addition to, the manufacturer’s stipulations will have been cared for by their owners.

View the car at the address on the V5 document (the registration certificate or ‘log book’) if you’re buying a car privately and don’t be afraid to ask to see some ID from the seller. These steps will give you reassurance that the seller owns the vehicle and is who they say they are.

Beware of scam deals that seem too good to be true. If you’ve seen a car advertised privately that is priced a few thousand pounds cheaper than any other identical or very similar models, there may well be something wrong with it. Unless the seller genuinely needs a very quick sale for various reasons, such as emigration, sudden illness or another change in circumstances, read an advert’s details very carefully, examine the photographs as observantly as you can and if you smell a proverbial rat, don’t waste your time making enquiries about the vehicle. Of course, some private adverts honestly state that a car has gearbox or engine problems, or requires four new tyres, explaining its cheap price. If an advert refers to Cat D or Cat C, these cars may be stolen and recovered, been in an accident or been flood damaged. Avoid online adverts which display personal phone numbers and/or email addresses on top of photographs, or adverts which feature a car far newer than its supposed year of registration.


We hope these tips, suggestions and pointers from our professional car consultants are useful for you when the time comes to buy your next car. For greater reassurance along with ongoing care and support in the months and years ahead, buying from a reputable garage network like CarShop is preferred. Why not browse our fantastic range of used car stock to see what we currently have available?

  • On: 24 November 2014
  • By: CarShop

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