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How do I look for faults on a used car?

There’s an awful lot to think about with a used car, but taking your time before you buy could save you an awful lot more trouble and pain further on down the line.

Words by: First published: 6th July 2015
When you're looking to buy a used car, there's already a lot to think about. However, you'll also want to check the car for any potential faults.

First, have a good look round the car for any damage on the body: scratches, dents and so on. Look for uneven gaps between the panels, too, as they could betray some problems underneath, such as poor repairs or damage from an accident.

The paint should be an even colour all over the car. If it’s not, that too could be the sign of a shoddy repair. If any of the paintwork is bubbling up, be very wary, as this could well be a sign of rust.

Don’t forget to look at the lights and indicators, either. Check they work, and that there’s no damage to the lenses.
Naturally, if you’re looking at a convertible, make sure the roof is in good condition, keeping an eye out for any tears in a soft top, and check it all operates smoothly.

Check the tyres. First of all, check they have enough tread on them. You can do very simply with the edge of a coin: insert a 20p coin into the grooves of the tyre, and as long as the outer band is covered, the tyre is legal. Make sure any wear is even right across the tread. If it’s not, this could be a sign of something very wrong with the suspension.

Speaking of which, as a last test, push down each corner of the car. If all’s well with the suspension, the car will bounce back up again nice and smoothly. If it doesn’t, there could be problems in store.

Remember, though, even if a car does have some damage, you don’t have to walk away. Instead, if the damage is only minor, you can ask the seller to get it fixed before you buy the car, or to knock a few quid off the price.
Things to check inside the car
Inside, make sure the mileage is consistent with the paperwork you looked at earlier, then check the wear in the car matches the miles on the clock. If the odometer says low miles, but smooth plastic on the steering wheel or gear lever, worn pedal rubbers, and frayed fabric on the seats says high miles, start asking questions.

While you’re in the driver’s seat, make sure everything works, and we mean everything!

Do the seat belts pull out and retract smoothly? Do the adjustments on the seat and steering wheel work OK? Last of all, check all the equipment, everything from the central locking to the stereo, interior lights and any trip computer that’s fitted. Make sure electric windows or mirrors work properly, and if the car has sat-nav fitted, check it knows where you are. When you check the ventilation, make sure it blows hot and cold, and, if there are any controls on the steering wheel, make sure they work as well.
Car seat and boot checks
Don’t forget the back seats and the boot. Check any seat-folding mechanisms; if there should be a spare wheel, make sure it’s there and in good condition; and, check under the seals for any sign of repainting or replacement parts that could suggest the car’s been involved in an accident.

Only when you’re happy with the rest of the car should you hit the road.
Related topics:
Buying a used car