Buying A Used Car: The Ultimate Checklist

Buying a used car can often take longer than expected. Even if you know exactly what it is that you want, finding it at a decent price can be a challenge. Buying used is often advantageous to going for the first-hand option – although that is not to say it is without its limitations. The fact is, the used car market is extremely broad and versatile – but it has its issues. Add to this mix the fact that there are so many models to choose from and suddenly you have a real headache. Nonetheless, it doesn’t need to be like this.

What to Ask When Buying a Used Car

buying a used car
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There are some basic steps you can take to make buying a used car a walk in the park. If that sounds like something you would like to know about, then read on. Here are some unmissable pieces of advice on buying a used car.

1. Set A Budget

It is vital, before you do anything else, to set yourself a budget. It is important to do this first, for a few reasons, most of them obvious. Above all, having a budget in place at the very beginning means that you are structuring your search for a car. This is beneficial, because it means you are much less likely to waste any time. You won’t, for example, find yourself going to a dealership which you know is beyond your range. It also makes researching the potential cars much easier, as you can rule out any outside of your budget. When you set your budget, be realistic, but give yourself some scope. It is more beneficial to have a range than a fixed figure. However, ensure that you have a lower as well as an upper limit. This stops you from settling for something of poor quality.

2. Consider A Dealer

For many people, the idea of buying a used car brings to mind shady private sellers. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s true, there are many private options out there. However, that route is rife with potential dangers and drawbacks. Most people find that, on the whole, they feel safer if they use a dealer. You are not necessarily going to pay any more for your car. However, you will know that you can trust the person you are conducting the deal with. And that is a peace of mind worth any amount of money.

3. Do Your Research

Without anything in the way of guidelines, it is all too easy to find yourself aimlessly searching through reams of cars. This might all be to no avail, in which case it is little more than wasted time and energy. Finding a decent car can take long enough as it is. With that in mind, make the process much easier on yourself – and faster – by carrying out some research first. If you go into the marketplace with a clear idea of what kind of vehicle you are after, that’s great. You will be saving yourself a great deal of time. Then, it’s just a matter of shopping around until you find your dream car. This can take time, so remember to have patience.


What to Do After Buying a Used Car

What to Do After Buying a Used Car
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To some people, buying a used car is like betting all your money on red at the roulette table. You just don’t know what you could end up with! Of course, plenty of guides online show you how to be a savvy car buyer. There’s even a helpful guide here on this blog!

But, what you don’t usually hear from people is what to do post-purchase. Yes, driving your new (used) car is the obvious answer. But, no-one really talks about how to make the vehicle in tip-top condition.

All too often, people buy used cars and just drive them. They seldom do any exhaustive checks to make sure they are 100% roadworthy. Yes, the car might have an MOT on it. But, that only means it was roadworthy at the time of the test. As you can appreciate, anything could have happened between then and now!

If you ask anyone that knows me, they’ll tell you how I scrutinise the cars I buy. If you want years of trouble-free motoring, you should be doing the same thing too! Here is what I do whenever I buying a used car:

1. Give the car a thorough clean inside and out

Let’s face it. Used car dealers seldom spend much time making the vehicles they sell look like new. They might do a quick wash and rinse, and let nature dry the vehicle. You might even be lucky if they spend some time vacuuming the interior. But, that’s usually as far as things go.

I always give my used cars a comprehensive clean. Why? First of all, I can determine if there is any rust or panel damage. And, inside the car, I can check for any damaged interior trim panels. A thorough clean of the car ensures that you know what you’re working with!

2. Steam clean and degrease the engine bay

Sticking with the subject of cleaning, I turn my attention to what’s under the bonnet. Using a small steam cleaner and degreaser spray, I can wipe off any oil and dirt. I usually attack areas around the engine block. I also turn my attention to the oil sump.

Why do I do this? If there are any leaks, I want to know where they come from. A clean engine bay makes locating the source of a leak easy.

3. Replace the tyres

Unless you’re buying a used car, chances are the tyres on your used vehicle won’t be great. In fact, it’s likely the dealer or seller will have fitted budget brand tyres to the car!

replace the tyres
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As a rule, I usually get out to fit new rubber tyres for me. The only time I don’t change the tyres is if I know they are new. One way to be sure is by checking the manufacturing date stamp on the sidewall.

4. Replace the brake discs and pads

The thing about vehicle brakes is you seldom know what quality of parts got fitted. In fact, you don’t even know if they got fitted correctly by the previous owner!

replace the brake discs and pads
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Brake discs and pads aren’t difficult to change. All you need is a few basic tools, axle stands, and a trolley jack. Just make sure you stick to well-known brands. I also recommend “bleeding” the brake fluid for a sharper pedal response.

5. Have a “cam belt kit” fitted by a garage

Now here is one of those mechanical jobs that are best left to a garage. You might not know it, but the cam belt isn’t the only thing you should check. The tensioners (the “rollers” they fit on) and the water pump should also get replaced at the same time.

Whenever I buying a used car, I always get a new cam belt kit fitted. Let’s face it. It’s cheaper to pay £300 for the work and have peace of mind than £1,000+ for a new engine if your cam belt snaps!

6. Carry out a service on the car

At the same time as having the cam belt kit fitted, I usually have the engine serviced too. Believe it or not, it works out cheaper to have all this work done at the same time. Aside from the oil and filter, I like to have the coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid replaced.

Doing so means that the car will now run on fresh fluids. I don’t have to worry about it overheating or under-performing!

7. Go on a long motorway journey

Today’s modern cars often suffer from one thing. People don’t drive them on long distances! As a result, the upper parts of the engine get coked up with carbon deposits. One way to clear all that carbon is by going on a high-speed motorway journey.

In essence, you are “blowing away” the deposit from the engine. It’s also a good idea to do that in a diesel car. In either case, short journeys can block up parts like the EGR valve. When that stops working, your engine’s emissions will rise. Plus, the car will run rough and use more fuel. And last, but not least, it could even cause the car to fail its next MOT!

Just be sure to fill up with fuel before you set off down the motorway!

8. Get some breakdown cover

The final thing I do whenever I buy any used car is to take out breakdown cover. It doesn’t matter whether you get cover from the AA, RAC or Green Flag. What does matter is that you’ve got some backup should your car stop working on the road.

There’s nothing worse than trying to deal with a mechanical emergency on the roadside. Especially if you happen to have your family in tow with you.

I hope you’ve found this blog post useful today. The points I’ve made might seem a bit overkill to some people. But, they are necessary for trouble-free motoring!

By Anthony

I’m a automotive journalist who's driven new cars on highways, back roads and racetracks all over the world.

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