Checklist for Buying a Car

With a bewildering array of makes and models, it’s little wonder that many people find the idea of buying a car a little daunting. But with a methodical approach, it needn’t be. Assuming you’ve found a vehicle you’re interested in, use this checklist when you view the car to be sure you’re making the right investment:

The basics

Start by getting an overview of the car and its history.

  • Mileage and age – don’t forget to double check the mileage on the dashboard odometer.
  • Tax bracket – older cars are often more expensive to tax, as they’re less environmentally friendly
  • MOT and service history – has it had a consistent service history, and has it ever failed an MOT? What work has been carried out?
  • History – look up the registration on this site to find out whether it’s been written off, stolen or has outstanding finance.


Spotting engine and bodywork problems

This part of the checklist is about spotting issues that could prove costly or even dangerous.

  • Lift up the bonnet – does it look clean and well-kept inside?
  • Check the oil – is there enough there, and is it a normal brown colour?
  • Can you see any leaks inside or on the ground?
  • Exhaust – is there any unexplained smoke when the car is running?
  • Head gasket – look out for these symptoms that could indicate it has blown
  • Paintwork – is it in good nick? Are there any scratches or dents?
  • Can you see any patches of rust? This could also appear as bubbles under the paintwork. Don’t forget to look inside the wheel arches, as these are often the part of the car that goes rusty first.
  • Are there any panels that have been replaced or repainted? This could indicate that the car has been involved in an accident.
  • Tyres – these can be replaced, but if the tread is at or near the legal minimum you could use this as a negotiating point (ask for money off, or for them to replace the tyres before you buy). Also look out for cuts, grazes, bulging and anything else that doesn’t look right.
  • Wheels – can you see any damage, such as dents in the rims? Don’t forget to check the spare wheel as well.
  • Are the electrics in good working order? Test all the equipment, such as:
    • Central locking system
    • Headlights and fog lights
    • Indicators and brake lights
    • Dashboard warning lights
    • Electric windows
    • Heated seats
    • Air conditioning
    • Radio
    • Sun roof
  • Windscreen and other windows – any chips or cracks?
  • Doors – do these shut easily? Are they fully sealed when shut?
  • Interior – is the car clean and well-kept inside? Is the upholstery in good condition? Check underneath the footwell mats to ensure they’re not hiding any problems, such as leaks.


Test drive

While the test drive is mainly about seeing whether you’ll enjoy driving it, there are also a few things to watch out for before committing to buying a car. Drive the car at various different speeds and look out for the following.

  • Steering – does the car naturally drive straight, or can you feel it wanting to go more one way than the other?
  • Gearbox – try the car in each of the gears. Can you change gears smoothly? Are there any unexpected noises when you change gear?
  • Clutch – how far down to you need to depress the clutch in order to feel the bite point? It should be around halfway along the clutch’s path of travel.
  • Engine noise – does the engine sound normal, or are there unexpected noises?
  • Brakes – are they responsive?


Once you’ve completed the checklist and decided to go ahead with buying a car, don’t forget to take out car insurance before you drive away in your new pride and joy.