The questions you should ask when buying a used car

This article is part of a series on how to get the best value from your car. You can also find out whether you should sell a second-hand car online and if car leasing contracts are value for money. 

Buying a used car can feel like a minefield, and a bad deal can quickly turn into a costly financial burden.

There are more ways to buy a used car than ever before, many of which have potential pitfalls. However there are also more tools at your disposal to ensure there is nothing wrong with the vehicle before you drive it home.

Telegraph Money has listed you some of the most important tips to keep in mind when buying a used car. 

What are my consumer rights?

There are many different avenues to buying a used car, and each comes with advantages and disadvantages. 

Buying from a dealer usually grants certain legal protections, which can be a safer bet than other routes. Under consumer rights law, cars sold by a dealership must be of “satisfactory quality”, meaning of a standard a reasonable person would expect, “fit for purpose”, meaning it must be fit for purposes you would typically expect from a vehicle, and as described. 

When buying a used car from a private seller, you will not have the same legal protections, so more caution should be taken, according to advice from the AA.

The private seller must have the right to sell the car, the vehicle must match the description given, and the car must be roadworthy, but you will have to take up any disputes with a private seller yourself.

Online car marketplaces have increased in popularity in recent years and can often be the easiest way to find a new vehicle. If you buy online, however, your consumer rights will depend on who the seller is. 

Buying online from a dealer will afford you the same rights as if you did it in person, as will buying from a private seller. 

If buying at an auction, whether online or in person, your rights may vary, so check the terms and conditions. 

If the vehicle is being “sold as seen”, then the car should be checked thoroughly before you bid, as you will have fewer options if something goes wrong once you have completed the purchase.

The AA said some auctions will offer guarantees or insurance for an extra sum, but rights may be limited, so it is essential to check the paperwork. When buying from an online auction, search for sellers with good feedback ratings who are happy to supply detailed images of the car.

Check the car can legally be sold

It is important to check whether the car you are buying can be legally sold, especially when buying privately.

If a car has outstanding finance on it, or has been involved in a category A or B write off, it cannot be legally sold. A history check on the car can be completed online for as little as £8.99. Some of these services also include a vehicle valuation.

If the vehicle has previously been involved in a crash, the seller should be able to provide the buyer with documentation to prove it has been repaired by a reputable mechanic. 

Similarly, the seller should also be able to provide you with the car’s logbook. 

Always check that the details in the logbook, such as the registration number and vehicle identification number, match with the car on sale. The vehicle’s MOT history can also be checked in advance online if you have its registration number.

How to inspect the vehicle

According to the RAC, a buyer should perform several simple but important checks when buying a car in person.

Firstly, the buyer should check the tyres. Besides giving them a kick, a closer inspection can reveal how much tread they have. The legal minimum is 1.6mm, so a quick check can reveal whether they will need to be changed in the near future. 

Next, buyers should check the bodywork for dents and scratches or any signs of kerbing on the wheels. Buyers should check the gaps between panels, RAC said, as large gaps could signify that the car has been poorly repaired after a crash. 

Checking the fluid levels can give an idea of how the vehicle has been maintained. Low levels of oil, brake and power steering fluid could be a sign that the seller has not maintained it properly. 

While checking the oil level, if there is a white mayonnaise-like substance under the oil cap, this could be a sign of condensation, which could signal that the head gasket has failed.

Once these checks have taken place, the buyer should try each of the electronics on the car, including the windows, radio and air conditioning. 

The glass should then be checked for chips, and the upholstery inside the vehicle should be inspected to ensure that everything is in order. If the vehicle comes with a spare wheel and accessories, these should also each be individually checked.

The wear and tear on the vehicle, such as the driving seat or steering wheel, should be consistent with the mileage on the clock. If not, it could be a sign that the mileage has been tampered with. 

Have you ever made an error, or found a bargain, when buying a second hand car? Leave your stories in the comments section below