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checking a car for faults

car buying checklist

Print out our handy checklist of things to look out for, and take it with you when going to look a car over.


- suspension: from a distance, is the car standing level?

- body panels: any scratches or panel gaps?

- paintwork: ripples, mismatched colour or stray spray?

- bodywork: look down the sides for dents or bulges

- rust: door-bottoms & sills, wheelarches, boot lid?

- wheel rims: any dents, scuffs or cracks?

- tyres: check tread depth & wear pattern. Different make at each corner = car maintained on the cheap. Wear on the outer shoulder means it's been hard driven.

- glass: cracked or chipped, especially the windscreen? Windows etched with matching reg number?

- shock absorbers: signs of leaks or too bouncy?

- underneath: rust or evidence of welding or repairs?

- lights: all working? Any lens moisture?

- doors: creaking or ill-fitting?

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- smell: smoking? pets? damp or musty?

- carpets: feel them thoroughly for dampness

- seats: look under any covers. Bad wear, particularly on driver's side = probable high miles

- gearknob / steering wheel: shiny and worn?

- mileometer: numbers line up? Scratched or painted over?

- pedal rubbers: worn, missing or suspiciously new?

- instrument panel screws: scratched or rounded?

- doors: all handles and locks working?

- sunroof: winds back & tilts fully? No sign of leaks or rust?

- alarm: ask for a demo

- boot: look under the the carpet for rust, paint ripples or overspray. Is the spare wheel inflated and has the jack and wheel nut spanner?

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- is the engine warm? Possible bad starter that's been prepared for you.

- engine bay: very oily - where it shouldn't be? Or suspiciously sparkling clean? Signs of oil leaks? Wires or hoses hanging loose?

- hoses: hard, cracked or split?

- oil: light brown or pitch black on the dipstick? Any white foam under the oil filler cap - sign of engine wear?

- water: CARE! Check engine is cool before opening cap. Is there water to the proper level & what colour is it? Should be green or blue not a rusty colour. Does the level move when you squeeze a radiator hose?

- other fluids: are the brake fluid, gearbox and power steering oil full to the proper levels?

- wiring: cracked or burned outer coating? Neat connections or botched repairs?

- engine belts: loose or frayed?

- front suspension: rust around the mountings?

- exhaust: most will have some rust, but how serious is it?

- CV joints: split rubber bellows where the suspension arms meet the engine? Expensive MOT failure point.

- look at the ground: any oily marks where the car is usually parked?

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Extra info on test driving a used car and checking a car's paperwork can be found on our full car buying checklist

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