Buying a used car

We all know that a new car loses a significant chunk of its value the moment you drive it off the garage forecourt - with some experts warning it could be between a quarter and a third of the price paid.

Top related searches:
  1. Buy my car
  2. Used Fiat
  3. Used Honda
  4. Vehicle check
  5. Car check
  6. Cars online
  7. Used cars UK
  8. Cheap used cars
  9. Used car prices
  10. Buying a car

So it makes a lot of sense to let somebody else take the depreciation hit by buying a secondhand car when you need a new set of wheels.

But the process of buying a used car is confusing at best and intimidating at worst, so here are a few pointers...

Private or dealer?
The market in secondhand cars is divided between private sales, where you buy direct from the previous owner, and dealers such as main dealerships, car supermarkets, smaller independent car lots and one-man-band traders.

Which you buy from will either be dictated by availability - because most nearly-new cars end up being sold by dealers - or by your attitude to risk.

You are more likely to get a warranty from a dealer (though how useful that is can depend!), although you are also more likely to pay more money.

With private sales your consumer rights are much more limited, but you do get to meet the previous owner personally and get a feel for them as well as the actual vehicle. Your gut instinct is a useful tool when looking at cars.

Checking it out
Just kicking the tyres and peering under the bonnet does not qualify as an adequate check on a used car, we're afraid.

You could pay a professional to check the car for you, but if finances or time do not allow this, here are a few handy hints.

Firstly see if all the paint matches, look at the panels from an acute angle to check paint finish as well as colour - any mismatches may indicate a crash.

Check tyre wear is even, see if the interior is neat and tidy, look for rust under the wheelarches and in other likely places like the bottoms of doors and have a peek underneath to make sure the exhaust and fuel lines are rust-free.

Check the dipstick - in petrol engines the oil should be as light as possible. If it is thick, black and gunky then walk away. Diesel engine lubricant is always black. Check under the oil filler cap for "mayonnaise", which can indicate head gasket problems or a problematic life.

Power steering and automatic transmission fluid should be red and not black.

Test drive
On your test drive, try to drive in circles on full lock in reverse to check for steering or clutch issues.

Listen for engine rattles on starting it up and while driving, also make sure the car doesn't judder or pull to one side when braking. Test the gearbox thoroughly and make sure everything is smooth.

Also try all the electrics and make sure the air con is blowing cold if the car has it.

Do the paperwork
Pay attention to the paperwork too. Has it got a decent service history? Can you see the notifications with the previous MOTs? These may indicate potential future work required so be suspicious if the sheet is "missing".

Do the past MOTs and service stamps tally with the current mileage? If there is a lack of paperwork to verify the mileage then look for evidence of "clocking".

A few bills for work carried out is good, but too many may indicate that the car is a lemon and will continue to cause problems.

Is it legit?
If you've got to the stage where you have decided on the car you want, it's a good idea to get a HPI check carried out on it - which should inform you if it has been stolen, written off or has outstanding finance against it.

There are a number of providers doing this online and submitting the number plate will give you the other registration details such as the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and logbook information - which you can then check against the car.

Finally, take care when going to test drive a car, particularly if you are planning to carry a large sum of cash with you. If possible, take a friend and withdraw the money once your instinct says you're happy with the motor - and trust the person selling it to you.

What do you think? Have we missed anything important? Comment below...