Checklist for buying used cars – Part two

In the second part of our checklist for buying used cars, we will be looking at some more areas of a vehicle you should be looking at before committing to buy it, to ensure you get the best deal.

Follow our car inspection guide before you buy any car, for best deal

Before you head out and buy any car, have a read of our guides (part one can be found here) to make sure you are buying in confidence.

Exhaust smoke

The exhaust smoke on cars can be different colours, and these colours usually indicate an underlying problem, so switch on the engine, walk to the back of the car and watch it for a few minutes.

Blue smoke means that the engine is burning oil, which means that this oil is somehow getting into the cylinders. This could indicate a blown head gasket, or problems with the internal engine seals. Either way, this could be a costly repair.

White smoke can be more difficult to spot, as it can easily be confused for steam, which is commonly expelled when the car is first started. However, excessive white smoke could indicate a head gasket failure, but this time it is coolant entering the cylinders and being burned with the fuel.

Black smoke is normally caused by the engine burning too much fuel. This is a problem which is often easier to fix than the causes of blue or white smoke, but it could be due to a number of different reasons so finding the cause could be harder to do.

If you still want to buy a car emitting smoke, seeking expert advice is definitely the way to go to ensure you are not hit with a large bill later down the line.

Gearbox and clutch

Unlike many of the checks on this list, the gearbox and clutch checks are more about what you can feel and less about what you can see.

When it comes to gearboxes, you have manual and automatic gearboxes available, but there are different types of automatics which can behave differently. Regardless of the gearbox, all gears should engage smoothly and quietly. If they do not, there’s likely to be a problem.

In a manual car, the biting point of the clutch should be around the middle of the pedal’s travel. If the biting point is very low or very high, it may just need adjusting, or could signify an underlying problem. It is important to remember than every car has a differently biting point, but if it is one of the extremes then there may be an issue.

When testing an automatic gearbox, make sure you engage all of the gears and ensure the ‘kickdown’ works. The kickdown is the function that changes down gears when you press the accelerator to the floor.

If the car has a manual mode operated by a steering wheel gearshift paddle or a manual operation on the gearstick, make sure you test it works correctly.

Wheels and tyres

Make sure you check all wheels (including spare if there is one) for signs of damage. Grazes from kerbs are common and usually aren’t a serious problem, but if the wheels are bent or have large dents in the rims they will need to be repaired or replaced.

Next, check all of the tyres to ensure they are free from cuts, splits and bulges. If there are any of these present, they will need replacing. You should also check the tread of the whole tyre to ensure it is legally compliant, and keep an eye on how the tyres have worn. If there is uneven tyre wear, this can indicate poor wheel or suspension alignment.

Tyres which have worn excessively around the middle of the tyre, or around both edges indicate consistent under or over inflation, and will need to be replaced.

Interior checks

The condition of the interior can help give you an idea if the mileage is genuine. A car with low mileage should have an interior that looks relatively new. If the car is older, the interior may be dated but should still be in good condition.

Check for signs of wear and tear throughout the car, such as rips in the upholstery or a sagging roof lining. You may be happy with the car, but if the interior needs a bit of TLC then this could be a good haggling point to get some money off the asking price.

Furthermore, check that all the equipment works. Lights, air-con, windows, sunroof, central locking, radio etc. should all be checked. If there are any issues, you could again get some money off the asking price to put towards repairs.


Paperwork is absolute gold when it comes to buying a used car, as it can help paint a picture of the car’s history. Keep an eye out for parts which have been repaired or replaced, and double check the mileage against what is displayed on the dashboard.

Study previous MOT certificates as well, to ensure that the mileage has increased by similar amounts each year. If the mileage suddenly decreases, the car could have had the milometer wound back to make the car appear less used than it is in reality.

Finally, for your own peace of mind, you might want to have a full vehicle history check carried out. This can tell you if the car has outstanding finance, has previously been written off or listed as stolen. They are relatively inexpensive, and can offer huge peace of mind to the buyer.

Now you are armed with our guides, you can go forth and buy a used car in confidence. Just remember to take your time and don’t let yourself get pressured into making a purchase you are going to regret!