Checklist: What to look for when buying a car

Buying a car is a huge decision. It’s one of the most expensive things we purchase, after property. But with so many options and potential pitfalls, it’s hard to know what to look for. Especially when you’re not a qualified mechanic.

So to help we’ve put together a handy checklist covering everything you need to look for when buying a car.

Dealer vs private

First, you need to decide where to buy your car. Most people choose a dealership because it’s safe and convenient. Car dealers have to offer consumer rights and warranties to protect you if something goes wrong. They also handle paperwork, offer car finance and let you part-exchange your old car.

Some people consider buying a car from a private seller, tempted by lower prices. But be aware that the risks are much greater.

Cars bought privately are ‘sold as seen’ and must simply be ‘as described’. This means the onus is on you to spot any issues with the car, and you’ll have no legal protection if you buy a dud vehicle.

New or used

The next thing to consider is whether you want a new or used car. This is down to personal preference as well as financial considerations. But here are the options:

  • New cars are more expensive and depreciate in value quicker. But they come with a warranty and you also get to personalise the car’s features.
  • Used cars are cheaper to buy and retain their value better. But they are more prone to needing repairs and often come with little or no warranty.
  • Another alternative is Approved Used. These cars are sold by dealerships approved by carmakers. The vehicles are put through rigorous inspection and come with a warranty to protect you.

Suitability

One of the most important factors to look for when buying a car is the type of driving you do. For example, city driving needs smaller cars, while rural roads call for more robust SUVs.

Start by asking yourself what the car will primarily be used for. Then use this checklist to make sure it suits your lifestyle.

  • Is it made for your usual driving conditions and journeys?
  • Is it the right size? Is there enough space for family and luggage, or is it small enough for inner-city parking?
  • Is it easy to get in and out, especially from the back seats with three doors?
  • Do the rear seats fold flat?

Add on any other features that are important to you.

Finance & running costs

Many people just look at the purchase price of a car, but it’s important to factor in running costs too. Take into account all likely expenses, including depreciation.

  • Purchase price
  • Finance cost, including:
  1. monthly payments
  2. deposit
  3. interest charges
  4. balloon payment at the end
  5. early resettlement fee or extra mileage charge
  • What’s the car’s insurance group and cost?
  • Breakdown cover
  • Service and MOT, plus repairs
  • Road tax band
  • Depreciation – research the market value for different ages and mileage
  • Warranty and what’s covered
  • Fuel efficiency and monthly cost

Petrol or diesel (or hybrid)

The car fuel type you need will depend on the type of driving you do.

  • Petrol cars are best if you mostly do city driving, short journeys and lower speeds.
  • Diesel cars are better for long distances at high speeds, especially regular motorway driving.
  • Hybrid cars are ideal for inner cities and short journeys with lots of stopping and starting.
  • Electric cars are another option for very short journeys, especially if your town or workplace has charging stations.

Add-ons

Make sure the car also has any added features you need.

What to look for when buying a used car

Before you buy a used car, check it’s in good condition and find out about how it was previously run. Read the service and MOT history for details of repair work.

Remember that car dealers should inspect used cars and make any necessary repairs before selling them. And Approved Used are subject to stringent inspections.

Here’s what else to look for in a used car:

  • Check for scratches and dents – it’s best to view cars in dry weather
  • Are the tyres worn evenly?
  • Will they need replacing soon?
  • Does the car have a spare tyre, and is it in good condition?
  • Does the spare tyre come with the required tools? Some car tyres have unusual locking wheel nuts which need a special tool
  • Check under the bonnet and floor mats for any signs of damage
  • Is the upholstery in good condition?

Electrics

Check all the electrics are working too.

  • Air conditioning, heaters, fans and windscreen wipers
  • Headlights, brake lights and interior lights
  • Electric windows and heated rear windscreen
  • Heated seats
  • Check the locks work and ask how many keys there are. Is there a spare or master key?
  • Check any parking sensors and cameras

If you have any niggles about used cars, don’t ignore them. A car is a big purchase and it should feel right.

Hopefully this checklist will help you find the right car for you. And read our checklist of what to look for during a test drive.

Jardine Motors is an official dealer of 22 car manufacturers, operating at over 70 dealership sites across the UK. Browse our new and used cars or enquire online.