Used Car Checks: A Guide to Mileage, MOT & HPI Checks

If you are considering buying a used car it’s important to undertake some key checks. A great deal of diligence can give you the confidence you are buying a used car in good condition over one that could give you problems in the long-run. This handy guide offers the advice you need on your car buying journey, explaining the checks you should carry out and the importance behind them.

Vehicle Inspection

If you are a first-time car buyer or simply inexperienced with the vehicle checks you should undertake, start with inspecting the car. This gives you a general sense of the condition. These checks can give you an indication as to whether you are buying a car that will need extra investment for repair work and to guarantee that you're getting the most for your money.

1. Tyres

The legal minimum for tyre tread is 1.6mm, which can easily be checked with a 20p coin. If the tyres are below 3mm you’ll probably need to change them sooner rather than later.

2. Dents and scratches

Inspect the bodywork of the car to check for any imperfections. Any dents and scratches can result in the need for body repair and if you are investing in a more expensive vehicle you may want to negotiate on price. Within any bodywork damage, also look out for rust forming.

Another thing to look out for when checking over the vehicle is any mismatched colour or an uneven paint spray, as this may suggest that the vehicle has been involved in an accident.

Tip: Be sure to check the vehicle in daylight to avoid any oversight in darkness

3. Fluid Levels

Lift the bonnet to check the oil, brake and power steering fluid. When checking fluid levels look for signs of leakages, in the bonnet and under where the car is usually parked.

4. Electrics

A common oversight is checking to see if all the electrics are in working order. You should check the windows, air conditioning and heating all work. You may think they are a minor fault, but if you are buying an expensive car this may allow you to negotiate on the selling price.

5. Spare wheels and car accessories

If the car is featured to come with a spare wheel and other accessories, check they are present and in good condition and that any associated tools have also been included.

MOT Checks and Service History

An MOT is a compulsory test all drivers must complete on their vehicle every year andvalidates whether the vehicle is roadworthy. You should check the expiry date on this certificate and any advisories that have been suggested. Some sellers may disregard some of the recommended checks to avoid big payouts before selling their vehicle. It’s worth knowing that the MOT history can now be checked online too.

In addition to an MOT, you should also consider the service history, especially if you are searching for a valuable used car model. This gives you extra reassurance the car has been looked after.

HPI Checks

A HPI check derives information from the police and DVLA database to help reveal any hidden discrepancies

It’s highly advisable to get a HPI check done when buying a used car for the following reasons:

1. The vehicle could be stolen. If this is the case, the police have the right to detain the vehicle leaving you without a car and your money.

2. Car clocking – some sellers will intentionally alter the mileage on a vehicle to make it appear like it has been driven less

3. Car Finance – If there is unpaid credit left on the vehicle, this will be transferred to the new owner

4. The vehicle has been written off – the report will identify if the car is unsafe to drive

5. Change to identity – the check will confirm the details of the vehicle such as the the make, model, engine size and how many people have owned the vehicle. You’ll want to ensure all this information matches the story of the seller.

Document checks

A V5C (also known as the registration document or log book) is the most important document to check when buying a used car. You’ll want to check the information of the car and owner correspond with the details in the VC5. Checks details such as:

1. Make and model

2. Number Plate

3. VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)

4. Registered Keeper and Address

5. How many years the vehicle has been owned by the seller

6. How many previous owners

Test Drive

After checking you are happy with the vehicle’s condition – and your insurance covers you to do so - it is important to test drive the car. You’ll want to check the following;

Does the car start?

If there are issues with the battery or alternator, you may find there are problems in starting the car

Test the Clutch

Test the clutch in low revs in a high gear and also with a quick getaway to test how the clutch feels. Doing this can help save cost as a clutch can be expensive to repair.

Check the steering

You’ll want to check if the steering feels heavy or if it pulls to one side when you drive.

Listen to the engine

Keep the radio turned off for most of your drive so you can listen out for any abnormal noises from the engine. Make sure the engine is cold when you do your test drive, as this is the best test for a healthy engine.

Check the brakes

When safe to do so, test your brakes by performing an emergency stop to ensure they are effective. Don’t forget to also test the handbrake, this can be a common oversight with more vehicles now being fitted with electronic handbrakes.


Test that when you are changing gears, you can change them smoothly and they do not make any noises.


Try and drive over a bump or uneven surface to test the suspension and listen out for any unusual rattling noises.

Are you happy?

Finally, if you are happy with the condition of the car and content with the test drive, then you’ll now want to consider whether the car is right for you. Is it a worthy investment and will it satisfy your needs?

If you need further assistance on buying a used car, we’d be happy to help. Contact your nearest Jardine Motors Dealership for help.