Buying A Used Car? Here’s What To Look Out For

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Buying a used car is exciting! Maybe you’re buying your first set of wheels or a model you’ve lusted over for years. But, it’s always better to be safe than sorry because sometimes buying a used car can be difficult if you don’t have experience. That’s why ClickaCar has put together our go-to guide for buying a used car.

Find a Reputable Dealer 

One of the best ways to buy a used car with added peace of mind is through a reputable dealer, dealers like those found within the ClickaCar network. 

ClickaCar's network of bank approved, ClickaCertified dealers are committed to and adhere to the Consumer Protection Act. For added peace of mind, all cars advertised on ClickaCar are owned by the dealers. This allows better control over the quality of the cars advertised on our website and sold through our network. 

With the ClickaCar, we always ensure that you get the Safest Buy By Far.


Before even looking at a used car, ask to see the paperwork, the registration certificate in particular, and then confirm the details on that document. There are many sellers, especially on Social Media who advertise cars with “no papers”. This is extremely risky, and it's safer to walk away.

The same applies to the licence disc. Check the date and make sure that it is still valid. If the licence fees are running behind, they will need to be paid before ownership of the car can be transferred and includes penalties. If the licence fees are behind, find out why and if the reason is not a legal problem, then negotiate a lower price on the car.

Keys & Locks

Ask the owner if the spare key and remote are still available, and check that all the locks don't only work but also use the same key. If they are unable to provide the spare key or offer a valid explanation on why the locks were changed or damaged, then it's safer to walk away. 

Engine Damage

This sounds pretty straightforward, but sometimes there can be issues that sneak by. One of the most obvious checks is for a head gasket leak. This is pretty simple, check for a creamy sludge in the coolant. If you find any, it means that coolant and oil are mixing, and you have an expensive repair on your hands.

The second easy check is at the other end of the car, the exhaust pipe. If the engine is bellowing out whitish blue smoke, then the piston rings are worn. These are cheap to buy but expensive to install.

You also need to listen for strange sounds from the engine, a loud clackety noise could be a sign of worn tappets, while any rough sound from the turbocharger (if the car has one) could indicate bearing damage. Lastly, look for excessive engine movement when revving the car, this could be a damaged engine mounting. 

Another top tip is that you should never view a car in the rain or on a wet surface because it can hide leaks coming from beneath the engine. When viewing a car, ask the seller to move it from where it's parked to check if there’s any sign of oil on the ground. 

If you are unsure about the condition of a car, take a mechanic along to help you inspect it and find anything that may seem amiss.

Accident Damage 

No matter how good a car looks, it can be hiding accident damage, and some repairs are easier to find than others.

Before even looking at the car, ask to see the registration papers. If they say Code-3, then you know that you’re dealing with an insurance write-off that’s been rebuilt. You can also use a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) checking service that will let you know if the car has been in a major accident.

Even if the paperwork and VIN check out, it’s still a good idea to continue looking for signs of accidents damage, and one of the best places to start is in the boot. In the boot area, lift the carpets and look along the seams and spare wheel well. If you notice welds that stand out against the factory welds or the spare wheel well is out of shape, then the car could’ve experienced a rear-end smash.

The same applies to the front end, open the bonnet and look for any twists for bends along the front cradle, brackets and suspension mounting points. If they don’t look factory spec, it should raise a few alarms. While you’re there, also look out for cable ties. If there are loads of cable ties that look like they’ve come from your local hardware store holding items in place, then try to find out why.

The next key place to look for signs of accident damage is along the side sills, both on the outside and the inside. If there are bends, inconsistent lines, and variations in the welds, then you could be looking at a side smash

Another sign of accident damage could be variations in the paint, both in the texture and shade. If you find any, then there’s a good chance that the car has been repaired. One of the easiest ways to spot this is by first parking the car in a nice bright spot (a sunny spot, never go and look at a car at night) and then stare down the panel at eye level. If the panel is wavy, it could be a sign of a respray. A different shade of paint is also a sign that a panel could have been replaced, if one panel’s paint looks newer than the others, try and find out why. 

The tap test is another way to look for accident damage. If you tap the body of a car and get a consistent metallic sound and suddenly it changes to a deeper tone, there may be a heavy layer of body filler hiding under that paint.

The severity of accident damage varies and a lot of Insurance Approved auto repair companies can carry out a repair that is in line with factory specifications, but if a car has been too badly damaged, most approved repairers won’t carry out the work.


Like accident damage, rust is also good at playing hide and seek, but unlike accident damage, rust can spread.

When looking for rust, follow the same steps you would while looking for accident damage and pay particular attention to bubbles forming on the paint. When looking for rust, check the most common areas; along the water channels and seals, inside the boot, along the wheel arches and side sills, and within the footwells.

Also, check the scuttle panel and the tray beneath it, this is below the front windscreen where the wipers are usually mounted. This area can be a trap for leaves and debris and water ends up sitting below the plastic panel. It’s always a good idea to try and get a good look into this area to make sure it’s clear. 

Rust can also be a telltale sign of accident damage that was not repaired correctly, so the benefits of checking for rust are twofold.

Water Ingress

A big part of what causes rust is water ingress and trust us, you don’t want water getting into a car, it plays havoc with the electronics, makes the car smelly, and leads to rust.

The first step to finding water ingress is by using your nose. Smell the interior, get down and smell the carpets and take a good whiff at the air vents. If you get a mouldy or damp smell, that could be the first sign that water is getting into the interior.

The next step is to see if there are any damp spots and the most common places are under the dashboard and in the spare wheel well. Feel if these areas are damp and where possible, lift the carpets.

Finally, check the door jam, boot lid and window frame rubbers, if they are perished, damaged with huge chunks missing, or completely missing, then there’s a good chance that they are leaking. If the car has a sunroof, be sure to check around the seal and internal headliner, and make sure that there’s a drainage pipe.


Testing the lights is simple but easily overlooked, especially when viewing the car during the day (which you should be) or because you’re excited.  This is an easy check though, ask the seller to sit in the car and switch on the indicators, press down on the brake pedal, switch on the headlamps etc. 

If any light is not working, check if the bulb is fused or the fitting is corroded or damaged. If it’s not either of those, then there may be a larger electrical problem.

If any lights are not working due to an electrical issue, it’s best to ask the seller to have them repaired because you cannot predict the extent of the damage without an Auto Electrician on hand. If it’s just a fused bulb, those are easy to replace


Suspension problems are not easy to spot visually and for this, you will need to take the car on a test drive. 

During the test drive, “feel” the car. Does the drive feel “wafty” or “loose”, are there unusual knocking sounds, does the body roll too much when you drive around the corner? These are all signs that the suspension could need attention, from the shocks to the tie-rods or the bushings.  While out on the test drive, check the alignment. Point the steering wheel straight ahead and then let go for a few seconds. The car should keep going straight and not pull to the left or the right. If it does, then the alignment is out.

If you are looking at a more modern luxury car, in particular luxury SUVs, these may have been fitted with airbag suspension. If it has, then make sure that the car is sitting level and if it’s height-adjustable like in a Range Rover, then ensure that the pneumatic pump is working and the air-shocks are holding pressure. If the suspension sags, then you have a very large repair bill on your hands.

If a car has been lowered, find out how it was lowered, who carried it out and try to do a visual inspection. A car lowered using good quality lowering springs or suspension components like coilovers is fine. If the coils of the springs are inconsistent, then whoever lowered the car heated the springs unevenly to compress them. If there are signs of a coil that has been removed, then the springs have been cut to lower the car. These two methods are absolutely wrong, extremely dangerous and cause harm to other suspension components.

Finally, for the sake of this article, we will include the brakes as part of the suspension. While on the test drive, apply the brakes and feel for any shuddering, this could be caused by warped discs.  Also, inspect the brakes visually, if the disc has a raised edge around the outer circumference, then they may need to be replaced while excessive grooves on the disc face are a sign of worn pads. If the brake calipers themselves are wet, then you may have a fluid leak which is extremely dangerous.

Repairing suspension components can be costly but once completed they can give a car a brand new lease on life, so if you’re looking at a car that may need some suspension work, negotiate for a lower price. 

Tyres & Rims

This is where the rubber meets the road, both figuratively and literally. The tyres on a car are the only thing keeping you in contact with the road, and ensuring that they are in good condition is paramount for your safety.

When looking at the tyres of a car, there are three basic things to look out for; treadwear and the wear pattern, plugs, and sidewall anomalies.  The treadwear is the most obvious; if the tyres are balding they will need to be replaced, but the treadwear pattern is also important. Inconsistent treadwear, where one side or the centre of the tread is worn more than another part of the tyre is a sign that the wheels are out of alignment or the tyre has been over or underinflated.

Tyre plugs are signs that the tyre had a puncture and are usually not a big deal UNLESS there are three or more plugs. Most tyre experts will not plug a tyre more than twice. If it’s a run-flat tyre and there are plugs, you have a dangerous situation on your hands, and the tyre will need to be replaced.

Lastly, check the tyres’ sidewalls for cracks and bubbles. Damage to the sidewall is very dangerous, and it’s best to renegotiate the price to include the costs of replacing the damaged tyre.

Then we get the rims, these are just as important as the tyres. Checking the state of the rims starts with a test drive. On the test drive, try to get up to highway speed and feel for any shaking or juddering on the steering wheel, this is a sign that the wheels are out of balance.

If the tyre pressure is low, you need to check for leaks. This can be done by pouring soapy water around the edge of the rims and the valves, if you see any bubbles forming, then the rims are leaking.

Finally, check the overall state of the rims, look for buckles, scratches and make sure that the bolts are secure. If a wheel bolt does not tighten, it could be that the threads on the bolt are stripped or worse, the threads on the hub.

Replacing tyres and rims are an easy but costly affair, and it’s best to factor that in your offering price.

Service History

A well-documented service history is invaluable and will help you understand the car’s maintenance history. The service history can also help you verify the car’s mileage and also identify common faults. For example, if the car had the cambelt replaced several times in its lifetime, you now understand that it’s a common problem and something to look out for.

If you can’t get hold of the service book, you can ask to see the service invoices.

Roadworthy Certificate

A valid roadworthy certificate makes the car buying experience so much easier as it allows you to carry out the transfer of ownership immediately. 

By law, the ownership of a vehicle cannot be changed without a valid roadworthy certificate from a recognised testing station. If the seller does not provide one,  you are then responsible to have the car tested, rectifying the faults, and then retesting.  This brings with it added and often unexpected costs, so it’s better to look for a seller that can provide one.

All of ClickaCar’s dealers sell their cars with a valid roadworthy certificate whenever possible so you can rest assured that you will be able to carry out the transfer of ownership, get insured and get out on the road sooner rather than later. 

Buying a car is an exciting experience but with so many vehicles, sellers,  and dealers out there, it's best to always be on your guard. The best way to help you through your buying experience is to search for the car you want from a reputable dealer, like those in the ClickaCar network.

Ready to get behind the wheel? Visit the ClickaCar Virtual Showroom and let our dealers give you added peace of mind.