What to look for when buying a used car

Looking for your next car? If you’re getting back on the road again or driving for the first time, we’ll have you sorted. Here are some quick tips for buying a used car and, most importantly, things to look out for so you get the car that’s best equipped for you and the most value for your money.

New Ford Focus

Where to Buy a Used Car

Buying a used car nowadays can be complicated. With the demand for used cars increasing, it can be hard to know where the best place to look that will leave you with both a reliable car, a happy wallet and additionally peace of mind. However, we’ve pinned it down to three options on where to look and listed the “pros” and “cons” for each; for prospective buyers interested in quality used cars ideally in your preferred budget. 




  • More trustworthy
  • HPI Checks offered or cleared – All necessary documentation is usually available: ready for your inspection.
  • If you are mis-sold on the condition of the vehicle when first purchased, most dealerships will entitle you to a full refund.
  • Some dealerships have accident cover included in the purchase of a used car.
  • You may not be able to find a used car within budget at the time when you need to purchase.
  • You won’t be able to negotiate on price – however, it is important to note that the prices are often reflective of the car’s condition.

Private Sales



  • Budget-friendly prices – when you are happy to buy, make sure to use a method of payment that can be tracked and is reliable.
  • You can haggle and agree on a price that best suits you with the seller.
  • There may be a multitude of private sellers in your local area with cars available to sell immediately.
  • You have less protection when buying a car privately.
  • Is there are reason for selling? If so, take this into consideration with your purchase.
  • Number of previous owners: are there too many?
  • Potentially missing documentation: are there any signs of a stolen vehicle?
  • Risk of tampering: if you’ve noticed some things are unusual, or frequent DIY repairs, are you sure the car is in a safe and legal condition to be sold?




  • There is a wide selection of cars to choose from online
  • Varying level of control on price on online auction sites.
  • Frequently hidden issues often don’t appear until after your purchase: online advertisements and photos can be disguised, and long-term background issues potentially not mentioned.
  • Online scamming: you are entitled to see, or additionally test, the vehicle before purchase, if possible, but potential scammers might say otherwise.
  • Competitive.
  • Level of risk as you are obligated to buy straight away on online auctions.

What to look for when viewing a used car

Recorded Mileage

Before inspection, check the car’s history: what is the recorded mileage of the car on first inspection? Ask to see what the recorded mileage was on its most recent MOT test. When you know this information, reflect, then ask yourself if this car is best for short or long distance. This may be a factor to consider on your purchase when looking.

car engine


​Look at the engine before you buy: it could mean the difference between a successful buy or a pass on purchase. Is the condition good? Has it been replaced or changed over the years?


​The exterior of the car: are there any marks, scratches, dents or sign of DIY welding repair jobs? Any accidental damage? Make sure to note down any damages if you see them. A respectable seller will inform you of any aesthetic damage ahead of a viewing that might impact its value or overall price.

bodywork damage
car interior


​Does it look like the carpet has been refitted or altered drastically? Are there any signs of tampering: repair jobs gone wrong? Even the inside of a car is just as important as the outside: you want to make sure nothing is hidden, so look closely if you need to.


​Tyre tread length, to be safe and in line with UK law, must legally be 1.6mm minimum. To check if your tyres are safe, inspect them closely. Do they appear to be a low- depth or worn down? If a seller expects a sale, the car really should be ready for getting on the road quickly, but it’s safest to check levels and inspect yourself due to this risk.

car tyres

What to look for when test driving a used car

front interior of car

Start time of the engine

​When first getting a feel for the car, the first thing you do is start the engine before taking it out on a test drive. Listen: what does it sound like? Does it sound strange? A longer-than-normal waiting period before ignition? You want to also make sure there are no muffled or strange noises emitting from the engine. The noise from an efficient, working engine is clear and not irregular.

Temperature gauge

​Check the temperature gauge before and after you start the vehicle: is it working? Are there any indications of overheating or damage? It is important to check this as it could be a potentially major safety issue that prevents the car going to sale.

temperature gauge
car tyres

Test the brakes

​When testing out the brakes, ask yourself: do they work quickly and without too much force? As an important safety feature, if you are uncertain of the quality, always enquire into a HPI test and the MOT history with the seller.

General controls​

Aircon, radio, windows and locks: all things that are going to be the essential working part of any car on your journeys. Do they all work properly and to your liking? Any scratches on windows? Minor issues are important to keep in mind, they might not be putting you off from purchasing but they will be a potential additional cost going forward.

car interior and dashboard
car warning lights

Warning lights

Are the lights working? Are they particularly bright? Warning lights are safety indicators, and it is a legal requirement that they are working when driving.

Smoothness of steering and gear transmission

​Does the control feel easy, comfortable and smooth? If the wheel makes any strange noises, or if it is tough to steer or change gears, factor in the additional cost of fix or if it is even in a safe condition to drive.

gear stick

What documents you need to see when buying a used car


Important things to check:

  • VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
  • Service History – has it been regularly serviced, or had any significant repairs?
  • MOT History – have any major warnings shown up on MOTs, or have the same issues repeated themselves every year?
  • Warranty – have you set up appropriate accident and repair cover?
  • Tax and Used Car Insurance – a legal essential to set up before you begin driving.
  • Legal Protection

When buying privately, it is important to note that there are varying levels of security, and you have less guaranteed legal protection. Understanding “Buyer’s Rights” is essential in knowing where you stand. If you have a problem with your used car once purchased, investigate and see if you are eligible for a legal right to repair or compensation.

Ready to buy a used car?

Having learnt where to look, things to check and documents to obtain: what comes next? That’s up to you.

There are many options available but the most important factor of buying any used car comes down to personal preference and what car you feel suits you best.

Liking a car itself is just as important as liking the price tag.

Foray’s range of used cars take this into consideration: what buyers want from a used car and how to easily prevent the worries that come with it.

Second-hand cars are just that: second hand. However, our Ford-approved dealership considers that quality and safety can be a guaranteed promise when buying pre-loved cars. All used cars sold with Foray Motor Group are available with Warranty 4 Life which additionally includes “unlimited breakdown and call out assistance cover.”

Discover Foray’s range of used cars and find your dream car today.

Ford Used Cars