A guide to buying a second hand car in the UK

Having a car in the UK can come in handy for work commutes and trips to the coast alike, but getting stuck with a lemon can be more hassle than it’s worth. Here are a few tips that will help you avoid buying a dud.

Blue VW Beetle

Where to start

First thing’s first, set a budget. You can then start looking around to see which makes and models are available for that price. Keep in mind that more popular models are likely to have cheaper spare parts, in case something does go wrong.

Viewing the car

Make sure that you see the vehicle in the cold light of day as there are a few basic things that you should check before you make any purchase.

Body work

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a second hand car with perfect body work. Expect to see a few chips or scratches – these might even prove that the car has not been in a major accident.

Look down the line of the car. The trim lines should be straight and all the panels should be flush without gaps between them.

Unusual welding in the boot and/or bonnet could be indications that the car has been in a major accident.


Tyre condition can tell you a lot about a car. Cracks, bulges and bubbles on the tyre wall are usually bad news. Uneven wear might be a sign of other issues such as worn shock absorbers, misalignment or off-balance wheels.

Always measure the tread as anything less that 3mm will require replacement soon.

General check

It’s a good idea to check all the locks and the central locking mechanism to ensure that they work. Test that all of the windows open and close normally.

Test all of the minor controls in the car along with the lights and windscreen wipers. Make sure that the heating, air conditioning, radio/CD player and other gadgets work properly.

Check the boot for a spare tyre, sealant kit, jack and other tools for changing a flat.

Take it out for a test drive

Before you start the car, check the oil and radiator. Oil should be at the correct level and the water in the radiator should be clean.

Rumbling or knocking noises from the engine when you start the car could indicate problems. The same goes for thick blue smoke.

If possible, take the vehicle onto a highway to get a decent run out of it – this way you’ll be able to get up to a higher speed and make sure that there are no unusual shakes or rattles.

When applying the brakes, they should slow the car without too much effort, and the car shouldn’t pull to one side when you use them. The gears should change smoothly and easily and the clutch shouldn’t make a noise or bite too high.

Make sure the documentation is in order

Ensure that you see the V5C registration before buying the car. This document registers your vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and contains all of the essential information about your car, including the manufacturer, colour, engine size and registration number.

Inspect the V5C to ensure that the documents are original. Use the registration number and VIN numbers on the car to verify. This will help you ensure that the details of the car and the seller are all consistent.

Hit the road

You’ve done all the checks, you’ve transferred the car into your name and now all that’s left is for you to drive off into that UK sunset. With a car you can get out into the lesser travelled parts of the UK and even Europe so it’s definitely worth considering picking one up if you’ll be in the UK for an extended period of time.

Our Kickstart services are designed to help you set up and enjoy your life in the UK without any of the fuss. Whether you’ve just moved, or are planning to move, call one of our consultants on +44 (0) 20 7759 7536 to find out how we can help.