Buying a used car: tips from IAM RoadSmart

Blog post posted on 02/08/17 |

You may be a first time car buyer or just in the need for a new ride. This week’s tips offer advice on buying a used car from IAM RoadSmart’s head of technical policy and advice, Tim Shallcross.

  • Check the ‘log book’ (V5) against the number (VIN) on the car. If the V5 is not present, do not purchase the car


  • The V5 does not prove ownership, so check the person selling it is the actually owner – ask for a receipt or contract from the dealer


  • Do your research. Check the mileage and MOT history at


  • Blown turbochargers, snapped timing chains, smoking engines – all these and more can result from delaying an oil change or using the wrong oil. Ask for the service history and take time to look through it. If a service is due negotiate on the price, but if the history’s missing, walk away


  • Dashboard lights are important. Check all the systems such as ABS and stability control. Make sure they all light up when you turn on the ignition and go out after a few seconds or when you start the engine. Check the handbook if you’re not sure you’ve seen them all


  • After starting the engine, listen carefully for the first few seconds – any knocks or rattles are bad signs. Grey exhaust smoke is a sign of a worn engine – check it after your test drive when the engine is hot


  • As well as checking the suspension by listening for rattles or clunks over rough roads, try stopping at different rates – gently and rapidly. The engine should never stall as the car stops and the revs shouldn’t drop very low and then pick up to the right idle speed


  • Reject a car if you have any concerns. Cars are too often an emotional rather than a rational choice. If in doubt, sleep on it and make a decision in the morning

Tim said: “Getting a new car, whether it’s brand new or new to you, is an exciting time. It’s also an expensive time, so the last thing you want is to pick a bad model. Do your preparation before you go so you know what you’re looking for. If you’re not confident, take a friend, get it checked at a garage, or ultimately walk away.”