If you are going to check out a car in a high street dealership they won't appreciate - nor should you need to - get underneath the car and run a torch over the floor to check for rust but if you are buying cheaper then there's a good chance you will need to do just that so dress the part for whatever sort of inspection you will need to make. 

If going to the high street dealer dress smart. Like it or not car dealers tend to be conservative in thought and take smartly dressed people seriously, as genuine potential buyers, those in jeans they often regard as tyre kicking time wasters  and they may not even allow you a test drive.  

Where you need jeans are for the more budget category when you will definitely need to slide under the car to check for rust and a number of other things, will need to delve deep into the engine bay for a series of checks, may have to lay on the forecourt - or the road - to carry out the suspension and steering checks so do go prepared with old clothes or a set of overalls and a pair of gloves, never take a chance on the bits you can't see, you'll always get an unpleasant and expensive surprise if you do.


Aside from dressing the part there are a few items to take with you to any inspection. A huge tool box is not really needed and will alarm even the straightest, most honest, seller. A few well chosen items in your pocket will make most of the checks much easier and more enlightening. 

Start with a small but good quality torch, ideally one of the well known and powerful pocket torches with an adjustable beam from spot to flood. Also in your  pocket should be a small magnet, the sort of thing you stick on a fridge for notes is ideal as it is plastic covered and won't damage paintwork which won't make you popular with the seller. A small screwdriver will help with probing the floor for rust, lifting carpets, checking belt tensions and so many other tasks.


If you don't know a lot about cars then find a friend who knows a bit more than you and whose judgement you trust and take them with you when inspecting possible cars.

This has 3 benefits, one is that their greater knowledge and experience will inform your decision to buy... or not. You can share the areas to be checked between you both saving time and allowing you to compare notes at the end and you also have a witness to any negotiations that might take place.

If you can't find a friend for the task and have a relationship already with a smaller garage they may be prepared to carry out a brief inspection for a reasonable cost.

What You don't want to do is have full inspection carried out on a car that is merely a possible, at around £150-200 it's simply too expensive to check every one of the perhaps 5-50 cars you might need to look at before buying.

Later we will deal with the sort of inspection you should have carried by an expert on any car that you are just about to commit to buying.

A word of caution about how you select your friendly expert, do try to find someone who does know more than you not someone who can sit at the end of a saloon bar spouting advice but, in fact, knows very little about cars. Disregard the usual saloon bar idiocy as serious advice, it's so often by the unknowning for the unknowing. 

The usual classics are avoid company and high mileage cars, automatic gearboxes are for oldies and power steering is for wimps and girlies. This is all saloon bar rubbish dressed up as wisdom. Find someone who does know what they are looking at and talking about.


The thoroughness of your checks is relative to the value of the vehicle and the vendor. If you are buying near new from a franchised dealer you will usually be buying a car which has already been valeted, thoroughly checked over, serviced, perhaps even given a new MOT, will probably have a guaranteed mileage and a good service history and will come with a good warranty of perhaps 6-12 months, given all that you can probably afford to be a bit less suspicious. It is it at least likely that such a dealer would still be there in 2 weeks time if you do come back to complain about something.

More commonly though the cars you will be looking at are not so are not so well presented and will need a thorough check of their paperwork and very careful inspection to make sure all is in order.

At it's simplest you want to establish that the car is rightfully the sellers to sell, that it it legal in respect of all paperwork, that it is as described, that it is safe, that it is in good order for the price, that you like to drive it and can do so OK, that the price is a fair one or a compromise can be reached and, if a finance deal is involved, that you have got a good APR and can you afford to make the monthly credit payments.

Abstracted from the book “Buying a Used Car” © G Benge 1997-2007

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