We've updated our Privacy Policy.
The Sports Fan’s Interactive Toolbox | On the Clock Premium

Essential Checks When Buying a Second Hand Car in the UK

Steve Shoup

Thinking about buying a new car? There’s lots to consider – budget, brand and engine size for starters. Before you get carried away with deciding which colour you’d like though, there are some essential things you need to check out first, especially when you buy a second hand car.

How are you going to pay for it?

This is perhaps the key question. We all know it’s easy to get carried away when you’re in the showroom surrounded by shiny cars. If you’re paying cash from savings, then your budget is fixed. If, as is more common, you are taking finance out to cover the cost then it’s all about setting your budget and sticking to it. Look both at the monthly payments and the total amount you’ll pay as it’s a common sales tactic to push you into taking finance over a longer period to reduce payments each month, but this can be expensive. If you have a car to trade in, do your homework into its value. There are lots of calculators online to help you work out what it might be worth, but this is just a starting point.

MOT Check

If the car you are considering is more than three years old, then it should have had a MOT check. The seller should have the certificate available for you to look at. If the seller doesn’t give any details

Mechanical Checks

Second hand car dealers have a bad reputation, and it’s not wholly undeserved. Don’t walk into the showroom assuming they are out to rip you off and con you, but neither should you take everything they say as the whole truth. If you know about cars and understand what’s going on underneath the body, then don’t be afraid to give the car a full once over yourself. If – like most of us – it’s all a bit of a mystery, then don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Speak to a local trusted mechanic and ask them to check the car over before you buy it. Motoring organisations such as the AA also offer a similar service. This service can cost around £150, but it is money well spent if it prevents you from buying a car with a lengthy list of defects.

Test Drive

Never, ever buy a car without taking it out on a test drive. Be very wary if the dealer is coming up with a long list of excuses not to let you drive the car. Put the car through its paces by testing the brakes, the steering, the lights, the gears – everything you can think to test in normal driving. Be alert for any strange noises or clunking sounds. After you’ve driven the car, look underneath to make sure you can’t see any drips or leaks. If you’re not an experienced driver, take someone else on your test drive with you.

Finance Checks

One other important check is the finance status of your new purchase. This is what is often known as a HPI check and the dealer might do it for you. It is an important check because if you buy a car with an outstanding loan secured on it, you become liable for paying off that loan. Any car you buy should be free of finance. A HPI check will also show up whether the car you are thinking of buying has ever been written off in the past. A write-off isn’t necessarily something which should stop you from buying the car, but you should get full details about what caused the write-off and what repairs were done. If the dealer doesn’t provide a HPI check then you can get one yourself. There are a range of different websites offering the service, with prices starting at around £10. All you need is the car’s registration number.

about the MOT check then you can look online to verify the MOT status of any car. All you need is the registration number. Enter it into the DVSA website, and the page will indicate whether the car has a current MOT and whether or not it is taxed. It’s not illegal to sell a car without a valid MOT. However, if you discover that the car you are thinking of buying doesn’t have one, then you have a couple of options. Firstly, you could ask the garage or seller to get the certificate before you commit to buy. Alternatively, you could get a mechanic to give it the once over, assess the likelihood of a MOT pass, and negotiate the price accordingly.


Again, it’s not illegal for a dealer to sell a car which doesn’t have any road tax. Indeed, the new digital system means that it’s now common for sellers to claim a refund on any unused portion of tax when they sell, rather than sell the unexpired tax with the car. You can use the same MOT checking website to see whether a car is taxed or not. If not, it’s your responsibility to organise tax before driving it away. You can do this online, at any time of the day or night. Make sure you have tax in place before driving your car off the forecourt as you’ll be committing an offence if you drive without tax, whatever the circumstances.


Similarly, your car has to be insured before you drive it home. It’s worth spending some time looking at various different insurance companies and getting a range of quotes. Play around with excess and optional extras to get exactly the right policy for your needs. Lots of insurers will also offer the facility to spread the cost over 12 months rather than paying the whole amount up front. Once you’ve paid for your policy online and had the confirmation email then you’re covered; there’s no need to wait for policy documents to arrive in the post. Remember to also give the details of any other people you want to drive as named drivers when you set up the policy.



comments powered by Disqus