The Ultimate Used Car Checklist

Man Browsing Used Second Hand Cars

Buying a used car is a great way to pick up a model that might have been out of your price range when it was brand-new. There are a few ways to search for and buy a used car. You could use a specialist online motor market place, an auction site, car dealership or through word of mouth. When you’ve found a car that you’re interested in, you should complete an Autotrader car value check, to see if the asking price is accurate. There are several other checks you should perform before finalising a sale, which we’ve detailed below in a short guide to buying a used car.

Service History

One of the first used car checks you should do is to find out if the vehicle is registered with the DVLA. Get in touch with the seller to ask for the vehicle’s details: its mileage, make, model, registration number and its MOT test number.

You can use the DVLA’s online vehicle checker to see whether the information you’ve been given matches up with that of the car. Make sure to contact the owner to get confirmation on the details if they don’t. It could be down to human error, or there’s always the chance that the details are fake – if this is the case then you should report it to the police.

Category D Cars

Category D cars – which are now known as Category N – are those which have been involved in an incident where an insurance company has assessed that the cost of repair is greater than 50% of the vehicle’s total value. This doesn’t mean that the car needs to be scrapped or has massive exterior damage – it could be down to an issue with the electrics or steering (a Cat D car can still be restored). Most people who buy Cat D cars are budding mechanics looking for a project or drivers who want a track car.

Cat D cars are an attractive proposition because they’ll always be valued at a lower price than identical vehicles that don’t carry this status. However, the reduced price will often come with potential risks. It’s recommended that if you’re going to buy a Cat D used car, you do so from a dealer. They have to disclose its status, whereas a private seller isn’t obligated to do so – they only have to make sure that the car is sold as described. 

You’re likely to have to pay a higher premium when you insure any car that’s been recorded with Cat D status, with some companies and brokers even refusing to provide you with coverage. For the most part, you’ll get the same level of cover, and with some cars it may even be the same price. A Cat D car doesn’t need to be subjected to any tests before it can return to the road, but insurers may want a professional to inspect its condition before they’ll provide you with coverage.

Inspect A Used Car In Person

Before buying a used car, it’s advised that you go and see it. There are multiple used car checks that you should carry out when you visit:

1. Check The Exterior

– Look for any dents to the panels or blemishes to the paintwork.

– Survey the grip on the tyres and the condition of the wheels. If either or both are showing signs of wear then it’s likely they’ll need replacing soon.

– Inspect the brake discs. If there’s a visible lip on them, they’ll need replacing. Make sure to also scan the car’s brake pads to see how worn they are.

– Check for any rust. This may be apparent under the wheel arches and sills and is expensive to fix.

– Look at the lenses on the lights. Determine whether they’re filled with water or misted up and keep your eyes out for any cracks.

2. Look Under The Bonnet

– Test the oil levels.

– Look at the brake fluid and coolant to see if the owner has kept them topped up.

– Remove the oil cap and make sure that there’s no white residue, which indicates that water and oil have mixed and there’s a possibility the engine’s head gasket is damaged.

– Ask the owner if and when the cam-belt was changed. If they don’t know, then this is something that you may need to do if you decide to buy the car.

– Check to see if there are any oil leaks.

3. Inspect The Interior

– Pay attention to the condition of the upholstery.

– Check the wear of the steering wheel, gearstick and handbrake, this can indicate how much care has been taken when driving the car.

– Turn on the ignition and survey the dashboard for any alert lights that switch on.

– Check that all of the lights, indicators and windows work.

4. Take a Test Drive

– If the car owner accompanies you, make sure that they don’t try to distract you by turning on the radio or by constantly talking. You want to be able to listen out for the engine and any unexpected noises while you’re on the move.

– Make the most of the gears if you’re driving a manual car. You’ll want to see how smooth the clutch, engine and gearbox are.

– Test out the brakes and steering.

– Be conscious if the ride is bumpy, as this could be a sign that there are issues with the suspension.


Before buying a used car, get a quote from an insurance company. This gives you the option of just contacting the firm to confirm your policy if you decide to purchase the car. It also means that you’ll immediately be able to drive away on the day that you get your vehicle – it’s illegal to drive uninsured.

Road Tax & V5C

If you’ve bought a used car, it’s a legal requirement to register your car for tax before you take it out for your first drive. Road tax isn’t transferrable, so if the vehicle you’ve bought was still taxed, you’ll need to register it again in your name. You should be given the V5C registration document (your vehicle’s log book) when you buy your used car. If you buy your car from a dealer they will automatically organise this for you. However, if you’ve bought your used car from a private seller, you’ll need to apply for a new log book online by following the instructions on

All cars need to be registered for road tax, but there are some used cars that are exempt from costs:

Zero and low emissions. These include electric and hydrogen cars and vehicles registered between 1 March 2001 and 1 April 2017 that produce less than 100 grams of CO2 per km.

Cars that are 40+ years old. This is marked down to the date that the vehicle was manufactured, not first registered.

For more motor advice, expert guides and insight, visit the Euro Car Parts blog. If you decide to buy a used car and are looking for ways to add any new components to increase its appeal, search from over 130,000 parts in stock suitable for all makes and models at Euro Car Parts.