Look at the paperwork
I know, it’s boring, but it’s also quick and simple. And vital. Check the history of the car. You can see the mileage it’s done each year, what’s been done to it. If it’s high mileage – 80,000 or more – look to see if the cambelt has been changed (some cars have chains rather than belts and these don’t need to be changed), and also the clutch if it’s a manual gearbox. These are expensive perishables that will need doing at high mileage regardless of how carefully the car has been cared for.
Run an eye carefully over the servicing schedule, too. Obviously a full main dealer service history is the holy grail, but it’s not essential. If a car has been routinely serviced at the same independent garage, that’s also a great sign. If the history is patchy with high miles in between services and it’s visited a lot of different garages, then you should be hearing some alarm bells.
Meet the owner
We’re not advocating being judgemental here, but, well… Maybe we sort of are. You can tell a lot about a car from the owner, is all we’re saying, and it’s normally easy to see if a person has really cared about their car. At One Woman Owner we like our sellers and buyers alike to feel safe and secure if you’re going to see a car, so you’ll have a better glimpse of each and what to meet ahead of time thanks. It’s like Tinder for cars, only with a great car at the end of it rather than awkward date.
Look at the car
To state the obvious, look at the car very closely. Don’t ever view a car at night – it can make the whole experience more intimidating, for a start, and also you’re going to easily miss blemishes or faults with the car.
When you’ve got the car in good light, crouch down and look all the way down the side of it. Looking at it like this helps to show up if any of the doors don’t fit properly, any wonky panel gaps or even panels that might have been repaired off the record.
Another good trick is to look underneath the carpet in the boot, if you can lift it without too much hassle. This often reveals bare metal and is another place where there might have been repairs from a rear-end shunt and the like.
Make sure that the interior wear matches the mileage. A low mileage car with a very shiny, worn steering wheel and battered interior has probably got something to hide.
Try and see if the car smokes at all when it starts up from cold. Turbocharged cars that are emitting some white smoke could be headed for a new turbo, blue smoke from any car can suggest it’s burning some oil. White vapour from a car’s exhaust on a cold day is absolutely normal.
Look at the tyres
Don’t just kick ‘em, actually have a look at them. Look at the make and type of tyres – ideally they should be the same make and type of tyre all round, or the same two tyres at the front, and the same at the back is also fine. Just be wary if there’s a different make on each corner, especially if they’re obscure budget tyres – even if the car seems sound, you should budget for new tyres as they’re critical to making your car safe, and good tyres will also make your car far better to drive.
Of course, also check the tread. Take a 20p coin with you, and the tread should be deep enough on a good tyre to obscure the coin’s rim. And while it’ll mean getting grubby fingers, make sure you check the tyre tread on the inside of the tyres, right inside the wheel arches. Tyres sometimes wear unevenly, and if they have done then it’s a good sign that you need to get the balancing done
Drive the car
While we’re on car buying 101, obviously you should go for a drive. Test drives can be weird experiences, but try to focus on how the car feels rather than worrying about how to fill the awkward silences with the owner. If the clutch biting point is very high, it’ll probably need a new clutch. There shouldn’t be much ‘play’ to the steering – you shouldn’t be able to wobble the steering wheel noticeably without any response from the car. You should be able to drive over a speed bump without hearing any funny noises from the suspension.