Under the bonnet Engine oil An engine's oil can tell you as much about its health as a blood test can with a human. You want to see thin, light brown oil on the dipstick, not thick black tar with bits of metal in it.
Radiator With the engine cold, remove the radiator cap - you should see green or blue liquid with no oil floating on the top (which means oil and water are mixing and gasket catastrophe awaits).
Electrics Test everything methodically.
Clutch A high biting point or slipping clutch means a big bill approaches.
Gearbox Do the gears change without resistance or undue noise? Does it jump out of gear when accelerating? Does a shiny gear knob betray signs of high mileage?
Cylinder head Any especially loud rattles or taps here, while not as serious as
bottom-end noise, still mean the engine is at east in need of a tune, or badly worn. Pistons With the engine running remove the oil cap. Puffs of steam mean piston problems; an irregular idle can indicate a misfire. Bottom end Heavy knocking from the bottom end of a car's engine is usually terminal. Vehicle Identification number
Located on a metal plate in the engine bay and/or beside the driver's seat, should match up with paperwork. Engine Number
Stamped on the engine block - again should match paperwork, and watch for signs of tampering.
A clue to mileage, but cheap to replace so not conclusive. Seats
Again, wear correlates to mileage. Mileometer
Every 1,000 miles taken off a car's mileometer adds around pounds 30 to its value; "clockers" make pounds 100m from their illegal activities each year. MOT certificates will verify mileage; in their absence check for unusual wear to the interior, that the digits on the mileometer line up, or for signs that the dashboard has been tampered with (ie worn screw heads). Steering
Is there playing in the steering, or does it feel unduly heavy? Take the car up to motorway speeds, if possible, to make sure there is no wheel shake.
It's better to see scratches and a little rust on a car over five years old than thick, glossy, new paint with the tell-tale overspray on window rubbers and in the engine bay - you never know what's lurking beneath. Boot
Lift carpets to spot rust or accident damage - revealed by welding or a crease in the boot floor.
A reasonable amount of oil coating an old engine is fine, but if oil is forming on the ground beneath the car the motor is on its last legs.
A full service history (check with the garages) with MOT certificates adds 20 per cent to a car's value. Three hundred thousand stolen cars a year aren't recovered and they don't all end up torched in a field, so accept no excuses for a missing V5 registration document (check for a watermark). Call the previous owner (their address will be on the V5) to find out more, and if the car has had on average more than one owner every two years, be suspicious. One in seven used cars have been written off, the AA's Used Car Data Check (0800 234999; cost to non-members, pounds 25) will tell you if yours is one.
Between 21,000 and 28,000 unsafe cars are put back on the road each year after accident repairs - check for give-away uneven gaps between panels, welding on the underside of the car or mismatched paint. Filler Metal-based filler is undetectable by magnet. To spot it takes a keen eye - never inspect a car after dusk. Crouch by the headlamp and look down the sides of the car - any panel undulations mean a cheap repair. White powder in the engine bay or elsewhere - residue from filler sanding - is also a give-away. Rust
Surface rust is not always terminal, though great for haggling. But rust on sills, suspension mounts, cross members or seat-belt mounts will fail an MOT.
Blue or black smoke indicates engine wear; excessive grey smoke means the engine's oil and water are mixing.
Take the car for a long test drive (at least 30 minutes), test the brakes to see if they pull to one side, feel spongy, fade under heavy braking or squeal.
Check for uneven wear or bald spots indicating wonky tracking or locking brakes.
Check the car sits straight (if it doesn't, the shocks are tired, or rust is weakening the structure); beware of car parked on uneven surface to disguise this.Reuse content