The UK used car market is a huge, and sometimes, frightening place to visit. Motor traders have a language of their own and the tricks that are available to the unscrupulous seller are many and varied. You need to keep your head and be logical when assessing a used purchase, whether from the motor trade or privately.
Check the paperwork
There are a few things you need to do before you even approach a prospective car. The most important is to never agree to meet a private seller anywhere other than at their home. Meeting in a car park or by the road is not only dangerous, but it makes it easy for a seller to disguise the vehicle's ownership. When you first arrive, check the vehicle documents. If it's a private sale, check whether the address on the registration paperwork matches your location. If it doesn't, you can question why, but the best advice is to walk away. Look at the VIN (vehicle Identification Number) and make sure that the MOT matches the registration. Now, proceed to the car and check the VIN against the metal plate or stamp on the vehicle.
You can tell a lot about a car from simply walking up to it. Ask yourself if it looks genuine. Is it too clean? Does the paintwork look too fresh? Of course, this may mean that the seller is particularly fastidious, but do they look like the type who would be? Now, put your hand on the bonnet and feel if it's warm. If it is, then the car has been run recently and that could disguise cold starting issues. Look at the ground where the car is parked and check for oil stains which might indicate a leak.
Obviously, you want to check the car for evidence of rust. Crouch down at each end of the car and look along the length of its sides for ripples. This is a clear indicator of damage repair as no car leaves the factory like this. The same applies to panel gaps which should all be even.
Check the engine bay for signs of leaks. If it is exceptionally clean and missing its warning stickers, it may have been steamed to cover something up. Check inside the oil filler cap. If there is evidence of white grunge, this means that the head gasket could be on the way out. Finally, listen for rattles and knocks when running. All engines make noise, but anything untoward will be obvious.
Checking if all the electrics work is a good practice, but check the wear-on seats and pedals to ensure if they match the car's claimed mileage.