1. Do your homework - Before looking at any cars for sale draw up a shortlist of suitable models and consider all the things that are important to you. Will it have enough power? Is fuel economy important? Is it easy to maintain and work on? The internet can be a useful source of information to find out how reliable a particular model is.
  2. Don't go alone - If possible, take a knowledgeable friend or family member with you to see the car, or someone as a witness to any claims or promises being made by the seller. If you're buying privately, don't agree to meet halfway - always go to the seller's home and check the address is the same as shown on the V5C registration document.
  3. Arrive early - Whether at a showroom or on a driveway, an unscrupulous seller may warm the engine up before you arrive to hide any faults from a cold start, so make sure you check the engine is cold before a road test.
  4. Don't be dazzled by the shiny paintwork - Try to detach yourself from the buying process; it's surprising how many people decide to buy within the first couple of minutes. Think of it as though you are buying it for somebody else and check the detail before making a decision.
  5. Have a good look around - If the car is parked in a restricted space move it out into good light before inspecting it. Inspect the car's paintwork to see if it varies from panel to panel, check if the condition of the interior is consistent with the mileage and check the carpets aren't damp. Also check that the stereo, Sat Nav, if applicable, and other features such as electric windows are in working order.
  6. Get your hands dirty - Even if you are not mechanically inclined, there are checks you can do. When looking under the bonnet, pull out the engine oil dipstick and check the level to see if it's low or dirty. Check for any significant oil or fluid leaks, loose or corroded battery terminals and ensure the cooling system antifreeze and brake fluid level are correct.
  7. Road test - Listen for any abnormal noises and check the operation of all controls. Don't forget to check the heater in the middle of summer or the air conditioning, if fitted, in winter. Remember, when driving, don't abuse it; it's not your car yet and it may have been the seller's pride and joy, and you are just as likely to find faults at low speeds as you are driving at higher speeds.
  8. Check the paperwork - Ask to see all the paperwork and take your time to look through all the invoices and any service history. If servicing has been carried out by the owner, question what tasks were carried out and when. This information can be found in the Haynes manual. The MOT history can be checked online for free, and any outstanding finance, if applicable, can be checked for a small fee.
  9. Check the Vehicle Identification Number - This should be the same on both the registration documents and the car. Make sure you check for evidence of tampering with the number.
  10. Finally, be prepared to walk away - Even if all the boxes are ticked, if it doesn't feel right, trust your instincts and don't be pushed into something you may regret.

Tips from Haynes Publishing - www.haynes.co.uk

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