New & used car checks: value, history & condition

New car checks

Buying a new vehicle can be a very exciting time, but it’s important to make sure you don’t get carried away. Whether you are buying a new car, van or motorbike, you should undertake numerous vehicle checks to help decide whether you should buy it.

To help make a more informed decision, make sure you test drive the car properly before buying the vehicle and consider the factors below.

New and used cars value history and condition

Used car checks

For used cars, it can be tricky determining whether the car is in good condition and whether it has been well maintained.

There are a lot of cars out there that aren’t worth the price they are listed for, and you don’t always know if the history of a used car is accurate. The list of car checks below will cover everything to check for when buying a new or used car, so you can purchase with peace of mind.

Get a car valuation

If you don’t know the true value of a car or van, how can you expect to pay the correct amount for it?

Making sure you get a vehicle valued before you buy it – or sell it – is the key to saving yourself as much money as possible. Online tools such as the Car Valuation Calculator from Confused.com can be useful in getting a predicted ballpark value of a vehicle.

Check MOT history

Getting to know the full history and condition of a car through its official MOT documentation can help you better gauge its true value, including advisories that may turn into additional costs in the near future if you buy the car. Not only will this ensure your vehicle is roadworthy and help in negotiating the best price, it also allows you to factor the car into your future budget.

Top tip: MOT history and current MOT status can be checked using license plate details via the government Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVLA) Check MOT Service webpage.

Mechanic completing MOT

Car age

When valuing a car, one of the key factors to consider is how old it is. It’s a known fact that a car starts to lose value as soon as you drive it off the forecourt.

By the time the car is a year old, you should expect the value of the car to reduce by at least 40%. After three years, the car can be up to 60% off the original sale price.

Thankfully, this quick rate of depreciating value doesn’t continue. As the car ages beyond three years, the age-related depreciation becomes less and less significant. Different models and manufacturers will also vary in the speed at which their value depreciates.

Check car mileage

The second most important thing to consider when purchasing a used car or van is the mileage.

On average, a car is expected to go 10,000 miles each year, so this figure is used as the average rate at which cars depreciate.

Following this logic, if a car is three years old it should have roughly 30,000 miles on the milometer. If you check the milometer and discover the number is higher, you need to look at the price more carefully as the car has been driven more than average for a car of its age. For example, if you see a three-year-old car with 40,000 miles on the clock, it should be valued as a four-year-old car, with the appropriate price tag attached.

Car manuals

Does the vehicle come with the official manuals, service history book and V5C vehicle registration document included? You will need all these important documents going forward, especially if you plan to resell the car later on. It’s worth having a good look at the documents as well to make sure that details like the mileage are consistent with what is presented on the milometer.

Official car manuals will help ensure your car continues running efficiently and will provide guidance on how to maintain your car.

Check the engine

For used cars in particular, it’s important to check the state of the engine before you part with any money. If you spot that work needs doing you should try to negotiate a reduced price, although don’t expect to make any huge cost savings.

For example, if you check the engine and discover that the spark plugs or radiator hoses need replacing, perhaps reduce the agreed price by £100-£200.

You can find an illustrated guide on some of the main things to look out for when checking an engine here.

Check the engine

Exterior

Make sure you properly inspect the vehicle for exterior damage before you part with any money. Even if some scratches and dents appear to be nothing more than cosmetic defects, you can usually get the seller to lower the price simply by acknowledging them.

As a guide, dents that are around the size of a coin should lower the price by about £50 each – the price to have them repaired. Anything larger should be £100-£150.

Make sure you look at the windows and mirrors of the car for damage too. Any cracks or chips on the windscreen will need fixing immediately. Even the smallest crack or chip can become a lot larger if the car jolts suddenly, or if water freezes in the crack. Some cracks can also cause a car to fail an MOT, particularly if the crack is obscuring the view of the driver. In the case of chips and cracks, you should expect to ask for another £100-£150 off the asking price.

Interior

Damage to the interior won’t net you much of a discount but it’s worth checking for any obvious issues which will cost money to fix. For example, if the air conditioning works but is a bit smelly, the system will need recharging by an expert which can cost between £40-£50. If it doesn’t work at all, expect a bigger discount of at least a couple of hundred pounds.

As for the seats, this is a much more personal issue. It is highly unlikely that a seller will negotiate much on price if the seats are damaged.

Check the doors, hood and boot

Check that the doors, hood, and boot all open and shut properly and that the rubber linings are soft, but do not let in water.

If the rubber linings are damaged in any way, water can flood into the car and cause very expensive problems for you later down the line.

Accident history

When buying a car, you sometimes have little idea about its history beyond the mileage and MOT history. Sometimes cars have been in accidents and the seller won’t tell you, so there are some things you can check on the car which can be indicators to previous damage.

Panel gaps where the various panels on a car don’t quite match up correctly can be a sign of an accident, where panels have had to be replaced. It’s also worth checking the exact colour of the panels, as sometimes replaced panels and parts can be slightly different to original panels on a car.

It is also worth looking under the car and under the hood to see if any new parts have been fitted, whilst also looking out for any sign of welding on the bodywork.

If you see any of these things on the car you are viewing, it is worth enquiring as there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation. However, if you feel something isn’t quite right with the answer the seller gives, it could be that the car has been involved in an accident.

Couple with car salesman

Electrics

When you are viewing a potential car to buy, you should check that all the electrical components work on the car. This means checking the windows roll down, turning the radio off and on, testing the AC and testing all the lights on a car.

These are often overlooked as most people just look for physical red flags, but electrical problems can sometimes be more expensive to fix than mechanical problems. If any of the electrical components are not working, this could work in your favour in negotiations and potentially lower the price of the car.

Brake test

The brakes can only be checked during the test drive of your vehicle. If you find that the car does not brake as quickly as it should or you feel the brakes are not working properly in any way you should give them your full attention.

Replacing brakes is a pretty straightforward procedure that any mechanic can do for you, but the real challenge is the cost. The cost can vary depending on what is wrong with the brakes, and whether it is the brake pads or the discs that have an issue. Only an expert will be able to tell the difference.

Replacement pads are relatively cheap, costing around £150. However, if the discs need replacing as well, you should expect a cost of at least £500.

Test shock absorbers

Shock absorbers are one of the easiest features to test in your new car. Simply push down on one corner of your vehicle. Ensure that the car bounces just once before it settles back into place. If it bounces more than that, you need new shock absorbers.

Shock absorbers can be quite expensive to replace, but well worth it if you live somewhere will uneven roads. You should expect the cost to be between £200 and £500, including labour.

Check tyres

Checking out the tyres is important for your own safety, especially if you’re planning to drive the car away.

The legal lower limit of tread depth for a tyre is 1.6mm, the width of the border of a 20p coin. If the tread is below this, ensure you have new tyres before you drive the car away, both for your own safety and to ensure that the car is legal to drive.

If the tyres are close to needing replacing you could argue with the seller that this should mean a discount on the price. You could also ask the seller if they often need to top up the tyres with air as this can potentially suggest a slow puncture, but this will be hard to determine from viewings or test drives.

Keep in mind that the average cost for four new tyres, including fitting and alignment, is between £200 and £300.

Check tyres

Optional features

If your car has any technical features – most cars will do – it is wise to get the car dealer or seller to show you how they work. You’ve paid for them, so you might as well get the most use you can out of them.

If buying from a private seller, you should make sure you receive a full list of any modifications that have been applied to the car, as this can influence the price of your insurance.

Vans purchased with extras such as roof rack bars should be checked to ensure they are in good condition before purchase and use.

Car repair costs

Make sure that as you inspect the car you keep a full tally of the damage and associated costs. Each individual issue might seem small, but it all adds up quickly, as the checklist below shows:

  • Spark Plugs Replacing £100 – £200
  • Radiator Hose Replacing £100 – £200
  • Bodywork Dent (Small) £50 Each
  • Bodywork Dent (Large) £100 – £150
  • Window Chip/Crack £100 – £150
  • Air Conditioning Smell £40 – £50
  • Air Conditioning Broken ~£200
  • Replacement Brake Pads ~£150
  • Replacement Brake Discs ~£500
  • Shock Absorbers Replacement £200 – £500
  • Tyres Replacement & Alignment £200 – £300 for all 4

Exact repair costs for different makes and models will vary considerably, as well as the parts you choose as replacements, so this checklist should be treated as a general guide.

New car collection checklist

Whilst the list of things to check on a new car will generally be smaller than on a used car, checking over a new car you’re considering buying is equally important. When picking up a new car, there should be no mechanical or electrical problems, but it’s still worth giving the vehicle a good check. These checks will help ensure that the car you were sold in the showroom, is the car you get.

 

  • Test drive the car so you can get a feel of how the car works. Here’s what we recommend looking for when test driving a car.
  • Bring a friend along to help you check the car from a different perspective. You will likely be excited about collecting your brand new car, so might miss issues you normally wouldn’t. A second pair of eyes can help spot any potential problems with the car.
  • Check over all the paperwork carefully. Make sure there are no additional or unexpected costs above the price you’ve agreed for the car and make sure everything is in order.
  • Do you have all the copies of the paperwork? Warranty, finance packages, new vehicle registration etc.
  • Check that you get the amount of sets of keys you’re supposed to (usually at least two sets).
  • Ensure any extra options you wanted on the car are fitted and working correctly.
  • Make sure the number plates are correct on the vehicle.
  • Check over all of the interior to see whether it is in the condition you expect a new car to be in.
  • Check the exterior of the car to make sure there are no bumps or scratches. While the car is technically new, it will still have been transported to the dealership, so double-check it’s been looked after correctly.