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Buying and selling a car

5 things you should never compromise on when buying a used car

We've all been tempted by a cheap listing for a mint condition motor with low mileage and a beautiful paint job. Sadly, the reality is that what seems too good to be true often is.

The only way you can know you're not about to get shafted is to stick to a few very important principles. And never, EVER waver.

  1. Service history

    Service history is the collection of documents a car should have, detailing the services it's had and any work that's been done.

    Any gaps in the service history could indicate that it's not been serviced as often as it should have been (once a year) or had a serious problem the owner would rather cover up.

    There are a lot of cars for sale that would be perfect for you - why buy one that might not have had even an oil change for thousands of miles of its life?

  2. Logbook or V5C

    Contrary to popular opinion, the car's V5C document isn't proof the person selling you the car actually owns it - it just proves they're the registered keeper. That doesn't mean it's not incredibly important though!

    For a start, the owner not having the car's logbook could be a sign that they've secured a loan with the car's value. That means the car could be taken by the loan company at any time if they don't pay back the money on time. Fancy waking up one morning to find your car is gone? It happens.

    Not having the logbook also makes it very difficult for you to tax the car before you drive it home, which is essential. You need the number on the new keeper part of the logbook in order to get the car taxed.

    Find out everything you need to know about buying a second hand car if you haven't passed your test yet.
  3. Mileage

    As a young driver, you're probably not an expert on vehicle maintenance. I might be wrong there - you could have been building engines when other kids were swallowing Lego - but I'll generalise for the sake of the majority. That means it's wise to make things as easy for yourself as possible: buy a car that's going to run well and require little work.

    The simplest way to ensure your new car will last you a while is to choose one with low mileage. Not silly low though (a 2003 motor with only 20,000 miles on the clock should arouse your suspicion) because you want to know it's been worn in and not left sitting in a garage for years.

    The number of miles the average driver does a year is under 10,000. Once you know how old the car is, you can work out if it's been driven into the ground or if it's got a good mileage for its age.

    Example: a 9 year old car has 85,000 miles on the clock. That means it's done less than 10,000 miles per year - around the average annual mileage. Good times!
  4. 'Written off' or major repairs

    When a car is 'written off', it means an insurance company has said it's no longer fit to drive. Now, it IS possible to get that car back to a condition where you could drive it and even sell it - but would you really want to?

    As a young driver, you really don't need any more potentially expensive situations in your life. It's very important to ask any seller if the car you're looking at has had any bodywork done. This will tell you if it's been in a crash and had major repairs, which you want to avoid as it's possible the car will have weakness in that area.

    The seller could easily lie to you (that's why it's important to be alert for any bad vibes), but there are ways to check if a car has been written off.

    Use the DVLA's Vehicle Identity Check system to look up the car. If it's been written off, it will be in the database. Unless that car has since had a VIC test and passed (which will be recorded in the database), you won't be able to get a V5C logbook, which prevents you taxing the car. AVOID.

    Signs of major repair work:

    • Uneven reflections in the paint work
    • Different shades of paint colour across panels
    • Panels that don't sit flush with each other
    • Differences between the 2 sides of the car - they should match 100%
  5. Clutch health

    A replacement clutch and the cost of the labour can set you back over £2,000 - probably more than you're hoping to pay for the whole car.

    When you test drive the car (or sit next to someone as they drive it if you've not passed your test), pay careful attention while changing gear. If the clutch is wearing out, it may make a squeaking sound or even smell like burning.

    A good sign that you can relax is recent record of replacement in the service history. You should keep up the vigilance on the clutch anyway, but if a car has had a clutch replacement in the last 50,000 miles it's probably got life left in it. It's only a general rule though - some clutches last the car's entire lifetime and some burn out after a couple of years!

Get the full guide to buying a used car - don't be left driving a wagon of regret.