It’s no hidden secret that purchasing a used vehicle can be a cost-effective option over buying a brand-new model, but it isn’t uncommon for the buying of a secondhand vehicle to spark a level of fear or worry. With so many things to check for, how can you be sure that you’re making the right deal, and that your choices won’t come back to haunt you? Allow us to lend a hand and provide you with a new wave of vehicle confidence with our ultimate secondhand car checklist.


  • Leaks

    Leaks are often easy to spot but shouldn’t be something you hope to see. Start by taking a look at the ground underneath the vehicle. Marks of oil or grime will signal that the car has suffered from, or is currently experiencing, an oil leak, meaning that maintenance on the vehicle will be necessary. Leaks can also appear visible within the bonnet, such as antifreeze (identified as green, white or yellow liquid or staining) or gearbox fluid (identified as a darker red).

  • Exhaust

    You should examine the exhaust pipe at the rear of the vehicle to assess if an engine problem is visible. Once the ignition has been switched on, observe the exhaust and keep an eye on the colour of the smoke as this can be a signal to any possible engine damage.

  • Blue or grey smoke can signal that there is oil within the cylinders, indicating a possible fault with the head gasket or internal seals.
  • White smoke (not to be confused with steam) can indicate a fault with the coolant having entered the cylinders.
  • Black smoke can indicate that the engine of the vehicle is burning excess fuel.
  • Smoke of any colour should always be assessed by an expert and so takes you back to the previous three options as stated before.

Gearbox and clutch

The examination process of the gearbox and clutch are predominantly about the internal feel over the exterior view.
Begin with the gearbox. You should be able to shift into all gears in both a manual and automatic without any resistance or grinding sounds, allowing you to smoothly change in accordance with your speed.

Next, examine the cars biting point with the clutch pedal. If you find that the car only begins to shift into operation once you have pressed the clutch right to the end of its range, it is likely that it will need a repair. Clutches should work from around their mid-point.


You should examine all four tyres, as well as the spare if applicable. Keep an eye on the tyre depth, tread and the condition of each, ensuring that there are no tears, splits, bulging or gouges. Refer to the vehicle manual to ensure that all tyres are in correct condition.

External observation

One of the simpler checks, and possibly the one which you are drawn to do as soon as you see the vehicle, is the external observation. Take your time to examine the body of the vehicle for any scuffs, dents, replacement panels or repainting that might signal that the car has been involved in an accident as this could signal that internal damage has occurred. Be sure to examine underneath the wheel arches too, as a buildup of salt, debris or grime could lead to rusting.

Interior observation

Interior upholstery observations vary in importance, depending on the quality you would like to see in your vehicle. Most secondhand cars are bound to come with small stains or fading on the upholstery, but it will be down to you to judge if it remains acceptable for purchase, or if you wish to haggle the price a little, allowing you the costs to repair.

It is of a higher importance to check the working function of electricals, such as the air conditioning, lighting, windows, lock, windscreen wipers, heater and radio/AUX. You should also take this time to check for any warning lights that may appear on the dashboard and confirm that the milage is the same as advertised.


You should ask to see the following original documents before purchasing the vehicle:

  • V5c
  • Service history
  • MOT

You can also have a vehicle history check carried out on the vehicle which will inform you if the car has been rightly paid for, stolen or involved in an accident which has led to the car being written off.

Test drive

With all visual and safety checks complete, you will have the opportunity to test drive the vehicle. Ensure that everything operates smoothly, listen out for any suspicious sounds and be as vigilant as possible with every aspect, from steering, accelerating and breaking, to the quality of the radio sound and windscreen wipers.

If you find that the vehicle you are keen to purchase is experiencing any of the above-mentioned faults, you can take one of three pathways. You are able to ask for a discounted price, allowing you to pay for maintenance yourself upon purchase of the vehicle, ask that the seller repairs the damage before you consider the purchase, or walk away.

Where to purchase a secondhand vehicle

If you’re nervous about purchasing a used vehicle, we would recommend buying from a dealer or trader. Purchasing privately can sadly allow more room for cover-ups, and the reliability of both the source and the vehicle could entail more research and knowledge on your part. Whilst it is to be expected that this will involve a higher cost, it will also provide you with the peace of mind that your vehicle has been thoroughly tested before being placed for sale. If you find that you are feeling the nerves or the pressure, this added level of confidence and reliability could be priceless.

There is, of course, also the option of buying a used car online. The popularity of online shopping is something that is ever-growing, and it even extends to vehicles. From vans to bikes, you can purchase your vehicle through online auctions or individual sellers, but it is vitally important that you visit the vehicle in person to give it a good check over before you send over any form of cost – even a deposit.

If you are seeking any advice about buying a secondhand vehicle, or have any questions on faults or defects you may have come across, do not hesitate to get in touch. We can provide impartial advice, as well as provide assistance with any of our credible services. Get in touch with us at Double Dee Autos today – we are here to help create safe driving for you.