What To Look For When Buying A Used Car – Checklist

Whether you buy a car privately or from a car dealer

CarVeto car history check apprises you with a range of things to look out for when buying a used car. Primarily, identify issues that impact legality, safety and value, before you buy. These include:

  • Outstanding finance
  • Theft
  • Mileage issues
  • Number plate transfers
  • Import/export
  • Previously written-off and repaired (insurance category loss)

Begin with a reg check to get an instant report for your car.

Used Car Buying Guide Checklist



This is Step 7 of the CarVeto guide to buying a used car

Buying a used car from a car dealer or otherwise can be a tricky business. There is lots to think on apart from a car’s condition.

Look out for a car that has a full service history, examine the registration document, and take every precaution to make sure you have detailed information before you go ahead and buy.

You will benefit from shopping around for finance company and car insurance deals before you go and view some cars and take a test drive or two. 

Also consider getting an online valuation for your old car before getting it priced as a part exchange with a car trader. Car selling comparison websites or well worth trying out with no obligation to sell.

Is the car a write off (including salvage)?

A write-off is a fixed record (historical marker) stating that a car was deemed a loss by an insurer due to accident damage. Repair bills were more than car value, resulting in write-off status. The severity of the damage determines write-off category A, B, C, D, S, N often resulting in serious damage. 

The car is usually dumped into a salvage auction where it sells and is fixed-up by a company or individual and put back on the road.


Markers such as write-off, theft or mileage anomalies drastically reduce value. Running a background check before buying or laying a deposit is the sensible thing to do. 

CarVeto reports suspicious data via various sources, including the MIAFTR (Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register).

  • Get a vehicle check now, via our homepage. CarVeto certificates are considered the most important document when buying a used car. 


CarVeto may omit an accident damage repair

Vehicle history reports tell you about problems recorded. But what of those accidents negotiated between drivers and without insurer knowledge? There are no official online records for this type of incident, and CarVeto database won’t it pick up.

It’s important to take care of your cash by carrying out visual checks alongside a data call in this database.

Mileage versus condition

Determine if the displayed mileage is consistent with vehicle condition. A car with 20,000 miles on the clock should be in good nick, not peppered with stone chips and battle scars across the bonnet, front bumper, door mirrors or alloy wheels.

Learn more about mileage fraud via our DVLA check guide.

Things to check when you buy a second hand car from a dealer or private seller.

What to look for in a  car mileage check

When a vehicle has 60,000 miles on the clock, look for common signs of wear and tear, especially in bodywork.

It’s reasonable to assume a car that’s travelled lengthy distances is going to have the odd paint chip in the bodywork, scraped alloy wheel or wear in the driver’s seat, steering wheel or pedals.

Look to see if mileage matches the condition. If you have doubts, it is probably better to look for a different car. It’s especially important when you buy privately where Consumer Rights are significantly diminished, unlike buying from a dealership. 


Wear and tear are a positive sign that the vehicle is used, not masked for reselling.

If you have doubts after inspecting the car, check vehicle details including the service history, current MOT certificate and MOT history that holds the car’s mileage at each test. Your CarVeto report includes a correct mileage check that alerts of any anomalies or potential fraud along with any trace the car was previously report stolen. 

Just use the vehicle registration number to check a car’s past.

After you’ve checked for repairs and general condition, check the engine.

List of quick engine checks before buying a car.

What to look out for in your car engine check

With little to no mechanical knowledge, it is still possible to run a few standard checks.

Dip the oil, ensure the engine has some and that the car is not burning oil.

Expect black coloured oil in a used diesel engine. Petrol engine oil should have more transparent, see-through shades. If not, a service might be due (check the service book for the last major service carried out on the car).

Watch out for white mildew on the oil dipstick or inside the oil filler cap. Any of this gooey stuff usually means water in the engine and terminal issues.

Testing the engine

A warm engine can disguise hidden, but pending mechanic problems, so ensure the car is cold when you first turn the key.

It’s equally important to hear the engine starts when it’s hot. Problematic diesel’ vehicles easily hide faults. Turn the ignition again and double-check the car starts up instantly.

Electrics and dashboard checks

Test electric windows, wipers, lights, stereo, sat-nav and remote central locking. Avoid unnecessary costs and find out about any faults before you buy.

Look for dashboard lights that remain on after the car is started. Engine management, ABS warnings and airbag lights must darken within a few seconds else repair bills are expensive.

List of quick engine checks before buying a car.

Check documents (vital on a private buy)

Look at the V5C logbook and match the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). You’ll find it etched on the windows, under the bonnet or inside the door pillar. If the VIN is a mismatch to car documentation, the vehicle could be a clone.

Check a CarVeto report for VIN and engine number checks.


Check the registered keeper address on the log book is the same as the address of the seller. If they claim to be selling for someone else, snap a shot of their driving licence. A genuine seller won’t have an issue if there is nothing to hide.

See when the car was last serviced to predict reliability and spend during the next 12-months of driving.

Look at the last MOT test and make an MOT advisory check for parts that might fail on the next MOT test, paid by you!

How to find the VIN number

Diagram tutorial for finding the VIN number on a car.

Spare keys


Is there one and does it lock, unlock and start the engine? Key/start card repairs are expensive (perhaps more than £400) and most times a repair is only available at a franchised dealership.

Tyre checks

New rubber is another pricey item. Ensure the tread is in good nick without damage to the sidewalls. If tyres are wearing, you can expect a bit of a discount or some new treads.

Also be on the look-out for uneven tyre wear that signals tracking or alignment issues. 

Previous step: Cost of running a car

Next step: Car test drive