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Used Car Checklist - How to Check a Used Car

With the increased reliability, high standards of manufacturing practise and, of course, huge improvements in insurance records, excellent finance and MOT history checks make it easier than ever before to get a good idea of the history and wellbeing of a used vehicle.

The two main rules to keep in mind when buying a used car is to buy a car with your brain, not your heart, and secondly, if you are uncertain, brace yourself to walk away. There are a few things you can look past if you are in the market for a rare classic, or maybe an exclusive hypercar, but if you are simply looking at the most popular used cars, there will be one better around the corner. It's just about being patient and doing your research.

Combining our used car checklist and the option to purchase a used car on finance is a great alternative and here at Parkland Motors, we offer that service. Of course, it can always help to have a mechanic to check a used car if you’re not sure what to look out for and to know your rights when buying a used car from a dealer or private seller.

After your head has reached the right place for shopping for used cars, it is time to get right to the chase. If you’re wondering what to look out for when buying a used car, then these tips for purchasing a used car in the following checklist helps ensure that a genuine deal is an unmissable usable car deal.

Used Car Checklist Summary

1. Engine - Check the oil level, leaks, condition of the head gasket and the exhaust.

2. Gearbox and clutch - The smoothness of the gear changes, and test the biting point of the clutch.

3. Bodywork - Check for any scratches, rust, and paintwork.

4. Wheels and tyres - Tread depth, condition of the rubber and the make of each tyre.

5. Interior - Check the boot, dash for mileage and warning lights as well as electronics thoroughly.

6. Test drive - Drive the car until you have checked everything you want to. Take your time with this.

7. Finance and previous history - Check the history of the car to check all finance is cleared, the vehicle hasn’t been in any accidents and that the MOT history looks positive.

Only a few of the following points may apply to you. You can take advantage of any problems by haggling the value of the car or insisting that the vendor adjusts the price before sale to accommodate the price for fixes.

If you are buying a car privately, you will be responsible for spotting all of the potential problems listed above. The sellers don't have to volunteer much information, however, it’s down to you to ask the right questions. If you are uneasy, simply walk away.

Engine Checks

Quite possibly the most important of things to look out for when buying a used car, the engine is at the heart of the car, and while they are robust and put up with a huge amount of daily use, it is essential to maintain the number of components within the engine and make sure that they are in working order.


Leaks are one of the easiest to find. Many liquids are flowing in, around and under the engine. There shouldn’t be any leaks in a well-kept vehicle. Oil leaks are usually brown or if the engine oil is old, it can be more of a black tint.

Check for signs of a leak or fuel drips when you view a used car. If the road surface has oil on it from under the vehicle, or it has had a large amount of gunk under the car it probably means it hasn't been kept well. The gunk under the car is due to dirt that sticks to the oily base of the motor.

Here at Parkland Motors, we make sure our vehicles and engines are checked thoroughly, so you will never have to walk away from the car of your dreams.


Oil testing is a must for checking the maintenance of the car and should not be ignored during the purchase process. Ensure that the dipstick shows at the right level and that the oil isn’t discoloured. Your dipstick reading should range from L to F. L being low, and F being full. Look for general dirt and gunk covering any connectors while you are there, as this may highlight a badly maintained or serviced car.

Head Gasket

A head gasket is a thin piece of the engine that sits between the upper and lower parts of the engine (this is also referred to as the cylinder head and the engine block). It prevents engine oil or coolant from entering the engine’s cylinders.

Several problems can occur when you have a blown head gasket. For example a smoky exhaust, the engine sounding rough, a loss of power and even total engine failure, so it is extremely important to check.

Exhaust Smoke

Turn on the engine and go to the back of the car. Normally, when you start an engine, a little smoke is present and this normal.  If after a few minutes, you still see that the exhaust is chucking out smoke as strong as it was, this is a sign of a serious problem. 

Blue smoke usually means the engine is burning oil (which isn’t a good sign). This means oil is somehow getting into the cylinders.

Excessive white smoke may also signify a defect in the head gasket because, this time, the cold air is coming in and burning with fuel into the cylinders.

Black smoke is usually caused by the engine burning too much fuel. This is normally an easy problem to sort out and isn’t as serious as blue or excessive white smoke.

Gearbox and Clutch

When checking your gearbox and clutch, is it more about what you feel than what you can see and hear. 

The biting point is when you feel that the vehicle starts to move when the clutch pedal is released. This should be around the centre of your pedal journey in a manual car. 

In an automatic car, regardless of which automated gearbox you test, ensure you can use every gear, ensure that the kick-down function works (the function which changes the gear when the accelerator pedal is pressed to the floor).

Bodywork Checks

The bodywork check is one of the easiest visual checks you can perform when looking at a used car. Essentially, you are searching for any signs that could indicate the vehicle was in an accident or has received some bumps, scrapes and dents.

Look for repainting or repaired panels. Dents and dings in car parks can also be common at doors, whilst a chipped front can suggest many heavy road miles. Car panels and car windows should also be tested for potential leaks.

Pay particular attention to the car's wheel arches, in particular to the edges of the lips within its wheel arches, as rust can occur from dirt, sand, grime and grit.

Wheels and Tyres

Check all of the tyres on the vehicle. They should be free of cuts, bulges and gouges; they need to be replaced if you see them. You should also check to see if the car has a spare wheel and if that has any damage to it. 

Replacing tyres is a common thing, and whilst it can be time out of your day it’s worthwhile to check these things. Check for dents on the wheel or a bend on the rim. This can suggest that the car has been in an accident so just ask to see what the situation is. 

Test Drive

The next step after you have completed these checks is to take it for a spin. You will be surprised how many people don’t actually go ahead with that step. At Parkland Motors, we will happily allow you to test drive any vehicle you are interested in and answer any questions you may have. Make sure you try the vehicle at some speeds, as well as checking the brakes and other key components to the car.

Finance and Vehicle History

Checking the history of the car is as important as anything else you check as it tells you more about the car and whether there are any issues to be aware of, such as oil leaks, whether tyres or brake pads will need to be replaced soon, and even whether the car has been in an accident and written off. When buying a used car through a dealer or private seller, we strongly advise carrying out a RAC used car check or an AA used car check, as well as visiting the Government website to check the MOT history of a vehicle, which lets you check used car history for free.

Why Choose Us?

How can you trust us? For your peace of mind, all of our vehicles come with a minimum of 8 months MOT, up to date oil service, and also go through a rigorous 85-point pre-delivery inspection prior to the collection/delivery of the vehicle. We know exactly what to check when buying a used car, which is why we are always completely transparent with our customers and make sure that all cars are handed over with no issues.

We have been selling and offering used car finance options on a range of used vehicles for years in and around Leicestershire, Loughborough and the midlands - our reputation is our guarantee. We pride ourselves in making your buying process easy and hassle-free.

Contact us today for more information on our cars and services.