A Comprehensive Car Buying Checklist

Super hyped about the prospect of buying your next car? Excitement levels already at max capacity? Yeah, we get you! Getting the keys to a new whip never fails to put a huge smile on faces. Ahhh, the sweet smell of a brand new car… The crisp feeling of the steering wheel under your grip… Sounds like a dream. 😍

But before we get carried away, we think it’s best to take a step back and make sure we’re buying a car that will serve us well. So, to help you feel even more confident about your potential new vehicle, we’ve put this car buying checklist together so you can cover all your bases. Let’s dive right in (or should we say drive right in? 😏)

Checking the Car Before Buying

As you probably know by now, when you buy a car, it involves a whole lot of paperwork. Boring, right? Well, what’s worse is that it’s really important to make sure you’ve got all the right documents. It’s really important to check a car before you commit to buying it, otherwise, you could end up in trouble for someone else’s mistakes. Also, car finance is such a complicated thing - who hasn’t been puzzled as to how to buy a new car on finance? No one! No worries though, we’re going to turn those questions into a big loud “I want to buy a new car on finance” thanks to a bit of preparation and a whole lot of information. So, without further ado, let’s get into the checklist.

Check the DVLA Information

The first thing to do when buying a car is to check the information you have got on the car matches the one supplied by the DVLA. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) holds information about every vehicle in the UK that has been registered. You can do this by using the government website’s service - it’s pretty quick and straightforward. 

Check the MOT History

The second step is to check the car’s MOT history. You can do so using the government service, by using the vehicle’s number plate i.e. registration number. When using this free service, you should be able to find out the vehicle’s MOT results, including:

  • Whether or not it passed the MOT tests
  • The mileage at the time it was tested
  • Where the tests were performed
  • What failed at the tests, and if any other parts had more minor problems
  • When the next MOT is due

However, do bear in mind that you can only get results if the tests were done in England, Scotland, and Wales, since 2005. Anything before 2005 or in another country won’t appear. 

Check the Car Isn’t Stolen

Argh, can you imagine how awful it would be to invest so much time and financial resources into a car just to realise it’s a stolen one once you’ve bought it? Well, this actually happens a lot, unfortunately. 

Thankfully though, there are some steps you can take to make sure the car you’re thinking of buying isn’t stolen. The first thing you can do is ask the seller if you can see the V5C vehicle registration certificate, also called a log book. You’ll have to check whether or not it has a DVL watermark on - that’s how you can make sure it’s legit. If it doesn’t, definitely don’t buy the car, and call the police as soon as you’re in a safe place. 

It’s also good to thoroughly check the details in the log book or V5C registration certificate match the details you were supplied by the seller. The vehicle identification number and engine number should match those specified in the log book. 

Checking the Car’s Mileage

You want to make sure the mileage on the dashboard matches the actual amount of miles the car has driven. It’s also important to check:

  • Whether the mileage, age, and appearance of the car look consistent
  • If there are any signs of work screws or an indication that the instruments on the car have been tampered with 
  • What the recorded mileage in the log book says and if it matches with the dashboard 

The Documents You Should Have When Buying a Car

Aside from all of the checks it’s good practice to perform when you’re buying your next car, you should also make sure that you have all of the important documents. When someone sells a car, they are required by law to pass on all of the car’s documents and paperwork to the buyer. These include: 

  1. The V5C registration document
  2. The number plate
  3. The current MOT (it should be up to date)
  4. A full service history for the car
  5. The driver’s handbook

Examining the Car Itself 

Now that you’ve checked you have all of the right documents and everything about the car is legitimate, it’s time to physically inspect it. Now, we know we’re not all experts in mechanics and car things, but there are actually a bunch of pretty straightforward things to check before buying a car. Let’s explore. 

First of all, if you have the choice, pick a sunny day to go and see the car - it will be much easier to spot any scratches and damage. Also, make sure you’re looking at the car in an outdoor setting where you can walk all around it and get comfortable. Don’t be afraid to really take your time, it’s your right! Another tip is to make sure the ground is level and to bring someone with you for an extra pair of eyes. 

Checking the Exteriors

The first thing you can do is take a slow-paced walk around the car to check its overall condition. Some things you should look out for include rust on bodywork, especially on the wings and sills. Check under the wheel arches and behind the bonnet too. Is there any oil leaking from the engine? How are the tyres? Is there any uneven wear on them? What about the bumper and headlights? Are the windscreen wipers in good shape? Do the windows have any signs of damage? 

Rust may have been collected in the reservoir due to too much water. Therefore, you should check to see if there are any signs of rust on the car. Push down on the corners of the car and let go to check the suspension. If it’s working, the car will bounce back to its original position. Ask how many keys come with the car, as it should have two. Keys can cost hundreds of pounds if they need replacing.

If you find anything notable, just jot it down on a piece of paper and notepad. All of this may mean you could get a cheaper deal on the car, so don’t skimp on writing anything down. There's nothing more frustrating than buying a new car, only to find out that it's got problems afterwards. Therefore, you should always do your due diligence and give the car a thorough inspection. 

Going on a Test Drive

You should aim to test drive the car before making a purchase decision. Test driving is a great option because you can really feel how the car drives and decide if you like it. You can also use the test drive as another chance to check that everything is working properly on the vehicle. When on the test drive, look out for the following factors:

  • Do any warning signs pop up on the car when you’re driving it? 
  • Keep an eye on the temperature gauge to see if it gets halfway up fairly quickly
  • Are the breaks effective, and does everything feel smooth when you’re breaking?
  • Does the handbrake feel effective? 
  • Does the steering veer to one side? 
  • How does the engine sound? Are there any abnormal noises?
  • Is the oil level right? It shouldn’t be too low or too high
  • Are there any signs of damage to the car? This might include repainting, filler, or bubbles in the paintwork. Check door panels are the same size and that doors, windows and the boot shut properly
  • Do all the locks work correctly on the car?
  • Do the windows open properly?
  • Look at the bonnet after a test drive (more on that in a bit) to see if there are any problems with leaks. It’s also worth looking to see if there isn’t any oil or if it’s dirty, as this will indicate that the car hasn’t been driven for a while
  • Is there any smoke coming from the car when you test drive it? Blue or black smoke indicates possible problems with the engine, fuel injectors, or ignition 
  • Stiff gears and high revs are an indication that the clutch could be worn

Making the Purchase 

If you’re happy with everything you see, the next stage involves buying the car, either putting a deposit down and getting finance or buying it in full. There are just a few more things to check before crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. 

  • See how it compares to other cars of the same model on the market
  • Walk around the car and highlight anything you’ve spotted
  • Try asking for an MOT if you’re buying from the dealer and it’s close to the expiry date
  • Never be pressured into buying anything

Buying With Confidence

After doing the final checks, you can buy your car with more confidence and look forward to the best part: driving it away and starting a brand new relationship with your favourite new toy. If you reckon you still need a bit of help figuring out the best way to buy your next car, we’ve got plenty of resources that can help, here at Carmoola. The best part about us financing your next car is that we’re all about online car buying and financing - it can all be done within our practical app! Check out our blog and reach out if you have any questions, we’d love to help! 😊🚙