Learning to drive is a nerve-wracking experience. Most learner drivers understandably focus their time and energy into passing their driving test, without giving much consideration to what comes next. But once you’ve passed your driving test, you’ll need a car to drive! 

Whether you’ve been learning to drive in a friend or family member’s car outside of your driving lessons, eventually the time will come to get your own set of wheels, which opens a whole new can of worms. Forget parallel parking and mirror, signal, manoeuvre – now you need to think about MOT and service history, test driving and car insurance. 

With so many options out there and so much information to consider, buying your first car can be overwhelming. But with this step-by-step checklist to hand, buying your first car can be the exciting and enjoyable experience it should be. 


Checklist for buying a used car


1. Work out your budget

The first thing to do is to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a car. 

Aside from the upfront cost of the car, there are other costs which you need to consider when calculating your budget. 

Car insurance

Car tax

Routine running and maintenance 

Fuel

Servicing

MOT

Repairs

Breakdown Cover

Car parking permit/parking space rental (if applicable in your area)


Once you’ve factored in these additional costs you’ll have a better idea of the price range you can afford for your second-hand car. 


2. Choose where to buy the car 

There are lots of different places to get a used car from.

Buying from a dealer, independent garage or trader

Pros

o Car dealers have a wealth of knowledge & will help you make an informed choice. 

o Dealerships put their cars through rigorous tests and checks, so you can be sure new and used cars are safe to drive.

o You can take the car for a test drive before buying.


Cons

o It’s likely you will pay slightly more from a car dealer.


Buying privately

Pros

o Usually cheaper than buying from a dealership, with more room for negotiation. 

o You can meet the previous owner and get an idea of how well the car has been looked after. 

Cons

o The car won’t have been through vehicle health checks, and you might miss underlying issues.


Buying online

Pros

o Buying a used car online is often much cheaper than at a dealership.

o Detailed product listings give you plenty of information to consider without the pressure of a pushy salesperson or proud owner. 

Cons

o It is a risk buying a car you’ve never seen – make sure you’ve done your research first.


3. Viewing a used car – what should I check?

Whether viewing in a dealership, at an auction, at the seller’s home or online, these are the checks you should perform to give you a good idea of the condition of the car. 

Tyres 

How much tread do they have? 

Will they need replacing soon?

Electrics – do they all work?

Windows

Wipers

Heater

Radio

Air conditioning 

Dents and scratches – is the paintwork scratched or the metalwork dented?

Glass – check for chips or cracks in windows and lights 

Panel gaps – any gaps in the panelling might be a sign of past accidents or poor repair work

Upholstery 

check for stains, marks or tears in the seats

Does it smell ok? 

Are the seat belts all in good working condition?

Fluid levels – check all levels under the bonnet

Oil 

Brake 

Power steering 

Spare wheel 

Is it there? 

Is there a jack and wheel nut adapter?

Wear and tear – check the condition of the car reflects the mileage – check:

steering pedals 

wear to the driver’s seat. 


4. Documents

All vehicles should come with paperwork. 

V5C

Also known as the vehicle registration document or logbook, every car should come with one. It tells you important information about the car, including how many previous owners the car has had, and for how long. However, this document is not proof of ownership. 

Make sure the make and model of the car you’re buying matches the V5Cm and the number plate. 

The name of the registered owner should be logged in the VC if buying privately, as well as the address. If not, this could be a sign of a stolen car. 


VIN

The Vehicle Identification Number should be in the V5C and on the lower part of the windscreen of the car. Make sure that they match. 


5. MOT and service history checks

Every car must have a valid MOT to be considered road safe. Every car over three years old requires an annual MOT test. You can check a car has a valid MOT online. However, a valid MOT is not proof of roadworthiness.

Check the expiry date on the MOT certificate or online.

Check any advisories suggested on the MOT – these are minor issues which didn’t need updating at the time but are likely to need to be addressed in the future.


6. Test drive checklist

Taking a used car for a test drive is a great way to find out how well it runs and if there are any underlying issues you might not have spotted on inspection. Here are some things to check while test driving a used car.

The clutch 

Gear transmission 

Steering

Suspension 

The sound of the engine

The brakes


7. Buy the car

Ready to buy? Don’t forget:

The agreed payment method – if you’re paying in cash make sure the bank will approve a large withdrawal

A mobile phone – you’ll need this to sort out your tax and insurance

Make sure you collect:

The owner’s manual

A receipt

The V5C

All the paperwork

The keys (two sets if they have them both)


8. Arrange tax and insurance

You’re legally required to have car insurance before driving your car on the road. The easiest way to ensure you have the right insurance is to get a quote beforehand, then accept it after you’ve bought your chosen car. Details you’ll need to get a quote:

Engine size

Model

Value

Car registration

You’re also legally required to pay for VED (vehicle excise duty aka road tax). 

Use the New Keeper’s slip of the V5 to tax a car:

On the DVLA website

call the DVLA to pay over the phone

visit a Post Office to pay. 


7 Steps to the best Classic car Stereo
Follow this interactive Video to help you build the ideal radio for your Classic car...
Upgrading The Technology In Your Car
Think about one of the first things you did to your car when you started your driving lessons. Chances are you upgraded the stereo to give you a bette...