Nov '1604

5 Easy Ways to Inspect a Used Car Off Auto Trader or Gumtree

Learn how to inspect your next daily runner you've seen on Auto Trader, eBay or Gumtree – and make sure it's a 'lemon-free' buying experience.


I'm new to buying, what's a lemon?


Although more commonly associated with new cars plagued with several manufacturing defects affecting safety, value or use of the vehicle, any vehicle with numerous issues can be happily termed a 'lemon'.

The term can also apply for used vehicles teething with problems from bumper to bumper. Signs of abuse, improperly maintained or poorly repaired used vehicles including unprofessionally rebuilt vehicles, can be considered a 'lemon'.

Stay clear from buying a used 'lemon' vehicle, or you may end up paying more money to fix the car, than you bought it in the first place.

Relevant: I bought a 'lemon' BMW M3 E36: Hear Alex's Story


5 things you need to know when inspecting any used car:

The Price


The 'For Sale' sticker attached to the car (at a dealer court) is going to give you tons of information, so spend some time looking over the basic details of the vehicles' year and pricing. Make sure you confirm what the current price of the car is and make sure it matches the price in the advert listing you had viewed.

Sometimes sellers may increase price, pointing out the demand of recent highly interested prospects furthering the value of the vehicle to go up. Don't fall for this. If you also happen to see a 'new sale price', and an 'old price' crossed off, don't assume you can't drop the price down further, because you can and should.




This is what everybody's good at, trying to find the odd-few discrepancies in the panels and paint with the aim of knocking the price down. That's all good, but the key thing to do is judge whether the car has been through an accident.

Start at the front side panels and inspect for scratches and paint inconsistencies, as well as dents. These could cost you lots of money, especially deep scratches that dip into the lowest layers of the paint. Paint work on older cars can be difficult to source, so be warned. Check for inconsistent gaps between panels across the entire vehicle. If gaps are inconsistent, the vehicle is likely to have been repaired further to an accident.

Check the headlights are in good condition. If they are hazed up, they may need replacing. Headlights especially xenons and led headlights will ask for a higher price for a full set. Ask the owner beforehand (or do own research on the headlight types).


Wheels and Tyres

Next up, the wheels and tyres. Check that the tyres have enough tread on them.

A simple test you could do is to insert a 20 pence coin into one of the grooves. If the outer rim of the coin is covered, the tyre is road-legal.

Have a through glance over tread on the tyres. Is it even across all 4 wheels? If not, there could be some serious issues with the suspension.

A simple test to see if the suspension is at fault, is to push down the car at each corner and if the car doesn't rise naturally back to its normal ride height, there could be a problem.






After viewing the outside of the car, sit in the driver;s seat and make sure absolutely everything works. From electrics to seatbelts, steering wheel adjustment lever to the trip computer that's built-in, does it all work? If it doesn't, it's a brilliant opportunity for you to give the price a knockdown at the end.

Check to see if the seats are fully operational; if they're electric, make sure the switches work. If they're manual, ensure that the seats doesn't get stuck or slip on the seat rails.





It's important you investigate the following, and the owner is able to produce the correct and necessary paperwork.


Can the seller produce the V5C registration document?


Is the seller the actual owner of the vehicle as shown on the V5C?


Does the VIN, engine number and paint colour match the V5C?


Are there any signs of scratches on the glass to show attempts at removing etched-in marks of the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)? If so, this could suggest it's been stolen.


Replacement Number Plates

Check to see if the number plates the vehicle your inspecting is in good to excellent condition. If they're faded, you will be held liable for replacement number plates after purchase. Make sure there aren't any cracks, or signs of tampering with the number plates.


There may be times when number plates will be withheld from the purchasing of the vehicle. Custom, or cherished number plates may be taken off the vehicle upon purchase, and you may require you to register new registration details, and a grab a set of high-quality replacement number plates to go with it.


Luckily for you, are a UK government-registered number plates supplier of superb-quality replacement number plates for all types of vehicles. It means you could be on the road a lot quicker than you'd think.


To design your new replacement number plates so you legally drive on the road, click below and use our easy-to-use plate maker:


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