The Gumtree Blog

How to buy a second hand car online

Wednesday 22 August 2018, by

Having searched the ads, found a car that matches your needs and budget it’s time to see it for real and decide if it’s the one for you. Here are some quick tips to bear in mind before you hand over the money.


 How to buy a second hand car online



  • Check the paperwork – ask to see purchase receipts, V5c and do an HPI check for outstanding finance
  • If applicable check the MoT – if you know the registration you can look online [hyperlink:] at the car’s history, flagging up any ongoing issues or mileage anomalies
  • Any diligent owner will have kept receipts relating to ongoing maintenance, servicing and other work – this can help you budget for ownership costs


  • Methodically check every panel and wheel for corrosion, damage or signs of accident repair
  • The odd stone chip is to be expected but look carefully along the sides for minor car-park door dings and other less obvious damage
  • Look at the tyres – four matched tyres from a quality, big-name brands is a sign of a diligent owner
  • Check the engine bay, wheel arches, underside and under the carpets in the boot for signs of overspray from a rushed crash repair
  • Look out for stone chips on the windscreen


Under the bonnet

  • Are all the fluids fresh and topped up? Check the oil level on the dipstick and make sure it’s clear and golden – also check the underside of the oil filler cap for white splodges (known as ‘mayonnaise’) that can reveal a failed head gasket
  • Check around the engine and all pipework for signs of fluid leaks and if the engine is warm have a sniff – a whiffs of steam or hot oil can reveal leaks
  • Research service intervals and costs and then quiz the owner – if you know the cambelt needs changing soon but it’s not been done you have an instant bargaining chip
  • Ask the owner how old the battery is and check beneath the car for any rust or leaks – while you’re there check the condition of the exhaust system


  • Does the key work in all the locks? Is there a spare set? If not this can be more expensive than you think
  • Consider the claimed mileage and make sure any wear to steering wheel, gearstick, seat bolsters or pedals adds up
  • Start the car and while the engine is warming up check for any of smoke from the exhaust; also take this opportunity to test lights, wipers and suchlike
  • Press every button and make sure windows, power mirrors, sunroof, air-conditioning, stereo and all other gadgets operate exactly as they should
  • Look out for any warning lights on the dashboard that could result in an MoT failure


The test drive

  • If your insurance covers you to drive additional cars (many don’t) and the seller is happy then it’s always better to drive yourself
  • If not you’ll have to ask the owner to drive but politely ask them to perform some basic tests
  • Check how the car deals with potholes or speed bumps – listen out for clonks from the suspension and make sure the car doesn’t ‘bounce’ too badly after tackling bumps
  • Ask the owner to accelerate smoothly and then come quickly off the throttle – listen out for any nasty noises from the transmission when they do so
  • When it’s safe to do so perform an emergency stop (or ask the owner to do so) and make sure the car pulls up straight
  • Watch the gauges and make sure the temperature settles quickly and remains steady, the speedo and rev counter work and the odometer is operating correctly

Buying the car

  • If everything adds up and you can agree a deal it’s time to shake hands and pay up
  • Make sure both you and the owner have filled in the correct transfer sections on the V5C and you have the ‘chit’ to confirm handover
  • You’ll want to hit the road immediately but before you do make sure the MoT is valid, the car is insured in your name and you have taxed it – remember this no longer transfers from owner to owner as it did with the old disc system
  • Enjoy your new car!


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