Run through the checklist below when deciding whether a used car is worth buying. If you find yourself answering 'yes' to a lot of questions in one or more sections, it may be best to walk away. If you don't feel confident about carrying out these checks yourself, get an expert's opinion.

The car's condition

  1. Are sills, wheel arches and door bottoms rusty?
  2. Is paintwork failing?
  3. Are there oil leaks or damaged hoses/drive belts under the bonnet?
  4. Are tyres damaged or worn?
  5. Are seat belts worn out? Do they have faulty mountings?
  6. Do door and window seals show signs of leaking?
  7. Are electrics faulty (lights, dashboard warning lights)?

Has it been in an accident?

  1. Have body panels been repaired?
  2. Is colour/texture of paintwork patchy?
  3. Has welding been carried out on the engine/boot?
  4. Have repairs been carried out on the boot (check under carpet)?

Has the car's identity been changed?

  1. Has VIN number been tampered with?
  2. Have areas of glass been scratched off windows, head lights, tail lights, sun roof?
  3. Are windows etched with incorrect VIN?
  4. Do stickers conceal altered etching?

Test drive

(Make sure you are insured for the test drive)

  1. Are brakes defective?
  2. Does car pull to one side when you brake?
  3. Do brakes squeal?
  4. Are there other unusual noises?
  5. Is hand brake defective?
  6. Does steering wheel shake/vibrate?
  7. Does car pull to one side?
  8. Is changing gear difficult?
  9. Does gear lever skip when you brake or accelerate?
  10. Does clutch grab or slip?
  11. Does engine sound different if clutch is pressed when car is idling?
  12. Is there a strong smell of petrol or oil?

After the test drive

(Open bonnet and let the engine idle)

  1. Does engine rattle or make other noise?
  2. Are there water or oil leaks?
  3. Blue or black smoke from exhaust (indicates badly-worn engine)?
  4. Grey smoke from exhaust (indicates water leaking into engine)?

Has the car been clocked?

  1. Are mileometer numbers out of line?
  2. Is wear and tear heavy, given mileage?
  3. Have pedal rubbers/gear knob/steering wheel been changed?
  4. Does mileage on last MOT certificate contradict mileometer reading?
  5. Does mileage on service documentation contradict mileometer reading?
  6. Does mileage when car was last sold contradict mileometer reading (check with previous owner)?

Is the car stolen?

  1. Does seller say registration document (V5) is at DVLA?
  2. Are there spelling mistakes or alterations to V5?
  3. Is watermark missing from V5?
  4. Is seller's name and address different from V5?
  5. Is number plate different from V5?
  6. Is engine number different from V5?
  7. Is vehicle identification number (VIN) different from V5?
  8. Check VIN plate, and under both bonnet and driver's seat.
  9. Note - seller should have green slip if car was bought very recently and V5 is with DVLA for change of ownership to be recorded. Applies to new V5s only, introduced in March 1997. When+Shopping/Cars/