Buying guides

Key Checks

You don't need to be a mechanic to see if that car is a wrong 'un

If you're happy with all the paperwork, the next step is to take a close look at the car. You don't have to be mechanically minded to check out the basics, as it may be obvious that the car has been neglected or poorly repaired after a crash.

If you can't afford a professional inspection but you're really not comfortable making your own checks, get the car MoTed. You can do this at any time and while an MoT isn't as comprehensive as a full professional inspection, it will tell you if the car is roadworthy and is likely to need significant money spent on it in the near future.

Look closely for dents and scrapes in the bodywork. Any damage will be costly to put right, so haggle accordingly or walk away. If the panels don't line up properly (especially the bonnet), the car may have been crashed then poorly repaired.

Check for rust that's been painted over, plus filler in the wheelarches. Once rust arrives, it's very hard to eradicate.

Is the interior undamaged, along with all the glass? Are there any stickers on the windows which may have been put on to cover an old registration number etched onto the glass?

Do the tyres have plenty of tread, with no uneven wear? If they're worn out altogether you'll need to budget for new tyres. If they've worn unevenly it could be poorly aligned tracking or something more serious – such as a twisted bodyshell because of poor accident repairs.

Do all the speedo digits line up properly? Are the old MoTs to hand and does the mileage recorded on these forms tie in with what's displayed? If the mileage readout is digital, it can be adjusted very easily, which is why checking the car's mileage throughout its service history is so important.

Does the chassis number (usually at the base of the windscreen on the passenger side) tie up with the one on the registration document? Also check the engine number, which is usually on the top of the engine, down the one side. And don't forget to make sure the registration number tallies with the one on the registration document.

Are all the keys available? There should be at least a spare and probably a master as well. Lose the only key and you may have to have everything reprogrammed – which can cost hundreds of pounds.