What Should I Look For When Buying A Used Car?

Second Hand Buying Guide


There are lots of benefits to buying a used car instead of a new one, particularly if you find a good offer. But many people might worry about getting a second hand vehicle. What if there’s something wrong with it? Does it matter that it has done quite a lot of mileage?

Here at Chill Insurance, we know a thing or two about helping our customers get a great deal on their insurance cover, and so we want to provide you with some tips on how to get a great deal on your vehicle too. Here are some things to look out for when buying a used car.

How to choose a used car

Firstly, you should do some general research. Have a look at all the makes and models of car out there so you can narrow it down to a few you can comfortably afford. Think about the features you want the car to have too. For example, you may want a five door car instead of a three door, or you may prefer a petrol engine over a diesel one. Here are some features we think you should consider:
  • Engine size
  • Number of doors/seats
  • Cruise control
  • Start/stop engine
  • Sat nav
  • Heated seats
  • Air conditioning
  • Tyre pressure sensors
  • Bluetooth connectivity

You may also want some high-end, tech essentials like a reverse camera, parking sensors, keyless entry and automatic high beams.

A vehicle with all of these will cost more than one without, so really think about how much you need each one, or whether you can live without it.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a particular number of doors, engine size or other features, you’ll find there are a limited number of cars to pick from. When you've decided on the make and model for you, you can start shopping.

What to inspect when buying a used car

Once you’ve found a vehicle that you’d like to buy, there are certain things you should inspect to ensure the car is worth the purchase price and to make sure there isn’t anything wrong with it.

You should ask the seller for the vehicle’s documentation, which will give you some helpful information about the car’s accident and insurance history. It will also allow you to check the odometer of the vehicle, giving you the exact miles that have been driven.

Before you think about test driving the vehicle, you should give it a thorough interior and exterior inspection.

The interior inspection should include a thorough check of:

  • Seatbelts
  • Seats
  • Electronic devices, such as windows, sat nav, radio or heating/air conditioning
  • Mileage (that it tallies with recent NCT documentation

The exterior inspection should be more in depth and may take longer, but every check is important to ensure the car is working correctly and is safe to drive. You should kneel on the floor and check that the front wheels are directly in front of the rear wheels. This shows the suspension is in tact and means it’s less likely that the vehicle has been involved in a collision. You should check over each panel for scratches or dents, and inspect the windscreen for small chips.

Then, examine each tyre individually, checking the tread depth is a minimum of 1.6mm, and check there is a spare.

Finally, you need to test all the lights. You may need to ask the salesperson or the owner of the vehicle to get in and turn the lights on and off. You should also ask them to put their foot on the brake so you can check the back brake lights are working.

The exterior inspection should also include checking the oil level and the timing belt. This usually has to be replaced every 60-100,000 miles and can be quite expensive, costing around €500.

Can you test drive a car without buying?

You should never purchase a car without giving it a test drive. The test drive allows you to get a feel of the car and you don’t have to buy it just because you’ve driven it.


While on your test drive, it’s important to check that the car responds to your movements so ensure that the brakes, acceleration and steering are working correctly. You should also keep an eye on the temperature gauge that shows you how hot the engine is getting. An overheating engine could be a sign of a coolant leak.

If you are driving a stick shift car, another important thing you need to do is check that the gears shift comfortably and smoothly as a new gearbox can be costly to replace.

Finally, try to test drive the vehicle on a route that you are comfortable with, allowing you to focus more on the car because of your familiarity with the roads.

How should I pay for a used car?

If you buy a car from a garage or car dealer, then you are protected by the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980. This means that any terms and conditions set out with the dealer will have to be honoured by them.

However, if you were to purchase a car from a private seller, you must ensure that you are completely satisfied with the vehicle before you pay the seller.

Finally, we recommend that no matter what method of payment you decide to use, whether it be cheque, online banking or even cash, always remember to get a signed and dated receipt.

Should I pay cash for a used car?

If you do choose to pay for your new vehicle with cash, make sure that you have a signed receipt from the seller, whether this is a dealership or a private sale. It should contain the date of the purchase, what you’ve purchased from them, the addresses of both the seller and the buyer and signatures.

If there are any disputes, for example about the condition of the vehicle, the receipt is proof of when you bought it and who you bought it from.

At the end of the day, the car or dealership you go with is entirely up to you. So is your car insurance decision. But here at Chill Insurance, we pride ourselves on making your life a whole lot easier by searching for the best policy for you. So if you are looking for a new cover or have any questions, just give one of our friendly team members a call on 01 4003400 or get a quick quote above.