Posted by Ronan Kelly Car Questions

The Top 4 Things To check before buying a second hand car


ford-focus-black hatchbackWhen buying a second hand car, make sure you check out the car as much as possible before you agree to buy it.

If you find something you are not happy with when you are checking the car, then walk away or make a lower offer.

If you find a car you like, you should hire a mechanic to do a complete check on it before you buy it.

Don't hand over money!

Always make sure you don’t hand over any money until you are happy with the condition of the car and you know what you are buying.

There are 4 main kinds of checks you should do before buying a second hand car:

  • Check the condition of the car
  • Test drive the car
  • Check the history of the car
  • Check the paperwork

Check the condition of the car

Checking the condition of a car can be daunting, especially if you don’t know much about cars, but there are a few basic things everyone can look out for, even if you have no experience.

Use this car purchase checklist to help you check exactly what you should be looking for, and what to walk away from.

This checklist is colour coded and has all the very important questions you need to ask highlighted. It will also help you keep track and compare different cars easily. Download the checklist (PDF 124Kb)

You should carefully check the entire car, inside and out. Look out for the following:

Outside the car:

  • Visible signs of damage - dents, scrapes and panels or doors  not matching up evenly
  • Broken or cracked lights and marks on bumpers. If light clusters are not the same make, they may have been damaged and replaced after a crash
  • Other signs of damage, wear and tear such as rust under the sills or wheel arches.
  • Tyres that are different makes or unevenly worn. This could mean they may have been replaced following damage.
  • Are there signs of leaks on the ground where the car has been standing for a time. There could be a simple explanation for this but you should always ask.
  • Check the spare wheel and full wheel replacement kit. If the car has alloy wheels, make sure you get a “key" to release and secure them.

Check the oil

  • There’s an oil dip stick and an oil filler cap. Have a tissue at hand, pull out the oil dip stick, wipe it off and insert it back in again. And now pull it back out and see where the oil comes to. At the end of the stick about an inch up you should see two markings, one for min. and one for max. The oil should be up near the max, not very low and not over filled (both are as equally damaging).
  • If there’s no oil, don’t buy the car.
  • If the oil is as black as coal it will indicate the car hasn’t been serviced in a while. If it’s golden it normally indicates clear oil and it’s just after being serviced (Most diesel oils will be darker, and the colour may not indicate recent servicing). If the oil on the dipstick is creamy or coffee colour, this normally indicates that the oil is mixing with the water and the head gasket is gone. If this happens, don’t buy the car.
  • The oil filler cap may have this creamy residue on it put that’s normally due to condensation in the engine and is fine.

Inside the Car:

  • Check how many airbags the car has and ask if they are in working order. Ask if the car has other safety features such as a three-point centre seat belt in the back, secure fixing points for a child seat (IsoFix), Anti-Lock Braking system (ABS) etc.
  • Check and take a note of the reading displayed on the odometer. It will be displayed in miles or kilometres. If you think this has been tampered with or ‘clocked’, for example, if the mileage seems low compared to the condition of the car, you should contact the Gardaí. The average annual mileage of petrol cars is about 17,000 kilometres (10,500 miles). Diesel cars, if they have been used for business purposes, could have an average of about 24,000 kilometres (15,000 miles). Ask the seller to confirm in writing the correct mileage reading before you buy the car.
  • Check the wear and tear inside the car on the seat covers, pedal rubbers, gear knob or steering wheel to see if it is consistent with the displayed odometer reading.

Start the car-

  • Turn the ignition onto the first click and all the warning lights should flicker on. Make sure all these lights come on (airbag etc.) and they go back off again. If they don’t come on it could mean the bulb has been removed to try and hide an existing, expensive problem.
  • Ask the seller if they would leave the car sit for half an hour or an hour before you come so that you can start it from cold. Starting from cold can highlight some problems which starting from warm wouldn’t.

Never examine a car at night or in poor light conditions. Always do it during daylight hours and try to view the car when it's dry as rain can hide scrapes or scratches.

Test drive the car

Always try to take the car for a test drive before you buy it. This may not be possible if you buy the car at an auction. During the test drive, turn off the radio and air-conditioning and make sure:

  • There are no strange noises or rattling
  • There is no strong smell of oil, petrol or diesel
  • It accelerates comfortably and the brakes don’t squeak or squeal
  • The gears shift comfortably and smoothly
  • You drive over a reasonable distance on different road surfaces to fully test it

Check the car’s history

You can check the history of the car you are thinking of buying and it is a very good idea to do so. There are a number of companies who can do this for you for a fee, you should search online to find the right service provider. You should be looking to at least get the previous recorded odometer readings, details of any insurance claims or outstanding finance, if the car has been used as a taxi and details of any crashes. Alternatively, if buying from a garage ask them to give you these details. All SIMI (Society of Irish Motor Industry) dealers have access to a car history check service.

Check the registration

 You can check if someone else has just bought this car and realised their mistake and tried to sell it before it costs them any more money. offer a service by which you can see if the car has changed hands within the last three months. By typing the registration of the vehicle into the above system you will find it will give you one of three options:

  • No Vehicle Registration Certificate issued in the last 3 months.” This means the car hasn't changed hands in the last three months according to the system. The car may still be in someone else’s hands, just not the registered owner. This is why you should always check a form of ID with the seller and check the logbook to see if it’s the same. If it’s not you should then ask how they got the car. 
  • Transferred to an Individual on…” This means the car has changed hands in the last three months. Three months is a very short period of ownership for a car. The person could have a genuine reason for selling it, but there could be something wrong with it and the current owner only realised after they bought it.
  •  “Purchased by a Dealer on...” This means the car was taken into stock by a Dealership in the last three months. This means that whoever you are buying the car from is a dealer. 

Check the paperwork

  • The Vehicle Registration Certificate (VRC)
  • The vehicle’s service history/ log book
  • NCT or MOT details
  • A valid tax disc

Everything must be present and correct, or you should walk away from the deal. Make sure all the documents are original – don't accept photocopies.

How to check the VRC-

  • Ask the seller to show you the Vehicle Registration Certificate (VRC) if the car is Irish. If the car is an import from the UK ask to see the V5C. These documents are the ownership documents for the car. The person selling the car must correspond to the name on the V5 or VRC, and you must ask for proof of identity if buying privately.
  • The VRC has a 10 digit number on the top right hand corner of the first page. It should look like C061234567. For 2009 this would be C091234567 and so on. Take down these numbers and match them when getting your car history check. If the number does not match the document could be forged and the car may be stolen.
  • The engine size, fuel type, date of registration and colour will be detailed on the VRC. You should check this against the car. Sometimes the seller will try to gain more value by pretending the car is of a higher power etc. The correct specification will be detailed on your car history check.

Make sure that all other documentation, including NCT, VRT, motor tax disc and car handbook relate to that car.

Make sure you get answers to all the questions in our car purchase checklist (pdf)

Check that the car is not under any existing hire purchase agreement. If it is, the person trying to sell the car does not actually own it and does not have the right to sell it to you. Hire Purchase Information Ltd keeps records of cars subject to hire purchase agreements, so check if they have details of the car you are looking at.

General safety

  • Remember, always meet a private seller at their home address in daylight and check the documentation matches this address. Get more information in our Dealer or Private section.
  • Don’t hand over any money unless you are completely happy to buy the car – don’t feel pressured into buying it.
  • Always pay by bank draft or cheque, if possible. Don’t hand over cash.

Here's a list of car recalls recently, for more information see our product recalls page.

If you think the car is faulty after buying

- See more at:

Hope this guide is helpful most of this information came from the competition and consumer commission

We offer this service as Ronan Kelly Motors just give me a call.

Contact Ronan 




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