Car buyer Checklist

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Buying a car checklist

On a daily basis, receives emails and phone calls from of a lot of people who are trying to or have already purchased a used car, only to realise that they have been caught out in some way or another.

When you have found a car that you like and can afford, the first thing that we advise is to contact the seller. This way you can get a feel for the type of person they are and ask some vital questions.

Ask Questions:

  • How long do you have the car?  
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • To their knowledge was it ever crashed?
  • Is there are service history?
  • Are you the legal owner?
  • When and where can you view and test drive the vehicle?
  • Once you have spoken to the seller and you are satisfied with their responses to your questions, we strongly recommend purchasing a car history check from A car history check will provide you with important background information on the vehicle and can save you from wasting your time and money.

What a Car History Check Will Include:

  • Written Off
  • Previously Damaged
  • Previous Taxi
  • Clocked
  • Under Finance
  • Large Number of Owners
  • Last date of sale
  • UK Import
  • Auctioned

After you have purchased a car history check and this report does not raise any cause for concern or alerts, arrange a viewing with the seller. When buying from the private marketplace, we recommend the following:

Arrange a viewing:

  • Ideally at the sellers' home
  • Avoid car parks
  • View in daylight
  • Avoid viewing in rain

If you know very little about cars, we would always recommend that you bring a mechanic with you to give the vehicle a full appraisal both mechanically and the bodywork. can provide a qualified vehicle assessor to carry out a details pre-purchase inspection on any vehicle. This service is available nationwide at a cost of €249. 

View & Test Drive:


  • Walk around the vehicle and look for marks, scuffs, Scratches, etc
  • Check that all panels line up correctly with no unusual gaps
  • Check to see if the paintwork is all the same shade and quality
  • Does bonnet open, close and line up correctly
  • Check oil levels and colour (should be golden or dark brown, not black)
  • Check that all fluid levels are okay


  • Look for excessive wear and tear (steering wheel, seats, door handles, etc)
  • Check for dampness on and under carpets
  • Lift carpet in the boot and feel for dampness
  • Check that all instruments work (every button, windows, seats, radio, etc)
  • Check that the central locking works


  • When the car is started, check that all warning symbols on dashboard initially come on and then go off again
  • Listen for any strange or loud noises whilst driving the car
  • Bring the car for 10 - 15 minute drive and try to go up and down through all gears
  • Test the steering to ensure road handling is good
  • Test the brakes to ensure discs and pads are good

If you are happy so far with the overall look and feel of the vehicle, before you begin discussing price, just ask the following additional questions:

Additional Questions:

  • Is there a spare wheel
  • Is there a wheel jack and iron
  • If lock nuts, is there a key?
  • If the vehicle has more than 60,000 miles, has the timing belt been replaced? (look for proof in service history)
  • Ask if a spare key is available
  • Ask if service history is available (review)

Once you are satisfied with the seller's response to your questions, now just ensure that all of the vehicle's identification and documentation numbers are correct. These can be cross-checked with the numbers provided in your car history report.

Verify Documents:

  • VIN / Chassis Number
  • Engine Number
  • Vehicle Licensing Certificate Number (VLC)
  • NCT Certificate Number
  • View the Legal Owner's name in Vehicle Licensing Certificate
  • Ask to view Identification to ensure this is the same person

Now that part that most people dread, negotiating a price. It is worth remembering that buying from a private individual is normally always cheaper than buying from a garage, but that it does come with risks, as you have very little comeback in terms of being refunded if something goes wrong. In saying that, you should always try and get the vehicle for a price that you feel is fair and that you can obviously afford, taking into consideration any additional mechanical work or repairs that will need to be done.

Negotiating on Price:

  • Compare seller’s advertised price with the fair market valuation for this particular vehicle 
  • Deduct the cost of any repair’s needed to the bodywork
  • Deduct cost if new tyres are required
  • Deduct cost for any mechanical repair’s that are required

For any substantial payment, we would advise paying by either a bank draft or a bank transfer. For cash deals, we always recommend that you bring a second person (Friend, Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, etc) and count the money in front of the seller and second person.


  • Pay with Bank Draft if possible
  • If cash is the only option, bring a friend
  • Insist on a handwritten receipt

Excitement can tend to take over at this stage, but this is the final and one of the most crucial steps when buying from a private individual, making sure that the vehicle transfer of ownership papers are completed correctly.

Filling in the VRC:

  • Fill in your name and address
  • Fill in the exact date of sale
  • Sign accordingly
  • Seller’s signature
  • Take a picture of the completed Vehicle Licensing Certificate (both sides)

These steps are really not too difficult to follow, so I would urge any individuals that are considering buying a vehicle from the private marketplace to read this article, take note and follow these guidelines to avoid the potential pitfalls that prevalent in this marketplace.


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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