RAC Cars


Tips for buying a used car

Purchasing a second-hand vehicle can be a particularly stressful experience if you are neither car literate nor mechanically inclined. As Citizens Advice helps solve over 84,000 problems with second-hand motors and drivers spend over £363 million on these problematic cars, we set up RAC Approved Dealers to take the stress out of buying a second-hand vehicle. With half of the faults with used cars being discovered within a month of buying the vehicle, knowing what to look out for when considering a second-hand car can make all the difference. To help motorists know what to look for, we have put together a number of tips for buying a used car to help you avoid buying one of those problematic cars.

Buying a used car problem area tips

If you are unable to visit one our Approved Dealers our tips cover some of the problem areas second-hand cars have and should give you added knowledge to help you buy your next car with confidence.


  • Check the suspension by pushing down at the corners and letting go. The vehicle should rebound once past the level position.
  • If the shock absorbers are working properly the car should return to the normal position.
  • Warning signs are the suspension knocking on bumpy roads or imprecise handling.
  • Inspect the wheel arch at the cylinder inside the coil spring. If you find any fluid on the outside, the shock absorbers may be on their way out.


  • Check whether the steering feels vague, which can indicate low or high tyre pressures.
  • Check the steering by turning the wheel while a friend observes front wheels. There should be no delay in the turn and the wheels moving.
  • There should also be no free play in the steering. If there is, the car will fail an MOT.
  • Ensure the wheels are balanced. If they are not, this can result in an unstable steering wheel.


  • Ensure the brakes feel solid and that the pedal doesn’t sink to the floor before working.
  • Check the brake servo is working by pumping the pedal several times, then keeping the pedal pressed down.
  • When the brakes are applied heavily, the car should never veer – even if applied suddenly when travelling at high speed. If this does happen, it is usually a sign of seized or leaking wheel cylinders or callipers.
  • If the car shudders when the brakes are applied, this may be a sign of distorted front brake discs.
  • Look under the wheel arches and check the brake hoses for swelling or leaks.

For more useful tips, visit our buying a used car checklist.