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Buying a used car: tips from IAM RoadSmart

You may be a first time car buyer or just in the need for a new ride. This week’s tips offer advice on buying a used car from IAM RoadSmart’s head of technical policy and advice, Tim Shallcross.

  • Check the ‘log book’ (V5) against the number (VIN) on the car. If the V5 is not present, do not purchase the car


  • The V5 does not prove ownership, so check the person selling it is the actually owner – ask for a receipt or contract from the dealer


  • Do your research. Check the mileage and MOT history at


  • Blown turbochargers, snapped timing chains, smoking engines – all these and more can result from delaying an oil change or using the wrong oil. Ask for the service history and take time to look through it. If a service is due negotiate on the price, but if the history’s missing, walk away


  • Dashboard lights are important. Check all the systems such as ABS and stability control. Make sure they all light up when you turn on the ignition and go out after a few seconds or when you start the engine. Check the handbook if you’re not sure you’ve seen them all


  • After starting the engine, listen carefully for the first few seconds – any knocks or rattles are bad signs. Grey exhaust smoke is a sign of a worn engine – check it after your test drive when the engine is hot


  • As well as checking the suspension by listening for rattles or clunks over rough roads, try stopping at different rates – gently and rapidly. The engine should never stall as the car stops and the revs shouldn’t drop very low and then pick up to the right idle speed


  • Reject a car if you have any concerns. Cars are too often an emotional rather than a rational choice. If in doubt, sleep on it and make a decision in the morning


Tim said: “Getting a new car, whether it’s brand new or new to you, is an exciting time. It’s also an expensive time, so the last thing you want is to pick a bad model. Do your preparation before you go so you know what you’re looking for. If you’re not confident, take a friend, get it checked at a garage, or ultimately walk away.”

Notes to editors:

  1. Tim Shallcross is IAM RoadSmart’s head of technical policy and advice.
  2. IAM RoadSmart has a mission to make better drivers and riders in order to improve road safety, inspire confidence and make driving and riding enjoyable. It does this through a range of courses for all road users, from online assessments through to the advanced driving and riding tests. IAM RoadSmart is the trading name of all businesses operated by the UK’s largest road safety charity, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) and was formed in April 2016 combining the IAM, IAM Drive & Survive, PDS and IAM Driver Retraining Academy. The organisation has 92,000 members and campaigns on road safety on their behalf. At any one time there are over 7,000 drivers and riders actively engaged with IAM RoadSmart’s courses, from members of the public to company drivers, while our Driver Retraining Academy has helped 2,500 drivers to shorten their bans through education and support programmes.

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