If you’re on the market for a used car this year, it can be a battlefield finding the right one. Luckily, there’s lots of ways to check a car’s servicing history. If asking for basic information like when oil, brake fluid, filters and coolant were routinely changed, and denied – walk away. Tim Shallcross, IAM Roadsmart‘s head of technical policy says following such advice helps avoid a potential money pit.

Start the new year off right

The last thing you want when kicking off the new year with an upgraded auto are unpleasant surprises. In addition to asking for a service history, as mentioned above, here’s some tips to follow when purchasing a used car.

Dashboard lights

Covered in our warning lights article, most modern cars come equipped with sensors – automatically triggering alerts on the dashbaord. Controlled by an on-board computer or Engine Control Unit (ECU), warning lights generally reflect what’s going on inside the car.

When checking for warning lights, turn the car off an on a couple times to see which symbols illuminate. Most should go out after a couple seconds, with the rest disappearing after starting the engine and releasing the handbrake.


Listen for any knocks or rattles when starting the engine. With the car running, check the exhaust smoke colour. If black smoke emits, there’s a high chance the injectors are dirty or worn. Blue smoke means a badly worn engine. Avoid the car if you see anything but white or clear vapour.

Road test

If you hear suspension rattles and clunks over rough roads, that’s not a good sign. Make sure the gears change smoothly and the steering feels aligned. To check the brakes, try stopping at different speeds and rates. The engine should never stall when the car stops. Also, check for low revs before picking up the right idle speed. Any of these signs could mean big problems.

You always have the option to walk away if something doesn’t seem right.

Fixter’s diagnostic inspection

After purchasing any used car, it’s worth receiving a diagnostic inspection from one of Fixter’s top-rated garage partners. Starting at £49, we’ll pinpoint any issues so you can get them sorted and out of the way. Click below to receive a free quote and learn more.