Banger or bargin?

Article date: 14 May 2008

  • Beauty is only skin deep warns RAC Inspections

Everyone enjoys the excitement of buying a new car, but finding the right make, model, colour and specification at the right price can be a challenge. When you do find your dream vehicle, it is easy to let your heart rule your head. But before making that all important decision to buy, it is advisable to check that your perfect set of wheels doesn't have a secret past.

"Buying a used car can be both an exciting and a stressful experience, and whether you are buying from a dealer, auction or private seller, you need to make sure you are not buying a car with potentially expensive or even dangerous faults," explains Nicola Johnson, manager of RAC Inspections. 

"Take time to assess your dream car. This will help you spot the tell tale warning signs of potential problems. The bodywork, electrical components and especially the engine can be daunting for the inexperienced eye, but only by properly checking these can you ensure you are make the right purchase decision."

The time and location in which you view a vehicle can be crucial to your assessment of it. Make sure you see it in daylight and take a friend or family member along, who can be more objective. If you're buying privately, make sure you view the vehicle at the seller's home address so that you can check the address of the registered keeper - never view at a lay-by or car park.

Take a thorough look at all the bodywork. A magnet is very useful in identifying any dents that have been touched up with filler. Make sure the colour and texture of the paintwork matches all over the car and look out for rust and paint bubbles. Check for bad welds or untidy seams beneath the bonnet and under the boot - this can be evidence of accident repairs.

Electrical repairs can be costly. Make sure the headlights, warning lights and other electrical equipment the car may have such as central locking is working satisfactorily. Even check obvious things such as hazard lights, windscreen wipers and the horn.

"Taking a look under the bonnet isn't quite so easy unless you know a thing or two about cars," adds Nicola. "A washed engine bay may look lovely, but what have they also managed to wash away - any oil leaks? Listen to the engine. Start it from cold, and restart it after the test drive whilst it's still hot. Does it sound different? Is it making any odd noises?" 

Tyres are often overlooked when checking a car, but they are essential to safe and economical driving. Check all the tyres, including the spare, for tread depth, uneven wear (which could indicate the tracking needs attention) and any bulges or cuts that could blow-out at speed.

Have a look in the interior of the car to check for damp patches and leaking and check the seatbelts and buckles for wear and damage. Also check the car's mileage against the general condition of the car. Excessively worn seats or pedals on a car with a low mileage could suggest the car has been "clocked" and is more expensive than it should be.

Finally, but most importantly, take the car out on a test drive on a range of different roads for at least 10-15 miles. Bring a friend or family member along to the test drive, they will be able to listen out for any rattles or banging noises whilst you concentrate on driving the car, paying particular attention to how the steering feels. You can also use this opportunity to check for leaks whilst the engine is running. 

"Although you may have seen the perfect car, try not to let the price of paintwork blind you to aspects of the car that don't add up. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. By conducting an RAC Car Data Check, a buyer can establish that there is no hidden history on the car or nasty surprises awaiting them in the future. Most mechanical problems aren't easy to spot without expert knowledge, and an MOT is not evidence of a car's condition. Having the car inspected before committing to a purchase can save buyers a lot of time, money and aggravation down the line. An RAC Inspection is the safest way to make sure that the car you're interested in really is perfect," concludes Nicola Johnson. 

An RAC Inspection will tell you whether a vehicle has any mechanical faults or major accident repair. The results of an inspection can provide reassurance on your potential purchase or enable you to negotiate with the seller on price or to arrange repairs.

The RAC Inspection buyers checklist

  1. Do your research
  2. Pick a good time and location
  3. Check the bodywork
  4. Test the electrics
  5. Look under the bonnet
  6. Check the tyres
  7. Inspect the interior
  8. Take it for a test drive
  9. Don't get emotionally attached
  10. Get the vehicle mechanically checked and make sure you complete an RAC Car Data Check

To conduct an RAC Inspection: log on to or call the dedicated number 0800 975 5867

To conduct an RAC Car Data Check: log on to or call the dedicated number 0800 975 5867


For more information:
Dominic Dennis, Margot Tomkinson or Justine Hoadley at HSL 0208 977 9132.

Notes to editors:

About the RAC
With around seven million members, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists.  Whether it's roadside assistance, windscreen repair and replacement, learning to drive, vehicle inspections and checks, legal and financial services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists' needs. RAC incorporates BSM, RAC Auto Windscreens, RAC Direct Insurance and HPI.

RAC is committed to providing the very highest levels of service to its members and has been ranked first for customer service by JD Power and Associates' UK Roadside Assistance Study for the past two years.

Aviva bought RAC in May 2005.  The acquisition brings together RAC's powerful brand and customer base with the expertise and leading position in motor insurance of Norwich Union Insurance (part of Aviva). Norwich Union is the UK's largest insurer, insuring one in seven motor vehicles and with a market share of around 15%.

RAC's news releases and a selection of images are available from the internet press centre at


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