The online racing simulator
What's the most important thing to take into account when you buy a used car?
Actually, I suppose the type of car is the most important - getting one to fit your needs, so the second most important then.

(before anyone mentions them, speed, looks and handling are not important to me at all)

Say you've found a whole bunch of similar cars, of a similar price, what's the most important things to make you choose between them?

Mileage? Reviews about reliability? Is it better to get car that's done 50,000 miles but that's not got such a good reputation for reliability, or a car that's done 150,000 but has a good reputation?
#2 - Osco
I'd say rust would put me of the most. An engine that's about to die or already has is easier to replace than body panels or fixing rusted-through parts. For me atleast.

Mileage I don't care about much. Gut-feeling and reputation OTOH...
Mileage doesn't mean much. A car with high mileage that's been properly looked after can be in much better condition than a car with low mileage that has been treated like crap. Also, I don't know about UK but around here rolling the numbers on the odometer smaller on second hand cars is very common.

Unfortunately, I don't have any real tips. Just don't base your decision around mileage.
#4 - TiJay
I generally won't buy anything with more than 70,000.

This is because I'll probably flog the car after a few years at most. So yeah, a car may be fine at 100,000+ but if it's already done 100,000, who says it won't break at 130,000?

I think there was a VW or Skoda turbo of some kind where the turbo broke at 125,000 miles...
Make sure anything you buy has a full service history and rust free etc.

High mileage dosen't always mean a crapper, so long as you have the proof it's been looked after properly.

EDIT: Rust free not proof, stupid idiot Chris!
#7 - Jakg
Look to see what can go on the car and when, if something has a habit of dieing at 100k (on the C-Class, wiring loom for example) and your looking at a car with 85k you've got a years worth of trouble-free motoring, then a £500 bill. If it's done 115k you know it's already been done, for example.

Quite hard to get a judge on a condition from ads alone though - always look at the MOT for an idea of why they are selling - less than 3 months = its gonna fail and they know it.

High milers aren't bad (saw a 2002 Merc for sale the other day with 353k on the clock...) when they are in good condition but again you have to ask why are they selling now? They may well of had 70k of no problems but now there are so they are getting a new car, but even if the engine is regularly maintained, the interior will show wear of having a person in it for at least 10,000 hours...

Another thing - models. Often oddities in the range where a power output changed, for example - Focus Diesel, one year Ford uped the power from 100 -> 113 BHP. Obviously you want an extra 13% power, but very very adverts list it, so you have to use the year as a guide to what engine it *might have* (year = reg date, not build date...).

As i've learnt in fixing my car, it's way too easy to bodge something to a standard most people wont be able to notice until they've had the car for a few days.
Mileage - try to buy something that's under 50,000 miles. I'm guessing you're going to be looking into the plastic econobox market. There's quite a few low mileage (suprisingly low mileage for the year - 20,000 or so) plastic econoboxes around.

You also need to consider how the car has been used. Don't necessarily be put off by a 3 year old car that's done 70,000 miles (Example: My dad has a 70,000 mile 2007 Saab, and it's absolutely mint condition). Usually the case with cars like this is that they're medium to large saloons that have been up and down the motorway all day long. These can be in better condition than your average 40,000 mile car, because there's not the constant wear and tear of climbing in an out of the car, they haven't been scratched and dented in car parks, and they haven't been driven around town, never getting up to temperature.

Likewise, if a car's done 30,000 miles and it's an absolute dog, don't immediately think it's been clocked. The likelihood is that it's been used by a messy family with some toddlers, who only do short journeys and haven't cleaned their car since they bought it new. The ultimate sign of genuine high mileage is the super shiny steering wheel. Although first check that this isn't silicone spray, which some imbeciles just spray all over the interior, thus making everything greasy and shiny.

The bottom line is, when you come to sell your car, it will be much easier if it is lower mileage.

Number of owners - You don't want a car with 5 owners in the log book. End of. Be careful of the wording of adverts - 2 previous owners isn't 2 owners from new, it's 2 owners + the current one, and then you will be the 4th owner

Main agent dealers - For the love of god do not buy from one of these unless they're offering you some super awesome warranty plan for free. Main agents typically charge several thousand more than smaller traders and private sellers. This rarely equates to a better car or a better level of customer service. They can only charge more because they have the brand name behind them, and people trust them more than other dealers. Even if another dealer may be just as friendly, just as helpful and just as trustworthy.

Scratches - All used cars are going to have scratches and minor marks on them. If you look round a used car as if it's a new one (like many of my dad's customers do), you're going to be dissapointed. And you're also an idiot.

Dogs and Smokers - Unless you are a smoker yourself, don't buy a car that's obviously been used by a smoker. The telltale signs are a strange mortuary-esque smell which is a mixture of cans and cans and cans of air freshener and cigarette smoke. It is near impossible to get the smoke smell out of a car, except by airing it out FOREVER

You also don't really want a car that shows signs of dogs being shoved in the back of it on a regular basis. There is of course the smell of dogs (not quite as bad to remove as cigarette smoke smell), and the scratched windows. If the dogs have scratched some of the heated rear window element off, that's quite annoying.

Service History - You want to make sure that it's been regularly serviced. Don't be put off if it doesn't have the main agent stamps in it. All that tells you is that the previous owner didn't want to spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on what is a simple job that any garage (or more like anybody) could do. Full manufacturer service history is more important on newer and more expensive cars, but I'm guessing that's not your sort of car/price range?

I suppose i'm looking at this solely from the point of view of having to sell it after a few years of ownership. If you plan to chuck it in the bin after using it, you can ignore full main agent service history (although you still want a car thats been well looked after), and you can ignore the number of owners.
Quote from JO53PHS :Mileage - try to buy something that's under 50,000 miles. I'm guessing you're going to be looking into the plastic econobox market. There's quite a few low mileage (suprisingly low mileage for the year - 20,000 or so) plastic econoboxes around.

I'm not going to be able to afford anything that's done under 50K. Budget for the car (so not including insurance etc) is £1500.

It's an estate I'm looking to get, something like a 1.8l Focus. It'll mainly be used for carrying me, the wife, the baby and the VAST entourage of crap that accompanies a 7-month-old (hence the need for an estate - we can't get even half of what we need in the boot of my parents' Megane) up and down the country every month or so to visit friends and relatives. The only short-range trips are going to be just the occasional shopping trip, I'll not be driving to work each day. I'm estimating about 8000 miles a year.

Scratches I'm not bothered about, but it's best to get them sealed afterwards so they don't rust, yes?

Whereabouts am I looking for rust when I go and see a car?

Also, thanks for the tip about the smoking and especially the dogs (since it's an estate) - I'd not considered that.
IMO, 100000+ mileage cars are a bit of a minefield, although with a low budget, you often don't have much choice.

Check when things usually go on certain models, and make sure that the level of wear and tear is consistant with the displayed mileage.

You want a genuine car that's been looked after and not owned by some yobbo - check the overall condition of the paintwork. If it's scratches everywhere, a scuff here, some dents over there, and every body panel has been painted, I'd steer well clear.

Also avoid cars with chavvy aftermarket fitments. If anything they devalue the car, and if anything indicate that it was owned by.. a chav . Nice original cars are the way to go.

Regarding the scratches, a steady hand and some touch up paint will protect and keep your eye off the deeper scratches and paint chips. Having said that, don't run some touch up paint along a really long fine scratch, because it will look stupid - try the wax/polish first

The edges of the wheelarches are a nice place for rust, as well as the corners of doors and the places where trim fittings and plastics are fitted to the metal. You want to keep the car free of mud in the wheel arches. Some cars such as some old rovers collected mud at the edge of the wheel arch, this mud held water and caused rusting.
#11 - Jakg
Parkers say:

Car check problem points
Body: Check for bumps and scrapes.

Engine/Gearbox: Fast idling problems on some petrol models; occasional stalling or misfiring due to ECU faults.

Other: Noisy heater recirculation motor; squealing rear brakes, cracked windscreen, faulty electric windows. Towbars might suggest a worn gearbox or suspension if it's been pulling something heavy.

Did you realise that a cracked or chipped windscreen will set Focus owners back by around £400 and could cost even more?

EDIT - I'd say mods shouldnt be a massive warning. A car with a new set of alloyz and some sik lexus lights will go for a fair bit less even though your insurers probably wont care
Quote from Jakg :
Did you realise that a cracked or chipped windscreen will set Focus owners back by around £400 and could cost even more?

Surely it's obvious that if the car you are going to buy has a huge crack down the windscreen, it would require a costly replacement?

The car.
I would totally ignore mileage as a guide to the condition of a car, lack of use is often far worse than high mileage, if a car isn't reguarly warmed up and run everything will soon start to seize up and prolonged cold through winter doesn't do wonders for anything. It is also probably fair to say that drivers who don't drive a lot probably aren't as good drivers and probably aren't just cruising up and down motorways, which is about as light work as cars can get.

The first thing I would check is tyres, they can tell you everything about a car. If they're underinflated it is a pretty sure sign that the car has been owned by a moron who simply doesn't care or have a clue how to look after his car, walk away unless you are into £100 territory.

If the tyres are boardering on illegal it tells you the previous owner was almost certainly on a tight budget, and may well have made cut backs elsewhere.

If the tyres aren't a matching set you know you're probably dealing in £15 a tyre part worn land, nothing wrong with that on cheapish cars. I do it all the time and so long as you insist on getting premium brands it is an effective, cheap way of getting decent rubber on your motor. If you're buying a 911 or M3, however, walk away from part worn/budget tyres because the previous owner obviously couldn't afford to run it.

Then there are the cars with their original set of tyres on, if the tyres look prehistoric then they really need to be binned. Also a sure sign of either a very low mileage car, which is going to have lack of use problems.

If it has got a matching set of decent tyres you know you're probably dealing with a well looked after car.

I would also avoid dirty cars, if the seller can't be bothered to clean it when they're trying to sell it then they obviously don't care for it.
#15 - 5tag
Well the most important thing's may have been said but I could not be bothered to read it all.

Additional tips: Look for a car, that has been owned by someone quite elderly (for most or all of the cars life-time).
You can imagine the reasons yourself: experienced driver, washes/waxes his car once in a month, low mileage, garage...

Also you may look for a car that is considered "out". I for one drive a VW Santana which is basically a Passat (like Jetta/Golf, Derby/Polo). Now that is a really boring car, not sporty, not passionate designed. This makes sure the insurence is rather low (compared to a similary aged and powered Golf or Polo) because no one of my (young) age usually drives such kind of cars. Also it's known to be reliable and another important thing: It shares many components with other VW/Audi models from the time so spare parts are not rare -> not that expensive.
Quote from JO53PHS :IMO, 100000+ mileage cars are a bit of a minefield, although with a low budget, you often don't have much choice.

Modern engines and gearboxes are often so well built compared to older ones that they can go on forever without issue so long as basic things are done, like they have oil in them, and that oil is not bought from supermarkets, who knowingly sell oil that is the wrong grade for modern engines on the knowledge that some muppet will put it in anyway (normally when an engine has started consuming the stuff!). Problems on modern cars tend to be more electronics/trim related, rust and mechanical failure are much less of an issue.

As an example the Cougar has done over 160000 miles, and has clearly spent some of them as a beaten up cheap set of wheels that, if the guys fillering skills was anything to go by, hadn't been maintained well at all. After replacing the cambelt, that had been on the car for 100000 miles (again proving that stuff doesn't always break when it is meant to), it has been absolutely faultless mechanically for racing, the engine revving nicely to 6500rpm without issue.

Quote from Jakg :
Engine/Gearbox: Fast idling problems on some petrol models; occasional stalling or misfiring due to ECU faults.

Ours had this intermittently, we never managed to fix it, but it never caused anything more than a slight annoyance.
Low Mileage cars should be avoided - it almost certainly means either a lot of standing, or a lot of short journeys. As such the engine will never have been warmed up properly, the rings won't be bedded in, the valves are probably worn (don't seal properly), the head gasket will be deteriorating, the exhaust will be rotting from the inside out...

Ideally the car should have about 8k to 12k miles per year (slighty more for a diesel - 12k - 20k). Less or more isn't going to be great.

Other than that, general condition is important. Looking at the trim will give an idea of how well it was cared for.
Quote from ajp71 :...

There's no doubt that there's some good high mileage cars around, but you do have to be more careful what you buy, and do a bit more research about the car and any potential problems.

But then again, a low mileage car that's never been given a good run is a problem. We had this Mercedes S500 recently that had just been used around town. The first bit of boot on the motorway, and then engine managment light came on and it started misfiring. The end result (iirc) was that it needed a new coil pack.
All cars break, old cars break more than new cars. The most important factor to consider for me, these days, is the cost of parts. If a car costs £1000 in parts a year it's not going to be economical buying it when another car might cost £200 for the same jobs, and it's not hard for a repair bill to reach those kind of figures.

I had an Alfa 164 once, I still rate it as the best car I ever owned - and I was very lucky that it only broke once when my exhaust failed. Unfortunately the exhaust went to age, which meant that both exhausts needed replacing, and worse, both the rear and middle sections of each exhaust needed doing. That was an £800 bill almost 10 years ago, because Alfa spare parts are very expensive.

I never did finish paying my dad back...
Quote from Becky Rose :I had an Alfa 164 once, I still rate it as the best car I ever owned

You don't own an Alfa, an Alfa owns you
#22 - senn
800pound would buy a header back performance exhaust system. Stainless steel. Why on earth would you use standard parts...they usually cost the same as better aftermarket parts, once the car is past a certain age.

That and alfas sound mint with a nice exhaust <3
#23 - shim
for me, the most important thing is has it been in a accident in the past?
Really all of it is important.
I wouldn't buy any car that is over 70k miles, if I would wanna keep it longer than a couple o' years. Of course look every for rust and stuff, and if you find soemthing the old owner didn't say, you might also get the price down a bit.
Quote from Stefani24 :Really all of it is important.
I wouldn't buy any car that is over 70k miles, if I would wanna keep it longer than a couple o' years. Of course look every for rust and stuff, and if you find soemthing the old owner didn't say, you might also get the price down a bit.

Best vehicle I've had was an 88 Toyota 4Runner I bought in 1996 with 105,000 miles. Kept it for 8 years selling it in 2004 with 189,000 miles. Nothing was wrong with it. Other than normal brake pads and tires, I replaced the shocks, 1 ball joint, and the clutch. Oh, I also put an $8 seal kit in the clutch master cylinder, forgot about that. I inspected the timing chain and it was even still good at 189,000 miles (normal to replace anywhere between 150-200k.) All said, my maintenance cost disregarding brake pads and tires, was less than $300 for 8 years.

Judging by milage isn't very good. Previous to that Toyota, I bought brand new back when I was young and it was junk in 60,000 miles. Currently I have 48,000 miles on my purchased new Ford and I've put more money into it than I put in the last 4 cars I owned, all run to over 170k miles.

Rust is what gets you on a good car. But even then, when you have near 200k miles, you just slap some patch in the rust hole and carry on. Who cares what it looks like at 200k miles. If its more than just body panel rust, then it isn't a good car to begin with...