Buying a used car? These items will make the job easier

Bringing the right equipment can save you time and money.

A series of toy cars for sale

by Ryan Gilmore |

Buying a second-hand car is an experience riddled with potential scenarios that'll rob you of your hard-earned cash. Dodgy car sellers aside (we have a guide on how to avoid scams here), used cars can hide hefty repair bills under a shiny coat of polish.

Thankfully, there are products you can bring with you on any test drive to make sure that you aren't left at the side of the road in a clapped-out filler-filled lemon. We have a guide to all the essential equipment you'll need if you want to buy a used car with total peace of mind.

Bodywork

This will undoubtedly be the first thing you'll inspect when you see the car in person so make sure you look at it possibly. There are three main things you'll want to inspect here; rust, dents and evidence of repairs.

Rust and dents are the easiest things to check, all you need are your eyes and a good source of light. Using a handheld light source, work your way around the body and you'll be able to spot dents, misaligned panels and mismatched paintwork.

Top tip: Never buy a car in the dark, bad lighting will mask dents and corrosion.

Checking for repair damage is a little harder but should still be quite simple if you know the car features steel in its construction. Run an encased magnet over the body panels and feel if the magnet is attracted. Any supposedly steel part that you don't feel a pull on could be an indication that filler has been used.

A rusty VW Beetle
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The use of filler often indicates repaired crash damage, but in an older car it can be a signal of rust too. And while these could just be small dings that have been fixed visually, finding it could save a headache at a later date (a damaged panel can be more susceptible to rusting and could point to more worrying damage).

Every car has different spots to look out for. Some tend to rust from the arches, others from the sills (some like the original Ford KA enjoy rusting from every spot imaginable), the point is to do your research and know where to look. Parkers used reviews is a must.

Your best bet for checking the bodywork is to invest in an inspection lamp. They're a bit more money than a normal torch but are more powerful, usually rechargeable and better for examining awkward spots. Inspection lamps also come with magnets for hands-free use. These will often be coated and so will be safe to use to check for filler in the bodywork.

If you don't want a proper inspection lamp then a normal torch will do, but it won't be as convenient as an inspection lamp. It also means you'll need to buy a separate magnet.

Never put a bare metal magnet against a car's paintwork because it can damage the paintwork. The chances aren't massive but the car isn't yours and it could cause a costly argument. Either buy a coated magnet (rubber or plastic are good) or use a piece of cloth to protect the paintwork.

Sealey LED180 12 SMD LED + 1W LED Rechargeable Slim Inspection Lamp

The best inspection lamp
Sealey LED180 12 SMD LED + 1W LED Rechargeable Slim Inspection Lamp
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The top performer in our Inspection lamp group test, the Sealey LED180 artfully balanced function and power with price and size. The 12 SMD LEDs are powerful and it works as a conventional torch too (great for awkward places). It also features three magnets that can be used to test for filler.

Energizer MLTV32 Eveready LED Tactical Torch

Energizer MLTV32 Eveready LED Tactical Torch
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If you really don't want to buy an inspection lamp, at least invest in a proper torch to examine the car properly. This LED torch from Energizer is durable, compact and comes with a powerful light. Just remember you'll need to supply your own AAA batteries.

Traditional Alnico Horseshoe Magnet

Traditional Alnico Horseshoe Magnet
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A traditional horseshoe magnet like this one is ideal for checking paintwork. It's not too strong and can be held incredibly easily. Just remember to cover the ends with something soft to avoid any paint scratches.

Interior

The rear seats of a car
©Photo: Getty Images

The interior is probably the next thing you'll have a nose about in. Check all the fixtures and fittings and feel how sturdy it feels. On your test drive listen for squeaks and rattles that can drive anyone to distraction.

As for the electrics, the best thing to do is simply press the buttons and see if the corresponding feature works. Some larger electrical items can be incredibly expensive to put right (think panoramic sunroofs) but aren't the end of the world if they don't work (just check that sunroof is watertight).

Top tip: Give the interior a good whiff, a good air freshener won't mask a putrid smell completely

We also suggest checking is the USB port (if the car has one). Plug a phone charger in and see if it'll charge your phone. A broken USB port isn't the end of the world but would be annoying.

A 12v voltage meter can help you diagnose any battery or alternator problems too.

iPhone Charger Cable Lightening Cable

iPhone Charger Cable Lightening Cable
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This iPhone charging cable uses a nylon braided layer so should be robust for keeping your phone topped up.

JZKu00ae 2 in 1 car truck bus voltmeter & thermometer display

JZKu00ae 2 in 1 car truck bus voltmeter & thermometer display
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Grab one of these low-cost gadgets and plug it into the 12V socket - not only will it tell you if the alternator and battery are healthy (look for readings around 13.6 to 14.1V, anything less than 12.7V when running could indicate problems) you can also check if the air conditioning is working.

Tyres

Tyres are obviously a crucial part of any used car purchase. Make sure to check the tread depth, expiration date and if possible, check the pressure too. The last thing you'll want is a hefty bill for fresh rubber after buying the car.

Top tip: Don't be fooled by fresh-looking tyres. Tyre dressing will make them look good but make sure to check the tread depths and expiration date.

Preciva Digital Tyre Tread Depth Gauge

Preciva Digital Tyre Tread Depth Gauge
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A simple bit of kit that's handy to have at all times, this device will check your tyre tread depth to ensure you stay on the correct side of the law and safety.

AA Digital Tyre Pressure Gauge

AA Digital Tyre Pressure Gauge
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Another garage essential, a tyre pressure gauge is very handy to own and it'll allow you to make sure the tyres are in good shape. Properly inflated tyres will cut your fuel bills too!

Oily bits

A car engine
©Photo: Getty Images

This is the really expensive bit if you don't know what to look for and you shouldn't be afraid to get a bit grubby and poke around under the bonnet and make sure that everything is ship-shape. Read our used car buying guide for more information.

TouchGuard Black Nitrile Disposable Gloves

TouchGuard Black Nitrile Disposable Gloves

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Your hands will get dirty if you start routing about in the engine bay of your future pride and joy so it's a good idea to bring some disposable gloves with you. These are silicone-free and so shouldn't leave any smudges on glass or metal.

Foseal Wired Car OBD2 Scanner

Foseal Wired Car OBD2 Scanner
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If you really want to be thorough you can pick up an OBD-II scanner. All cars produced after 2001 have a standardised port which you can plug a scanner into and it'll tell you where there may be issues. This one from Foseal is good value and well made.

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