Thanks to Allvaux for the following words of advice:-
Found a car you like the look of? Here's a basic run through that's worth a read before you commit to buy:
1) Check the distance between you and the seller. If it's hundreds of miles away can you get up there to view it and can you get home again if it turns out to be a lemon? For example don't buy a one way railway or bus ticket 'just in case'.
2) Check insurance and running costs before buying. The last thing you want to do is commit to buy then find out you can't afford to run it.
3) Has the car got the full V5 (log book)? If not you need to excercise extreme caution. Not only can you not check engine and chassis number tally up but also it might be a Cat C or D recorded vehicle and you won't be able to see where it's typed onto the V5 if it's not there.
4) HPi BEFORE you buy. It's amazing how many vehicles have been damage repaired or are still on finance. If the vehicle is on finance there's a chance they could take the car off you and you won't get a penny back for it. Use a decent HPi check as cheaper ones don't include finance checks.
5) Sound the owner out on the 'phone. Ask why he/she is selling it and ask them again when you get there to try and catch them out.
6) Do your homework BEFORE you commit to buy. I find putting something like 'Vauxhall astra Mk6 1.8 common faults' into a search engine is really useful as you'll be able to gen up on common faults and problems so when you view you'll know what to look for.
7) When arranging a time to view always try and get there earlier than you said. It's amazing what tricks sellers will pull and often getting there early you'll catch them bodging things up, taking parts off or swapping them over and very importantly it's always best to hear the engine from cold in case it knocks or smokes on start up.
8) Get a feel of the seller when you view. If something seems wrong or they appear to be lying or making things up on the spot then walk away.
9) Don't rush into anything. Have a really good think before you buy as it might be too late if you purchase it then discover things wrong with it.
10) Always take someone with you, ideally two other people. It's amazing what you can miss and a few pairs of eye sre always better than one. For example my daughter was pointing faults out on cars to me when she was six years old!
11) If you feel pressured by the seller walk away. It's funny how many times their 'phone will ring whilst you're looking at the car and they say it's another interested party. This is usually done by their mates/family and is designed to push you into buying it in case someone else does.
12) Get a landline 'phone number from the seller. Mobile 'phones are easy to turn off or (in extreme cases) it's not unknown for the seller to throw the sim card away after they've sold the car so you can't contact them if there's a problem later.
13) Always view at the seller's house do NOT meet 'round the corner' from them, in car parks, supermarkets, petrol stations etc because if there's something wrong you won't find them again. It's also handy because you can check the V5 matches their address.
14) Check EVERYTHING on the car. Not just oil/water/tyres etc but check every last switch/knob, check the heater gets hot and cold too. On a test drive make sure the radio is off and the heater too. That way you'll hear any odd clonks/rattles/knocks etc. Test drive down mixed roads, country lanes are good because you'll hear and feel any suspension problems, motorways are good because you can see what it's like when accelerating hard.
15) Get a recipt with the date, time and mileage on it. This may cover you for any number of reasons including if they went through a speed camera that morning or the day before. Make sure you fill your part of the V5 in and that the date is correct.
16) Don't believe people when they say they've lost the spare key, service history or handbook etc. If they can't produce them whilst you're there then they either haven't got them or even if they have are unlikely to post them out.
17) Be realistic. If a car is £350 it's not going to be the greatest example in the world. There are bound to be small faults etc and as long as it's mechanically sound and safe you should be ok.
18) Working to a budget? Don't buy a car with all the money you have. For example if you have £800 to spend try and find a car for about £600-£650. That way you'll have some left over for unexpected repairs or a service etc. Too many people use all their money to buy a car then can't afford to replace a tyre or the brakes or whatever.
19) Easy to say but don't rush in. This usually applies to frist time buyers because we all know what it's like when you get your first car, more often than not people buy the first thing they see as they're itching to get on the road and therefore it's easy to ignore any problems.
20) If the seller is evasive and making it hard to view the car first, or tries to rush you, ask yourself what they're trying to hide. Trust me there will be something.
21) If working to a budget then for God's sake buy on condition rather than age. Just because a car is a 2001 model doesn't automatically make it better than a 1998 one for example, it's all in how it's been looked after.
22) Use internet forums to ask for advice on specific models. For example if you want to buy a Vauxhall ask someone on Mig what to look for, there's a wealth of experience on here and someone will always know what to look for.
23) If you're miles away from the seller don't be afraid to ask on the regional section if someone will view the car for you and cast an eye over it. Obviously this may be done by someone who knows the seller so you still need to do your own full checks when you view the car.
24) The best way to consider buying a car is to assume the seller is a lying, cheating con man out to rip you off. Seriously, I do mean that. If you assume they are then you'll be far more careful when viewing as you'll have your money in the back of your mind.
The above is not an exhaustive list, everyone will have their own way of buying but if you're sensible and exercise caution you can eliminate a few dodgy sellers and keep your money for something better.