10 Tips for Looking After Your Second-Hand Car

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: October 5, 2023

Regular maintenance isn’t just a task; it’s a responsibility that can make all the difference. Adhering to essential practices can enhance your second-hand car’s lifespan, diminish the risk of accidents, maintain its value, and reduce repair and running expenses.

However, this raises the question, ‘How can I look after my car to achieve optimum results?’

This blog explores how to look after your second-hand car to help preserve its performance.

1. Book a Regular Service and MOT Test

Car tools resting next to a car's engine.

While servicing your car isn’t a legal obligation, it’s crucial to maintaining your second-hand vehicle. This proactive approach lets you find problems early.

However, the MOT (Ministry of Transport) test is legally required to ensure your vehicle meets necessary safety and environmental standards. You can check if your car has MOT using car check websites.

If your car fails the MOT, you can’t drive it until the issues are resolved and it passes the test. 

Ultimately, regular services and MOT tests keep your vehicle in top condition and enhance your safety, ensuring you remain compliant with the law.

How often should you get your car serviced?

Opting for at least one service annually is highly advised. 

During a service, mechanics inspect your car, identifying potential issues and checking vital components such as brakes and fluid levels.

2. Respond to Warning Lights

A car's dashboard with glowing lights.

Your car’s dashboard has a system to inform you about issues through warning lights. Ignoring these signals can lead to more severe problems later, so understanding these warnings is vital. 

A red warning light on your car indicates urgent issues, demanding an immediate stop in a safe location. 

Yellow or amber lights signal potential problems that require attention soon, while green lights often signify non-critical systems.

Acting promptly when warning lights appear significantly reduces the risk of long-term complications. By addressing these signals swiftly, you’re not only preventing potential damage but also ensuring your safety and preserving your second-hand car’s value.

3. Top Up Fluids

Pair of red-gloved hands pouring antifreeze into a car's engine coolant reservoir.

Regularly check and top up essential fluids like oil, water, coolant, and antifreeze. Running your car on low levels can lead to overheating and other issues. 

So, ensure your vehicle operates at its best by dedicating a few moments each month to checking and replenishing these fluids. This routine maintenance prevents potential issues and contributes significantly to your car’s longevity and resale value. 

How to check brake fluid levels

Locate the reservoir under your car’s bonnet to check brake fluid levels. Ensure the fluid level is between the minimum and maximum marks. If brake fluid is low, add the amount recommended in your car’s manual.

4. Check Tyre Pressure

A man's hand holding a tyre pump to repair a flat tyre.

Your car’s tyre pressure is another crucial part of maintaining a vehicle. 

Inadequate air levels compromise traction and increase braking distance, leading to a higher risk of accidents. 

To find the correct pressure range for your vehicle, consult your car’s manual or look for the information on the tyres themselves. 

How often to check tyre pressure

Check your tyre pressure once a month when the tyres are cold and before going on a long journey, as warm tyres give inaccurate readings. 

You can check tyre pressure at most garages or invest in a home pressure gauge.

Remember, rear tyres might need extra inflation if you have passengers or heavy luggage. 

Adequate tyre pressure enhances safety and improves fuel efficiency. Under-inflated tyres increase rolling resistance, making your car consume more fuel, ultimately costing you more in the long run. 

5. Drive Regularly

White car being driven down a country road.

For second-hand car owners, especially those with diesel vehicles, regular driving is more than just a convenience – it’s essential since short and infrequent journeys can lead to diesel particulate filter (DPF) issues.

When you don’t drive a vehicle enough, the DPF can’t filter diesel soot effectively, resulting in potential problems. 

One clear sign of a DPF issue is the emission of black smoke, indicating a filter blockage.

Repairing a DPF problem is costly, ranging between £1000 and £2000. So, driving your car for at least 20 minutes at a time is crucial to avoid this expense. 

Regular, longer drives prevent the DPF from clogging up. Additionally, using a specialised DPF cleaner can aid in maintaining its efficiency.

While a car’s mileage is a critical factor to consider when buying or selling a car, regular and extended drives can contribute to a vehicle’s overall health, making an increase in mileage necessary. 

You can obtain a mileage history check to help establish a car’s mileage. You will need your vehicle’s registration number for this.

6. Check Spark Plugs

A guy with his head in his hand has he looks at his car's engine.

Often overlooked, spark plugs are crucial to your second-hand car’s performance. 

Damaged spark plugs can lead to many issues, including slow acceleration, engine misfires, reduced mileage, and even strange noises when idling. 

If your car’s motion becomes uneven or jittery during ignition, it can indicate potential spark plug problems.

It’s recommended to replace spark plugs approximately every 30,000 miles. Regular checks can help you identify issues early, ensuring your car runs smoothly and efficiently. 

Considering the relatively low cost of spark plugs compared to the extensive engine damage they can prevent, this maintenance task is both practical and economical.

7. Regularly Change and Clean Air Filters

Leaves on a wet road next to a blue car.

Air filters prevent contaminants like leaves and dust from entering the engine. Over time, these filters can become dirty or discoloured, potentially causing odd popping noises from the engine. If you notice these signs or see black smoke emanating from your exhaust, your air filter likely needs attention.

Failing to replace a clogged air filter can significantly impact your engine’s performance. Restricted airflow can reduce fuel efficiency, cause sluggish acceleration, and decrease power. 

So, regularly inspect and clean your air filter, or replace it if necessary, to keep your engine running smoothly.

8. Never Drive When Fuel is Low

A woman's hand refilling a car with fuel.

Your second-hand car’s fuel gauge isn’t merely an indicator of how much fuel is left, as driving when your vehicle is low on juice can have serious repercussions. 

You risk pumping sediment into your engine when you draw from the bottom of your tank. These contaminants can clog fuel filters and injectors, leading to engine issues and diminished performance.

To avoid these problems, never let your car fall past the fuel reserve. Keeping sufficient fuel in your tank ensures your engine receives clean, sediment-free fuel. 

9. Clean Your Car, Inside and Out

Black car seats.

A clean car isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a fundamental aspect of maintenance, inside and out. 

Frequently washing the exterior preserves its appearance, protects the paint, and prevents corrosion. But it shouldn’t stop there; clean the interior, too. Upholstery free of stains not only looks better but also maintains the overall hygiene of your vehicle.

Beyond appearances, a clean car offers practical advantages. It becomes easier to spot any issues, leaks, or damages on a well-maintained surface, enabling you to address problems promptly.

Moreover, maintaining a clean car contributes to its value when reselling your car

Potential buyers are more likely to invest in a vehicle that looks cared for. By dedicating time to cleanliness, you’re enhancing your driving experience and ensuring your second-hand car remains valuable, making the resale process smoother and more rewarding.

10. Appropriately Insure Your Vehicle

The front of a car smashed.

When cared for properly, a second-hand vehicle can last a long time. Therefore, appropriate insurance coverage is more than a legal obligation; it safeguards your second-hand car’s value. 

Adequate insurance ensures that damages to your vehicle are covered in the unfortunate event of an accident, relieving you from significant financial burdens.

By law, every driver must have at least the minimum required insurance, which is third-party insurance. 

Ultimately, appropriate insurance provides peace of mind, ensuring you can navigate unexpected situations without compromising your vehicle or finances.

Understanding your insurance policy is crucial; some companies might declare your car a write-off in certain situations. In such cases, the insurance company compensates you with the vehicle’s current market value, facilitating the purchase of a new one.

When buying a new car, you can have a vehicle undergo an insurance write-off car check so you know whether the car has been previously written off.

How many miles can a car last?

Cars manufactured in recent years can last 200,000 miles or more if cared for and maintained. Usually, people drive their vehicles between 10,000 and 12,000 miles a year.

If you intend to purchase a second-hand vehicle, be more aware of cars with more than 100,000 miles and check for wear and tear. 

However, more mileage doesn’t necessarily equate to more damage. 

A well-maintained vehicle with more mileage may last longer than a car with less mileage that hasn’t been cared for.

A hand holding a tool into a car's engine.

Remember that diligent maintenance isn’t just a task; it’s an investment. 

By following these ten tips on how to maintain a car and a used car checklist when purchasing a vehicle, you’re ensuring the longevity and safety of your second-hand car and preserving its value for the future. This is beneficial if you resell your vehicle.

Reg Car Check can help you find all the information you need if you have your first car. Find out more about insurance and tax for first-time car owners through our comprehensive guide, and check your vehicle is taxed to avoid fines and other consequences. See how Reg Car Check can help with your car tax check today!