•Do your research. The RAC and usedcarexpert.com both offer a vehicle database with “what to look for” for when you inspect the car. Check the mileage and MOT history at motinfo.direct.gov.uk/.
•Blown turbo chargers, snapped timing chains, smoking engines – all these and more can result from delaying an oil change or using the wrong oil. Ask for the service history and take time to look through it. If a service is due, negotiate on the price, but if the history’s missing, walk away.
•Dashboard lights indicate checks on systems such as ABS and stability control. Make sure they all light up when you turn on the ignition and go out when you start the engine. Check the handbook if you’re not sure you’ve seen them all.
•After starting the engine, listen carefully for the first few seconds – any knocks or rattles are bad signs. Grey exhaust smoke is a sign of a worn engine – check it after your test drive when the engine is hot.
•As well as checking the suspension by listening for rattles or clunks over rough roads, try stopping at different rates – gently and rapidly. The engine should never stall as the car stops and the revs shouldn’t drop very low and then pick up to the right idle speed.
•Reject a car if you have any concerns. Cars are too often an emotional rather than a rational choice. If in doubt, sleep on it and make a decision in the morning.
Shallcross said: “Getting a new car, whether it’s brand new or new to you, is an exciting time. It’s also an expensive time, so the last thing you want is to pick a dud.
“Do your preparation before you go so you know what you’re looking for. If you’re not confident, take a friend, get it checked at a garage, or ultimately walk away.”
To help drivers stay safe and enjoy their driving this summer, the IAM has a new website, drivingadvice.org.uk, with traffic updates, weather forecasts, and driving tips, including: driving abroad, cycling, coping with Olympic congestion, and loading the car for a long journey.