Buying a second-hand car is a good idea for an array of reasons. Most obviously, the price tag on a pre-owned vehicle is much easier on the pocket than that of a brand-new car. Because used cars are more affordable, opting to go second-hand also gives you access to a much wider selection of makes and models within your budget. This increases the likelihood of you finding a vehicle that meets your specific needs.
That said, buying a used car comes with its own set of risks. High mileage, hidden mechanical problems, and serious damage sustained in accidents are all potential issues that could see you ending up with an unreliable, problematic vehicle.
DON’T SKIP THESE SIX CRITICAL THINGS TO CHECK WHEN BUYING A USED CAR
Finding the right second-hand car for you requires having a good understanding of which things to check when buying a used car, before signing on the dotted line.
1. CHECK THE DEALERSHIP’S CREDENTIALS.
When shopping around for a second-hand car, it pays to do business with established, reputable dealerships only. OEM-affiliated dealerships are usually a safe bet, but if you’re considering buying from a non-affiliated or private dealership, do some background digging first. Ask around for word-of-mouth recommendations from other motorists and read online reviews (Google reviews, social media pages, and sites like HelloPeter are good places to start) before contacting the dealership.
If you’re thinking of answering an online ad posted by a private seller, be very wary of scams. Tune into your ‘too good to be true’ radar and be suspicious of any seller flogging an ‘immaculate’ vehicle with low mileage for an unusually low price. Never pay a deposit up front to secure a vehicle you haven’t seen yet. It’s also a good idea to arrange to meet unknown sellers in a safe public spot, like the forecourt of a busy service station.
2. THOROUGHLY EXAMINE THE VEHICLE’S EXTERIOR FOR EVIDENCE OF DAMAGE OR MAJOR REPAIRS.
When conducting a walk-around inspection of a used car, be sure to check the following critical aspects of the vehicle’s exterior:
- Panels and paint
Check that all panels are properly aligned and that the paintwork is an exact match throughout. Poorly aligned panels or mismatched paint can indicate that major repairs have taken place. Check for any dents or damage.
Check that all four tyres are the same brand and size, and inspect them for wear and tear, cracks, and % of tread. Remember to check the condition of the spare too.
- Beneath the car
Check for signs of fluid leaks. Check the exhaust for holes and rust. Check the bottom of the car for any unusual marks.
3. CHECK THE VEHICLE’S ENGINE AND OIL.
Check the oil level and inspect the dipstick for evidence of water in the oil (bubbles on the dipstick, a brownish residue, or thick, milky oil). Make sure that there are no oil, coolant, or fluid leaks and that the engine is generally clean. Run the engine with the hood up to check for any strange noises or smells emanating from the engine.
4. CLIMB IN AND TEST ALL CONTROLS.
Climb inside the car and test every button, switch, and lever in sight. Check the locking mechanisms, window controls, mirrors, radio, front and rear defoggers, AC, etc. Test the headlights, brake lights, indicators, and hazards. Check for airbags and inspect seatbelts for fraying. Check the dash for any warning lights. Check the floors and trunk for flood damage.
5. TAKE HER FOR A PROPER SPIN.
Performance and handling are one of the most critical things to check when buying a used car, so don’t be tempted to buy a second-hand car without doing a proper test drive first. To really put a car through its paces, carry out the following during your test drive:
- Check that the engine starts easily from cold.
- Run the engine and check for any strange smells or noises.
- Does more smoke come out of the exhaust than is reasonable?
- Do any warning lights come on on the dash?
- Aim to test drive the car on smaller suburban streets as well as on a highway so that you’re able to test the car at higher speeds.
- Does the car hesitate when you accelerate or respond well?
- Are there any dips or ‘flat spots’ in acceleration (sudden loss of power)?
- Go uphill to check if the car loses power or starts to overheat.
- Does the car change gears easily? Check for any shuddering or shaking when shifting gears.
- Does the car pull to either side?
- Does the brake pedal go all the way to the floor and does the car stop promptly when you brake?
- Does the car pull to either side when you brake?
- Are there any grinding noises when you brake?
- Check that the handbrake works.
- Check the universal joints by turning in a sharp circle and listening out for any crunching sounds.
If the seller asks you to keep the test drive short due to low fuel levels, offer to put some fuel in yourself so that you’re able to thoroughly test drive the vehicle.
6. CHECK THE VIN NUMBER, LICENCE DISK, REGISTRATION CERTIFICATE, PLATES, AND SERVICE HISTORY.
Always check that the vehicle’s VIN number, licence disk, licence plates, certificate of registration, and owner’s manual all match up. Check that the vehicle’s service history is up to date. Ascertain who owns the car; is it the seller or the bank? Find out whether the car comes with any warranties or guarantees, and whether roadworthy and registration are included in the sale.
The car’s VIN number can be used to perform a Vehicle Check such as this one. A Vehicle Check reveals the vehicle’s history, including the original specs, date and country of manufacture, finance history, any data on accident involvement, and any record of interest in the vehicle from SAPS.
SCREAN’S VEHICLE INSPECTION EXPERTS USE A 60+ POINT CHECKLIST TO THOROUGHLY INSPECT USED VEHICLES ON YOUR BEHALF.
Not everyone has the confidence or mechanical know-how to inspect a second-hand vehicle before making a purchase decision. Screan takes the stress out of shopping for a used car by expertly inspecting and test driving used vehicles on your behalf. You’ll receive a detailed Buyer’s Report based on our comprehensive 60+ point checklist, as well as a set of hi-res images, designed to help you make an informed buying decision.