If you are ready to buy a second hand car and don’t want to be taken to the cleaners, here are my 10 tops tips for what you can look out for:
1) Check the paper work. Make sure the V5 registration document is present and match the seller’s details. Also check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the registration document and match it to the VIN number printed on the VIN plate on the car, (normally located under the bonnet).
2) Look over the condition of the body work. The older the car the more dings and scratches you can expect. The condition of the body however can tell you a lot about how the car has been looked after. In the UK cars are prone to rust from the rear wheel arches due to the salt during our winter season. Check the condition of the rear arches for rust but more importantly a build-up of dirt that will hold the salt! Another rust prone area is the bottom of the doors so be sure to check these well.
3) Accident damage could be problem so look for ripples or a change in texture of the paint that may indicate a repair and the presence of body filler. This can be easily checked using a small magnet. The magnet will stick to the metal but not to the body filler. Also look under the bonnet along the front of the car for signs of welding and repair. Paint over-spray and body panels that don’t line up properly can also be evidence of a crash.
4) Have a good look at the engine – if its really dirty it could be a sign that the car has been neglected and not serviced regularly. Before starting it up, check the colour and smell of the oil, if it is black and smells burnt, this could suggest some problems. Also if the engine is gleaming and spotless it could have had a steam clean to hide evidence of an oil leak.
5) Whilst you are looking at the engine, check the fluid levels – oil, water and brake fluid. If the car has power steering then that will also need fluid so check that to. The water should also have anti-freeze in it and should not be a dirty brown colour.
6) To test the suspension, push down on each corner of the car individually. The car should return to its normal position but if it seems to bounce the shock absorbers are at the end of their life and will need to be replaced.
7) Tyres will also tell you a lot about the car and how it’s been looked after. Uneven tyre wear on the outside edges or center of the tyre is normally a sign of incorrect inflation. These are crucial components that need to be in good condition not only for your safety but if you get stopped by the Police with tyres that don’t meet the minimum legal requirements you will get a fine.
8 ) Start up the car from cold and it should start easily and not make any knocking or pinking noises. This could suggest very costly repairs so if you hear any strange noises get a professional to have a look. Blip the accelerator and take note of any blue smoke coming from the exhaust that could indicate worn engine components. Listen to the exhaust. If its loud it could be leaking. If the car has had a recent M.O.T, check the emissions; if they are high the catalytic converter could be in need of replacement and these are very expensive.
9) During the road test make sure that the car tracks straight and doesn’t pull to the left or right. Any strange vibrations especially at speed, could be wheel balancing and although not expensive to have done, go back and check that there has been no damage done to the tyres. Also test the foot brake by pushing quite hard and listen – a grinding or scraping indicates the pads need to be changed, whilst a vibration when braking suggests the disks are warped and will need to be replaced.
10) Above all else – use your instinct! If it feels wrong then don’t do it. You will always find another car!