What to Check Before Buying a Secondhand Car

August 6th, 2018 by


One of the biggest issues when buying a secondhand car is knowing what to look for. The ability to discern a decent car from a terrible one not only saves you from unwittingly buying a shoddy product but also enables you to negotiate an appropriate price when you do find the right vehicle. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a mechanic to find a great vehicle when you follow these simple car-buying tips.

1. Bodywork

Firstly, make sure you arrange the viewing in daylight hours so that when you first approach the vehicle you can immediately start assessing its worth. Look at the bodywork for any large scratches or dents. Smaller ones can normally be fixed relatively easily but spotting them can help you get a better price.

Check the panels of the bodywork and the spaces between them. There shouldn’t be large gaps and, if there is, it could be indicative of post-crash repairs. All panels should be exactly the same colour with the same amount of weathering, any discrepancies could again be reason for suspicion.

Inspect the windscreen for cracks, even the smallest chip can spread easily and necessitate replacing of the entire screen. In turn, check the front and rear lights for similar imperfections, moisture or fog-like vapour.

2. Wheels

Forget the old cliche of tire kicking and get in close for a proper inspection. In the US, the legal requirement for tread depth is 1.6mm so anything below or approaching that and you’ll need to factor in the cost of replacing them when negotiating a price. You can easily gauge tread depth by using a coin. Measure the coin in advance if you need to and then compare it to the tread when inspecting the car. The outer rim of a twenty pence piece is roughly the same size as the minimum legal tread allowance.

Check for any signs of curbing on the tire and the hubcaps before comparing all four tires to see if they are matching. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker to have mismatched tires but it might be a consideration if you’re buying a high-end vehicle, which should come with specific tires.

3. Engine and electrics

To check the engine’s oil level ensure the car is on level ground and the engine is cool before removing the dipstick, wiping it clean, and pushing in and out again. There should be an indicator on the stick itself to see how high or low the oil is. After checking the oil, take a mental note of the brake fluid and power steering fluid levels. If any or all of them are low you can assume the vehicle hasn’t been regularly maintained.

To check the electrics, sit in the car and try everything. You may feel silly but it can really help gain a picture of the vehicle’s overall condition, which will ultimately give you a lot more bargaining power. Thoroughly test everything that is reliant on electricity – the radio, the windows, the interior lights, push every button and twist every knob.

4. Interior and accessories

Now that you’re inside the vehicle you can have a closer look at the interior. Firstly, note the smell. If there is a foul odour, it might be harder to eradicate than you may think. If the rest of the car has been thoroughly cleaned before inspection but the smell lingers then it might be impossible to get rid of and should be factored into your decision-making process. After the smell test, check the upholstery and check down the sides of all the seats for any stains or rips.

Look in the boot for any accessories like a jack or a spare wheel. Clarify with the seller whether the price includes the accessories. Look for rust or obvious damage to any spare wheel or tyre jack and twist and turn the jack to test it works as it should.

No secondhand vehicle is going to be perfect but the secret to getting a good deal is having the ability to judge whether the condition of the vehicle is consistent with its age, mileage and price. Any conflict or discrepancy between condition and expectation should make you reconsider your purchase. There are plenty of great deals to be had in the automotive world and all it takes to find them is a little forethought, patience and due diligence.

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