Top 10 Things to Check When Buying a Used Car
When you think about buying a used car it can be a complete nightmare, but it can also be a great experience, depending on what you know and what you look for before handing over your hard earned cash to the seller. Whilst most second hand car garages are reputable and reliable, you will still find some garages and private owners happy to sell you a little less car than you think you are paying for. Some dealers and private sellers don’t even know what they are selling when they offer you the car!
Check these ten important things before you agree to buy a used car.
- History Report and documents – Can the seller show you the V5C registration document? When was the car serviced? How many owners has the car had? Do the VIN, engine number and colour match the V5C? When were the tyres replaced last and has it been involved an accident or insurance claim? If you can’t get all this information out of the seller you can buy a vehicle history report; they aren't perfect but they are better than flying completely blind. Mycarcheck.com and dmv.org/vehicle-history are two websites you can use to find out some of this information.
- Condition of the tyres – Every dealer should want their customer to drive away with safe tyres on the vehicle. If you can see uneven tyre wear it indicates long miles driven without tyre rotation or a bad wheel alignment. If you see low pressures or sagging sidewalls this is a sign of a leak in the tyre. Cracking in the sidewalls means dry rot, which also means the tyres have probably been sitting for a long time. Finally, bald tyres tell you the previous owner didn't care about safety or maintenance of the car and, if you are at a dealer, it tells you they don't care much either.
- Back Seat Wear – You may find an odd cheerio or two under the seat or a stain where they kids have been eating chocolate. There is nothing wrong with kids in the car, in fact, people with children tend to drive more cautiously, avoid accidents and take precautions against breakdowns. But it is easier to clean a car than to fix it! One thing to note: if you smell spoiled milk in the car it will never, even go away. Never. Walk away from the car.
- Where is the Lock nut key and radio code – one thing people never remember to ask. If you pull into a tyre retailer six months after you bought the car as you have rolled over a nail and now have a slow puncture, they first question they will ask is where is the lock nut key? What lock nut key? I don’t know! You’re adding another £42 at least to remove your lockers, and then have the inconvenience of having to get new lock nuts as well as the cost of the repair to the tyre! Same with the radio code, if you ever have to change your battery or any other mechanical work that cuts of the power you will need the code to enable you to listen to that drivel on the radio as you are getting from A to B.
- Smooth Engine Operation – If the engine starts, runs and stops with no of noises or fanfare, and the transmission shifts smoothly and positively without lurching, hesitating or slipping you should be good. Be honest when you are test driving, does it feel like it runs properly? Trust your instincts or if you are unsure get a second opinion.
- Airbags - Airbags are a onetime use item, if they are deployed they have to be replaced. Look for ill-fitting trim where the airbags sit in the steering wheel, dash covers, side of the seats and over the doors. Anything out of place is probably a sign that the car has had a nasty whack and the airbags have been replaced; then you may want to think twice about this purchase.
- Smooth Paint – If you check the paintwork on the car it will tell you if the car has been worked on. Drag your fingers along door jambs, around the windshield and the trunk opening. Factory paint is always smooth; whereas body shop paint will be a little rough. Check for paint lines, especially round the edges of body panels or paint on the trim. Robots at the factory paint around the body panel before the trim goes on. A body shop paints from one direction, leaving a line at the edge and overspray on the trim. Finally, look for body colour and shine that doesn't match up on the same or adjacent panels. All of these are signs that your car has been in an accident. Move on.
- Safety - Is the spare wheel or tyre inflator/sealant kit in serviceable condition? Are the jack and other tools present? You don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road with a puncture and no jack to change the wheel! Ensure all the seatbelts operate correctly and check there are no cuts or fraying that could affect the way they work. Finally, do all lights and windscreen wipers/washers work correctly or do they need replacing.
- Locks and windows – Check all the locks, including central locking and remote control, work properly. Ensure all windows, including any sunroof, open/close normally and there are no signs of forced entry, damage or different locks suggesting they have been replaced. Has the car got two correct keys and does the handbook say what keys were provided when the car was new. Modern keys are terribly expensive to replace, particularly the coloured ‘master’ key provided by some manufacturers.
- Mileage – When purchasing your used check that the mileage, age and appearance of the car look consistent. Any sign like worn screws that the instruments might have been tampered with? (Digital odometers can be tampered with electronically so clues like this won't exist) Check recorded mileage on service records, MOT 'certificates' and other documents. Does it look consistent with current mileage/condition and increase steadily year on year? You can check MOT status and history online (with vehicle registration and make).
Try and follow these tips and trust your gut; if a car has telltale signs of problems or just doesn't make you feel confident, walk away. There are millions of used cars you can choose from and you can find them everywhere from your local car dealer, gumtree, Facebook and Autotrader. Don't ever be afraid to walk away from the wrong car to get to the right one.