Car buying tips

Whether you buy from a car dealer or privately, the first thing you will want to assess after setting a budget and selecting some makes/models that appeal to you is whether the car you are interested in is mechanically sound. You don’t need to be a mechanic to make some general observations, and with our car buying tips, you will really be able to put a vehicle through its paces.

Firstly, make time to view the car in daylight. Don’t do it on a weeknight or at times when you will be rushed. You will likely miss important details, and in a worst-case scenario, you could end up with a vehicle that costs you a lot more than it is worth.

The Exterior

Obviously, in the daylight and with time to view the car properly, you will be able to notice any minor dings, scratches and other imperfections. Things to worry about include rust, misaligned panels, unusual welding marks or a mismatched paintjob. Rust can be difficult and expensive to remove, and it can mean everything from using filler on the vehicle to replacing panels, seals and paintwork.

Misaligned panels, welding marks and paint that doesn’t quite match are all indicators of an accident. It may only have been a minor accident or collision to set things amiss, but the vehicle seller should disclose all the information.

Get down and make sure the front wheel is perfectly in line with the back to make sure the chassis is straight, and even walk around the car lightly rapping panels (especially those with dings) with your fist. The sound should make it obvious if filler has been used to repair the vehicle, which should be used to evaluate the vehicle’s history and the value of the car.

You will also want to check the condition of:

  • Tyres – check for bald spots/uneven wear
  • Lights – make sure they all work
  • Chips – check the bumpers and guards
  • Any obvious interior damage such as a cracked dashboard or ripped upholstery

Test Drive

You want to be able to test the car from a cold start. If the engine has a rattle, blows too much smoke or has trouble kicking over, starting the car when the engine is cool is the best way to discover it. Many cars, especially older ones, will blow a bit of smoke at first while the fuel often runs a little too rich, but this should not be too excessive.

Before taking off down the street, make sure that all windows, seats and seatbelts function properly. They should adjust and move freely. After that, complete both a right hand and left-hand circle with the steering wheel in full lock. Any creaking, rattling, or strange noises could indicate worn CV joints, worn suspension or wheel bearing problems. These should be accounted into the price.

Listen for any strange noises, and test the braking. Some brake pads will cause some noise depending on the car and discs, and if you’re not confident make a mental note and have a mechanic check it later. Don’t let the seller turn up the radio or distract you with too much talking.

Pay attention to the clutch and gears (where applicable). Every car is different, but the clutch should still engage and disengage the car smoothly. It may be a simple case of adjustment if it doesn’t, or it could mean a replacement clutch. Drive the car in all gears and let the engine do the braking in each gear from a reasonable speed. If the car pops out of gear, you may be looking at issues with the gearbox.

After The Test Drive

While you will probably be at the whim of the seller, try to insist on a long enough test drive to ensure the car is fully warmed up. Around 20 minutes will normally be enough to be sure. You should watch the temperature gauge and see if it fluctuates at all during the drive once warmed up. Typically, most cars sit steady somewhere around the middle. If it starts pointing north, you have cause for concern.

Flip the bonnet when you finish the drive and inspect the engine. Even if the owner previously cleaned the engine, any serious leaks or problems should show up. Check for oil or water running down the engine block – use a torch if necessary – and check for any milky residue in the oil or around the filler cap. These are all indications of head gasket problems and possibly a cracked engine block.

Look under the car for any signs of leaks or other problems. A lot of older cars may leak a little bit of oil. This can be hard for an amateur to judge, but in any case, leaking oil should be very minimal. Otherwise, you will be looking at new engine seals and probably bearings. Also, check the engine bay for any fresh paint on the parts or body. It could be a case of concealing past abuse or rough driving, such as a 4WD that has seen a lot of dirt roads.

Organize a Professional Inspection

The experts from Word Maze said that all those points check out and you are happy with the condition of the car or have negotiated a good price for the vehicle, lastly we recommend a quick spot check from a professional mechanic. At least, they can do a compression test to make sure there are no leaks on the engine and cast a trained eye over the vehicle for you, which means there is less chance there will be something you will miss.

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