What to check when buying a used car

Garwin Beukes - The used car buying process is always tricky, as a used car can have some hidden problems that aren't obvious when you test-drive it. Before finalizing the deal, have the vehicle inspected by a knowledgeable mechanic. There are so many things that can only be properly inspected when the car is lifted on a hoist. If it's possible, find a mechanic that is closely familiar with that particular brand. For example, many used car buyers arrange to have the car to be brought to another dealer specialized in that brand for an inspection before buying.

When inspecting a used car, you are looking for two things:
Signs of major problems that should tell you to avoid the car and any minor issues that need to be taken care of or that you can use in negotiations. If you found any evidence of a major problem in a car, there is no point to inspect it further, move on to the next car. Major problems include substantial rust damage, potential engine and transmission problems, previous serious accidents, flood damage, and signs that the car has been abused or neglected by previous owners.

Minor issues are the ones that can be easily corrected, including worn tires, minor suspension and brakes problems as well as minor appearance flaws like dents and scratches.

Start with the quick walk-around. Major rust spots should tell you to avoid a car. Check the interior. How does the steering wheel, driver's seat and the inner door handle look like? Any smells? Tobacco and other strong odours are difficult to get rid of, especially in cloth interiors. Can you find a comfortable driving position? Is there enough legroom and headroom? How is the visibility? The easiest way to detect engine problems is to start it
cold, preferably morning time. Ask the seller or salesperson to start the engine; is there any smoke from the exhaust? Does the engine run rough or rattle loud when started? If the engine runs rough or makes a loud noise at start up or if there is a blue smoke from the exhaust, avoid the car. The engine should start easily and run smoothly. If you think that this car is worth to check further, start from the exterior. If you are planning to inspect several cars, it might be a good idea to take photos of each car (if the seller or salesperson allows) including flaws and features so you can review them later when weighing pros and cons of each vehicle.

Have a look at the car from a distance; this way it's easier to spot if the colour of some panels match- this could determine if the car had been in an accident and only a certain part was fixed and re-sprayed. Look carefully at the windshield. Note any chips, scratches or other damage that may impair the visibility. Check for marks on the rims - any sign that a car was driven forcefully over a pavement will give you steering problems and is a big no-no.

To summarize, checking a lot of smaller details may end up saving you from a costly mistake.