Buying a pre-owned car can be a minefield. When a bad decision can cost you thousands of dollars, it can be extremely hard to know what to do. We’ve put together a checklist that will help you tell a bargain, from a heap of metal held together by rust. You don’t have to be a trained mechanic to understand it – it’s ideal for those who feel they need some guidance when viewing cars. Print it out and have it with you when you go car shopping!
Do Some Research Before Scheduling a Test Drive
- Inform yourself about the brand. If it’s known for reliability, you’re less likely to incur unexpected expenses. This makes budgeting far easier, as you can assume you probably won’t have any trips to the mechanic until the next service milestone.
- Do you drive a lot? If so, you’ll want to make some enquires about fuel economy.
- Be aware of the recommended price for the car. If it seems to be high, be prepared to haggle. If it’s unusually low, it’s likely there could be faults.
- Don’t just go off reviews, a test drive is essential. Only you can tell if you like the ‘feel’ of the car.
Finding Out What You Need to Know From the Current Owner
- One of the first questions to ask should be to inspect the car’s paperwork. Do not accept copies.
- Find out why the seller is selling the car. An answer like “I just bought a new one” is what you want to hear, as this indicates the seller wants a quick sale and is probably prepared to negotiate on price.
- If the car has been in an accident – which the Carfax will tell you – ask about the details to find out how serious it was.
- Find out where the car was bought. Some states allow cars to be sold from state to state without concerns about the vehicle’s history (for example, it may have been a salvage title).
- Ask how many miles are on the odometer and see if this corresponds to the general appearance of the vehicle (a shiny steering wheel and sagging seats are an indicator of a car that has had a long, hard life).
- Look at the odometer. If the numbers are not in a straight line, they might have been tampered with.
- If there are an unusually low number of miles on the clock, this could be a sign of trouble ahead for the buyer as cars that aren’t used much tend to have mechanical issues as a result. Ask if the car has been unused for a long period of time, or whether it was only taken on short journeys.
- Ask the owner if they are willing to let an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle. If they hesitate or refuse, it’s not the car for you.
Using Your Eyes: Rust Checks
- Schedule the test drive during the day so you can find it easier to spot rust. Look carefully inside and out. Don’t be afraid to take your time.
- If you find rust, press it gently. If it crackles, the bodywork has been corroded.
- It’s important to inspect the brake pipes. If these are rusty, they will need replaced.
Using Your Eyes: Accident Damage
- Schedule your appointment so you can view the car when it is dry – raindrops can hide irregularities in the paintwork caused by an accident.
- Bring along a magnet to test areas that look like they might have had rust, and were simply filled rather than treated properly.
- If the paintwork on one or more of the panels doesn’t match, you can be sure the vehicle has been in an accident and not repaired well.
Using Your Eyes: Under the Bonnet
- Even if you aren’t completely aware of what you’re looking at, you can still tell whether the engine is extremely clean or very dirty. If it appears to have been recently cleaned, this could be a sign that the engine has been cleaned to disguise problems. But, if it’s very dirty, it could be an indication that the car hasn’t been maintained.
- Is oil leaking from the engine? If so, the car probably isn’t a sensible buy.
- Rev the engine. If smoke appears, the vehicle is best avoided. Also check the temperature gauge – if the engine is overheating, this is a sign of a problem that you don’t want to deal with.
During the Test Drive
- Take the car on a variety of road types so you can verify that the suspension is in good working order. If it groans, this isn’t a sensible purchase.
- A wobbly steering wheel suggests that the wheels are unbalanced. This isn’t a costly issue to fix, so shouldn’t be something you need be overly concerned about.
- The steering wheel should not pull to one side or the other. This is a sign the vehicle has been in a collision.
- Apply the brakes hard – the car should not veer. This is a sign of seized or leaking wheel cylinders. Leaky wheel cylinders are extremely dangerous as they can cause the brakes to fail. You should finish the test drive quickly and advise the owner to fix these as a priority.
- If the car judders when you brake, the front brake disks are distorted and will need replaced. This is an inexpensive and relatively easy repair for mechanics to undertake.
- Make sure you test the sound system and the windows during the test drive to ensure that the car’s electronics are in good working order.
Or, You Could Just Take Life Easy
The above points are simple to check for those who aren’t mechanically minded, but we understand the pressure you feel to make the right decision. At TRED, we lift the burden from you by carrying out our own 150-point inspection. We also offer a fantastic independent inspection for just $99. The mechanics (who are not employees of TRED, so you can be sure they are unbiased) are super-thorough. Here’s a little information about the great service they provide:
Making sure tyres are in good condition
Checking the dash
All aspects of engine tested
Voice recordings of the inspection provided for you
Photos of the vehicle
Quote for repairs needed
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? There’s just one more thing about this service that we know our customers really appreciate – it takes place where the car is located, so the buyer doesn’t need to lift a finger. Convenience and complete peace of mind, sorted.
If you have any questions about the buying or inspection process, our team will be very happy to help. You can contact us through our website (check out our online chat).