Buying a Used Car: The Pre-Purchase Check

Buying A Used Car: The Pre-Purchase Check

After you have decided on which type of used car you want to buy, it’s important to check the car thoroughly. The best practice is to find a couple of cars of the same model for sale and arrange to view all of them. That way you can compare the condition of each of the cars and get a feel on whether they are worth the money. Just remember, it’s bad practice to go for the first car you see, without having seen any other car.

Checking A Used Car Before Buying

Once you have made some appointments to view the cars it’s time to prepare yourself to view the car. Checking a car and identifying any faults can be a bit daunting if you’re not quite sure what you should look out for. There’s a number of areas on the car to pay special attention to:

Checking the exterior of a car

The easiest check to do is to see if the exterior of the car, look out for any scratches or dents. Also, make sure to look out for any slight differences in terms of the paint colour. It may just be that panels have been replaced and resprayed to cover up any accidents. Also, check for any moisture underneath the car, it may just be that oil or coolant is leaking out of the car. Below are 5 recommendations for what to look out for:

  • Scratches and dents
  • Difference in paint colour
  • Scratches and cracks in the windscreen, windows, and mirrors
  • Signs of corrosion, e.g. on wheels
  • Condition of the wheels and tyres

Another good thing to check is if all lights like the headlamp, braking lights, indicators, etc are in working condition.

Checking the interior

Moving on to the car’s interior, you should pay attention to the condition of the seats and panels. While most of it is easily visible, it still makes sense to have a closer look at:

  • Seat upholstery and carpets (lift the carpet too)
  • Controls and instruments
  • Rearview mirror
  • Door locking
  • Interior lights and lights on the dash panel

Checking the engine bay

Once you have checked the interior and exterior it’s worth opening the bonnet to check the engine bay. Check if there are any signs of oil debris in and around the engine, and check for any fluid leaks. Signs of moisture or oil around the engine can mean that the engine is leaking somewhere.
Even if you are not a mechanic, these are things you can check yourself:

  • General condition and cleanliness of the engine bay
  • Signs of corrosion
  • Fluid levels, e.g. oil
  • The general condition of hoses and pipes
  • Signs of fluid leaks

The test drive

One important pre-purchase check to tick off the list as well as to test drive the car. Driving the car can show up many problems that you would simply just not notice when the car is stationary. Rattles and knocking noises can all indicate major problems.

  • Footbrake and handbrake
  • Noise level of the engine while driving as well as during idling
  • Operating the clutch and shifting into gears
  • General steering, the effort you need to put into steering, general handling the car and road stability
  • Engine efficiency, e.g. while accelerating and operation of the accelerator pedal in general

Check our guide on test driving a car for more tips on how to make the most of a test drive.

A Second Opinion

Once you have checked all the cars you selected it’s time to consider which one was the best. Consider the condition of the car and also take into account any differences in terms of recent repairs done, differences in terms of the trim levels and of course the price. On the basis of all those points, select your favourite car and decide if you really want to get it.

At this point, it’s worth checking the chosen car once more to see if there’s anything you failed to notice. Often it’s worth getting a pre-purchase inspection with a professional mechanic at this point. The mechanic would be able to check over the car in more detail and use expertise built up over many years. A mechanic can identify any underlying problems that may not be immediately obvious. That way you can pre-empt any nightmares later on. You wouldn’t want to buy a car that seems great of course but later turns out to have major problems.

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