Buying a second-hand car is the most economical way to invest in private transport – an increasingly important consideration in today’s tough economic times. But navigating the second-hand car market can be difficult for those new to it; what exactly should you be looking for when viewing a used vehicle? Here are some examples of things you should be checking and verifying before you part with your money.
Firstly, you need to be able to verify a given used car’s history and documentation. With private sellers, it is often wise to corroborate the registration plate number with DVLA information to ensure the vehicle is not stolen.
For dealership sales, though, reputable car dealerships will be able to provide all the necessary documentation to prove the car’s ownership and service history. These documents include MOT certificates for each year the car was active, as well as V5C certificates which can help you verify the car is as it was when initially registered with the DVLA.
When looking at the car in person, one of the first things you should do is visually inspect the bodywork. Scratches and scrapes can indicate poor treatment by the previous owner, but you should be on an especial look-out for body panels with mismatched colours or comparatively faded finishes.
This is because a mismatched panel indicates that the panel has been replaced at some point in the car’s history, or repainted using a poor colour match. More often than not, panels are replaced due to damage, and could well indicate further structural issues with the car depending on the severity of the damage. These can also help you corroborate any service information supplied in the documentation; if there is no mention of the panel repair, there is something the seller is not telling you.
Next up, you should venture under the hood to inspect the engine. You don’t need to a be a world-class mechanic to know what to look for, but some brief revision of basic car maintenance can help you understand what’s under the hood.
Your main concerns will be with regard to the car’s current oil and coolant levels. If the coolant levels are low, there is a chance the car has been driven with poor heat dissipation – something which can quicken engine failure. Likewise, dirty oil or a low oil level can indicate the engine has been run with poor lubrication, which can greatly decrease the lifespan of engine components.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you will need to take the car for a test drive to get a true feel for it. You should pay close attention to the vehicle’s braking, steering and suspension; does it feel ‘lazy’ on the road or around corners? Also, listen to the engine as you drive. Clanking and clattering can indicate an engine issue, such as timing belt failure.
This is as much diagnosing any potential issues as it is for your comfort, though. Even if everything is fine with the car, does it feel comfortable to drive?
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