Don’t be sold a pub; buying a second hand car

Essential checks – when buying second hand cars and loans against cars!

With Christmas recently come and gone, you may well have seen at least one of those “A dog is for life not just for Christmas” posters? These have been around since 1978, when the charity then known as the National Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust) had to create a slogan aimed at safeguarding the welfare of dogs in Britain.

Another dog-related phrase that is often used is “being sold a pup”. This is when someone is tricked into buying something that is not what it appears to be. Just as that cute little pup you buy at Christmas turns into a massive beast – so can the lovely second hand car you grab at a bargain price turn out to be a complete nightmare!

How do you stop this happening? If you see a car that you like, what do you need to do to make sure not only that it is going to meet your needs but also that it will keep its value, whether to resell or raise cash by taking out a loan against your car in the future?

The first thing you need to do is to check that all the paperwork is in place and that it is all up to date and correct. The car’s service history should give you information about the performance, repairs, and problems of the car so far. Our recent article Seven Secrets of HPI Checks provides more information on what you need to look out for and how to check that the information is accurate.

There are then five aspects of the car you need to look at:

1. Outside

  • View the car carefully on level ground. This enables you to clearly check the tyres and to make sure there is nothing warped or hanging down from the car.
  • Carefully check the paintwork on the car, looking for any rust spots, dents, scratches or unevenness that indicates repainting.
  • Check the boot of the car to make sure it is still in good condition and does not show signs of rust or water entry due to cracks or holes.
  • Check the tyres. They should be worn evenly and should match. Check the surfaces for feathering ie if the tread ribs are lower or smoother on one side than the other. This can be caused by poor alignment which in turn can be caused by worn steering or suspension components or frame damage.
  • Never buy a frame damaged car. A vehicle’s frame – or body – is its most important safety feature and cars with damaged frames can be extremely unsafe in the event of a collision. Frame damage can be difficult to spot but some things to look out for are:
    • Clamp marks: holes or gashes on the frame that indicate a wrecked car repaired using a straightening machine
    • Replacement bonnet, boot, windows or doors
    • Unusual engine noise
    • Inconsistent finish or rough paint line that could be caused by repainting after repairs
    • Doors, windows, bonnet or boot which don’t close properly
    • Welding marks under the bonnet

2. Inside

  • Check the seats and upholstery of the car for any tears, stains, or any other type of damage.
  • If the car has air conditioning turn it on to make sure that it is working well.
  • Check the odometer of the car for the mileage. An average mileage is 10,000-15,000 miles a year. The age of the car is also important so even if a car has a very low mileage if it is an older car it still may not be a good buy.
  • If the car has any kind of computer on board then check that it is working as it should. Also make sure that it is not flashing any warnings when you start the car.
  • Check the lights and other functions of the car such as parking sensors/cameras, radio, CD, music installation etc.

3. Underneath the car

  • If possible get the car raised to inspect the exhaust system or rust underneath.
  • Check the exhaust with your finger as grease or grime can indicate a major problem. Turn the car on. White vapor (not in a cold climate) is a bad sign too.

4. Underneath the bonnet

  • Check for any indication of dents, damage or rust which can be signs that the car has either not been looked after well or damaged.
  • Hoses and belts should not have cracks or signs of drying and the radiator hoses should not be soft.
  • Check for any sort of leaks, or corrosion. Dark brown oil stains could indicate a leak in a gasket.
  • Check the brake fluid and reservoir to make sure its is not leaking.
  • Remove the oil filler cap. If there is any foam residue on the inside this could indicate a leaking head gasket.
  • Pull the transmission dipstick; the fluid should be full, pink or red in colour and should not look or smell burnt.
  • Check the timing belt or chain to make sure it is in good condition and ideally has been recently replaced.

5. Driving the car

You do need to drive the car before making any final decisions as this is the best way to really get to know the condition of the car and to decide if it is right for you. Check how smoothly it drives, how responsive the steering is and how well the brakes work. Check for sounds, juddering or clunking when making turns at various speeds.

The above tips make it clear that buying a car is a serious matter and you need to take care. If you do not know much about cars and are buying privately then we recommend that you either bring someone with you who is more of an expert, or pay for an AA, RAC of HPI car check. These measures are important to ensure that you are not being sold a pup and that your car will not only serve you well but will maintain its value in future.