How to check out that used car you are keen on

By Austin Lobo

December 28, 2015: Before you even go to inspect the used car that you think will work for you, do a little research on prices of the model and its strengths and weaknesses.

Then, take a good look at the vehicle that has caught your fancy. One of the things you would definitely want to do is test-drive it. This will give you an idea of how it negotiates the road, the sharp curves, how it grips the road, how effective the hand brake is and how well the brakes work. 

You must also check that the vehicle does not leak. Park the vehicle on a clean stretch of road and keep the engine running for at least half a minute. Then move the car away from the spot to figure out whether it leaks or not. Black fluid may indicate leaking oil, green fluid may mean a leak in the anti-freeze and pink fluid may mean a leak in the transmission. 

You must also check emissions. In the cold season, white water vapour from the exhaust pipe is all right but blue smoke is a no-no. It indicates that oil in the vehicle is burning. In diesel vehicles, a faint blue smoke is all right but black smoke is cause for concern.

When you are on your test run, check for strange noises from the engine, which might indicate that some parts need attention.

Then, take a close look at the exteriors. You will be surprised by how much the exteriors can tell you. Start at the very beginning - the doors, including the bonnet and boot. Look for rust and blistered paint because water normally collects around the doors and eats into the car. So take a good look at the open doors, for a good feel underneath and see that the outer skin of the door is not separating from the door frame. 

Check for dents and ripples. Examine the paint surface on the body panels. It may be a good idea to run your hand down the body panels, to locate possible fillers or check whether the panels fit right. Check that the colours of the paint do not vary - indications of a cheap re-spray job. This could also mean that the car was involved in an accident.

Secrets in windscreens

Take a close look at the rubber seals around the glass. Try to lift them up and check for rust in these parts. Normally rain water collects in such crevices and the moisture eats into the metal of the car, which could be hard and expensive to fix.

That is so far as the exteriors go. But there is much more to buying a used car than that. The Automobile Association (AA) presents a comprehensive checklist for buying a used car. The association cautions that those who buy privately do not have the same legal protection as those who buy from dealers. Therefore, it is important to check out the car carefully. Incidentally, the AA offers car checking services. But if you want to do it on your own, here is the list:

Ask the seller for the vehicle registration documents.

Is the seller the registered person shown on the registration documents? If not, why is he/she selling the car for someone else?

Does the registration document have a watermark?

Check for spelling errors on the registration document.

Do the VIN (vehicle identification number), engine number and colour match those on the registration documents?

Does the number plate match that on the registration document?

Has the VIN plate been tampered with?

Are the tyres worn? Tyres with less than 3 mm of tread would need replacement soon.

Does the car have the spare wheel, jack and other tools?

Do all the seat belts work well? Check for frayed belts or cuts in them.

Check that all lights, wipers and washers work well, as do the heating and air conditioning radio and other devices.

Check that you have the right keys - the handbook will tell you about the keys provided with a new car.