Some used car buying tips

June 12, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Kar Blog


Tibs for buying a used car

By Adam: Kars Administrator

More often than not we find ourselves needing to test drive a used car at some point in our lives. It’s as inevitable as a trip to the dentist and depending on your fancy can be one of the most expensive investments we make.

But whether it’s business, necessity or pleasure, it can be difficult to make a head over heart decision on a potential purchase. I’ve been more than guilty of test driving a car and taking it because of the colour rather than being aware of the later obvious coolant leak!

So hopefully these brief used car buying tips will help you muddle through the minefield.

When you have found a car that you are interested in you will want to inspect and test-drive the car that you are considering purchasing. This is the best way to weed out the bad cars from the ones that have potential.


When you evaluate a used car, you will want to keep two main considerations in mind. Head & Heart. The first – heart, is whether or not you even like the car and if it suits your needs. Do you like the colour? Do you like the interior? Does it have the options you’d want? Does it have enough headroom and legroom for you and passengers? Are there any blind spots due to your height and position in the car?

Secondly, head; you will want to know if the car is mechanically sound. Will the car work well in the long run? Will it be in good condition in six months or will you begin to have to repair and put money into it? It is important to realise that it’s not necessarily a show stopper to find a car that needs some kind of repair or sprucing up – it may even save you some cash up front in the deal!

While you are test-driving the car, take it to your mechanic if possible. If you are seriously thinking about purchasing the car, you may have doubts as to whether it is mechanically sound. Take the car to your mechanic and have him check it out for you for peace of mind. Many mechanics are more than happy to test drive the car quickly, check for leaks, and do a compression check for a nominal fee. Then they will give you their expert opinion and you can make your decision from there. They may tell you that you would need to have something replaced and it would cost you so much. It would then be up to you to make the decision as to whether or not you would be willing to spend the additional money on the car or if it still represents a good deal!

Before you drive the car you will want to inspect the car visually. Walk around it and get a good overall inspection. Check for body rust – not as much of a problem in Australia, but particularly something to look out on older or imported vehicles, around the arches, windows, areas where water collects under the bonnet etc. Ensure that there are no ripples in the door panels or different paint shades between panels, as that may suggest that the car has been in an accident. Do the doors open cleanly, are there any rattles or clangs when you shut the door with any gusto (which can portray a poor repair job). Look for uneven gaps between the doors and along the hood.

A good tell tail is often found when you check for leaks such as coolant, oil, transmission fluid or petrol laying under the car. It is a good idea to see the car in its natural setting – i.e. cunningly ask ‘do you usually keep the car here or is it garaged’. Why? – If its usual home, examine the area where the car is normally parked to look for spots from leaks. Long term stains could show that the car has a slower leak that isn’t obvious on the day.

You will then want to open all doors and the trunk. Test the lights, controls, heater, air and radio. Open the bonnet and look for leaks or sprays from engine fluids or cleaning products.
At this point you will want to have a look at the more common obvious mechanical defects.

With the engine off, open the oil cap and check the dipstick. Does the engine have the correct oil level? Is there a creamy, white substance around the oil filler cap or on the dipstick? If so it can be a sign of head gasket failure. The Head Gasket is a gasket, or seal between the engine and the cylinder head. When in tact as it should be, itmayo_in_cap2 separates the oil from the engine’s internals from the coolant flowing through the engine components. When it fails, water gets into the oil which forms this white, creamy emulsion. This also means your engine looses compression, pressure created in the pistons. Note that in some engines this emulsion is simply as a result of condensation, so take a good test drive, look out for anomalies such as poor performance or white steam/smoke coming from the exhaust. Check he coolant level before the drive and after.



While the engine is running you will want to listen for knock, ticking, hissing or whining. Check to see that all the tyres have enough tread left on them.

Once you are driving the car, you first impression should be all heart: the way that the car feels. Does it fell comfortable to you? Are the gauges and controls easily accessible? Do you have enough leg space and headroom? If it is possible to drive the car when it is completely cold you will want to do so. Some older used cars may have difficulty starting when they are cold and this will reveal any chronic problems the car may have. Adjust the seat and mirrors before taking off and drive with the radio off. You will want to hear the engine and listen for other noises. Listen for clunks during gear changes, indicative of worn mounts, and grinding resultant from worn gearbox components or clutches.

Be certain to include these factors in your test drive:

  • Accelerating – from a dead stop are there any judders?
  • Engine – Does it idle smoothly? power through the rev range? Any knocks or ticks?
  • Gearbox – Are up and down shifts drama free? No grinding? Does the clutch engage at a good postion (not too low or high?). When in a higher gear at a lower speed, when you put your foot down does the car slowly pick up speed or does the engine rev (indicative of a slipping clutch)
  • Braking – any juddering? Squealing? Check the brake fluid cylinder in the bonnet for level.
  • Cornering – If the car is front or all wheel drive, do you hear a clunking when cornering? If so the CV joints may need attention. When steering at slower speed do you hear a grinding? It is possible that there may be power steering issues. Does the full range of motion operate cleanly?
  • Suspension¬†– push down on the car’s suspension when outside and keep an eye out for how the car bounces back into position. If it wallows you could have worn shock absorbers. Does the car sit even? Does it knock or bunny hop when going over bumps or around corners? This could be representative of broken or damaged springs.

Above all, be sure to use the car as you plan to. Get it up to speed, get it up to heat and be wary if any seller wants to cut a drive short or avoid certain roads.

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