Everyone knows that a new car loses 40% to 50% of its value once its driven off the lot. As such, to save money, we should buy a second hand car. Here are some pointers to teach you how to differentiate the lemons.
This pointers are copyrighted to the Passive Investing Plan website. The post can be found here: http://www.passiveinvestingplan.com/?page_id=140
- Long before the arranged inspection, ask the seller about the car’s mileage. Give it about 15,000 km per year. The ideal mileage it should have will be 15,000 multiplied by the number of years the car is driven. Be wary of anything more than this ideal mileage.
- Be careful of cars which are nearing the 100,000 km mark. the water pump and timing belts may be time for a change but the seller may not be bothered.
- Also, be careful as the odometer can be tweaked for only a few hundred dollars. Some electronic odometers can be ‘switched off’, this mode is used to drive the car before delivery or in between ship to wharf to showroom.
- The first check you should do is a visual one. Do make sure that this check is done in a brightly-lit area – it is best if it is in the sunlight.
- Check for the paintwork of the car. Inspect for any unusual patches, or scratches. Is the paintwork new? If it is, ask the reason for the re-spray. Check if the tone is constant throughout the car. Look at edges such as the bottom of the A-pillar, the part where the bumper meets the body. Check for over-spray or masking hints.
- When you first approach the car, stand back at a distance. Run your eyes along the lines of the car. Does it look right? Is the front sagging, or is the rear too high?
- Look at the wheels in the arch. Is there equal space between the wheel and both sides of the arch? If the wheel is closer to one side, it could mean that the car has hit a curb before and bent the lower control arm.
- Ask the seller why he’s selling it, then ask yourself if the reason makes sense. Ask about the service history of the car, for example, when was the last service, and how often does he do it. What are the things that has been changed? Make a mental note of that and we’ll get to it later.
- Ask if the car has been in any major accidents before. Most of the time they’ll say no, but don’t take his word for it.
- Ask the seller to pop the bonnet. Its a courtesy to let the owner do everything, unless he/she doesn’t know what to do. The engine bay would probably be quite dusty, or very clean. If its clean, ask yourself why. Is it to cover something up? or it could just be the owner likes a clean bay.
- Pull out the engine dipstick and look at the oil. Does it match the seller’s story of service interval?
- The oil should be dark brown. Don’t be afraid to touch it, the oil should feel smooth and smell burnt/sweet. If the oil is black and sticky, walk away.
- Open the oil cap and look under it. Check if the threads are black and sticky. Look out for milky stains under the cap, these are signs of a leaky headgasket as the milky-ness results from oil mixing with water.
- Look at the colour of the brake, clutch (manual), ATF (auto) and powersteering fluids. If any of these is dark black in colour, walk away.
- Look at the side fenders, are those factory bolts or new? Some bolts have factory paste/glue/markings on them. If they have been removed, ask yourself why.
- Look at the car’s frame behind the bumper, is there any rust? (signs of repair job), dents, sprays, fixes.
- Look in the boot, lift up the spare wheel cover and look inside, are there any dents, rust, water collection inside? Usually most accidents are hard to detect, so it would be best to take it to a mechanic.
- At the rear, get down on the floor and look under the bumper. Behind the bumper is a metal plate which is the car’s chassis. If there has been a major rear accident, this plate would be dented. Most of the time this is not repaired, since the bumper covers up everything.
- Run your eyes on ALL lines and seams where boot/door/bonnet meets body. Panel alignment is very difficult, and if something eg, the bootlid has been taken out before, chances are it would not be in perfect alignment anymore.
- Note also if the boot can close easily, and if the latches are in the center.
Starting the engine
- Start the car with the bonnet up and when the engine is cold. Listen for rattling noises or clicking sounds. The worst cycle an engine goes through is not during high rev, but the first few seconds just after startup. That’s when the bearings are directly contacting the metal and when the most wear occurs, so any major wear will show now.
- Does the engine start, then cough? The revs of the car during cold start is higher than normal, probably around 1.5krpms.
- Look at the exhaust, is there any white/blue/black smoke coming out? Note: Condensation is ok. There’s a difference, condensation is thinner, while oil smoke is thicker.
- Put your hand at the exhaust stream, it’ll be warm. Did your hand become wet? If it is, that’s a sign of good combustion. If the smoke stings your eyes or smells dry, there’s a problem with the mixture.
- Its now time to test drive. There are 2 parts to the test drive, the seller, and the car. Let the seller drive the car first, because this part is more about the seller (you’ll get time with the car later). The engine is now barely warmed up, so watch how the seller drives. Does he just floor it without considering that? If its a manual, does he change gear smoothly or does the car jerk everytime he changes it? Does he throw the clutch to engine brake all the time? All these point to bad driving habits, and will mean a more worn out car.
- Now its your turn. Sit in the car and adjust everything to make yourself comfy. Clutch in and slot into 1st, does the gear go in smoothly? Switch off the radio! Leave the windows up or down, depending.
- Windows up would let u listen to interior sounds, while window down, would let u listen to the exterior of the car. Listen out for squeeks, creaks groans or other abnormal sounds, especially when you turn a corner or brake. (brake squeal may be alright if the brakes are still cold or if its on aftermarket pads).
- Shift through the gears. Is there any difficulty? Do the shifts feel sloppy? These might point to worn out synchros (and points to a rebuilt gearbox).
- Travel at a variety of speeds up to 90km/h and above if possible. Does the steering wobble? Are there any alignment issues or strange sounds?
- In 4th gear, floor the car. If the revs climb but speed remains the same, the clutch is slipping. Notice any burning smell also.
- Next, in 1st gear. step on the brake and let the revs drop to about 500. Does the car choke and want to die? These are signs of loss of compression.
- Drive the car in reverse. Does reverse engage easily?
- For automatics, does it shift smoothly? Any hesistations, or strong jerks when it shifts?
- Are there any vibrations on a smooth road? Any weird engine sounds?
- Is the engine responsive, or is there a lag between input to response?
- Test out the brakes also, is the pedal spongy? Does it feel like it won’t stop? While the car is moving at speed, leave the car in neutral. Rest your hand gently on the steering and brake reasonably moderately. The car should brake in a straight line and not pull towards one side.
- When crossing humps, does the car continue to bounce up and down after passing the hump? This is a sign of worn out shock absorbers.