Most of us believe that the used car market can deliver the right car to us. And we are right about that. The spew of new releases and the way current owners are upgrading their cars, there are some really good bargains out there. But how do you know if the car that looks so inviting at the second-hand dealer’s is not an invitation for trouble later. And most of us, though we like driving, are just a little offroad when it comes to judging whether a car is meant for us.
So we decided to put down an easy, systematic and quick way to evaluate a used car. It’s in five steps and a red flag at any stage means you don’t need to move to the next step, just say no. So here goes.
Background check Between the Internet and the dealer you should be able to gleam enough details to make a satisfying background check even before you test the vehicle.
- Year of make and model: First up the make and model year is a dead giveaway. Every year or two makers upgrade a model by adding new features. And every year they fix bugs from the previous years. A small check on the internet will give you reviews for each year for each model and that will tell you if the 2010 maybe a better bet than perhaps the 2012 at a particular price range. What’s more some cars are great when new but continued servicing and spare parts can hit the pocket hard.
- Papers and clear holding: Most repossessed cars tend to be troublesome when it comes to transfers. Ensure that the papers are clear and the dealer will be able to transfer the car without hassle.
- Prefer first owner: As a thumb rule go only for first-owner cars, at least it minimizes user generated wear and tear.
- Insurance claims: Ask for the insurance history of the car and see if there have been claims to the car. Serious vehicle damages in the past will be claimed and the settlement statement will have it on record. Simplest way to catch faults. While you are at it check if the insurance is paid and for how long.
- Run in: Check the mileage of the car and know how many kms it has run. On an average for a car to be in good running condition it should be doing anywhere from 5000 to 10000 kilometres. A less run car may not be that good a choice simply because a car, like an athlete, needs to run to be in good shape. On the other hand a lot of kilometres in less time is again a giveaway that the vehicle has aged.
Exterior check Take a walk around the car. Slowly. See it. Touch it. Feel it. Your instincts will not lie to you. Do it on level ground and in good daylight.
- Frame damage: Check all the joints of the car whichever are visible. See for signs of welding and repair. Peek under the car if possible to see if the axles and the suspension are all in shipshape. Look for excessive dents.
- Paint check: Look for chipping and bubbles. Also look for scratches, you don;’t want to live with too many of those.
- Rust check: While checking for the frame also sees for tell-tale signs of rust. The car may have had more than needed exposure to monsoons. The trunk is a good place to check for signs of rust when you remove the mat.
- Tyres: The tyres should be evenly worn and not too bald at the very least. Check the spare wheel too once the trunk is open. Find out when the tyres were last changed. The average recommended run for a tyre is about 25000 kilometres.
- Customization: Lot of people like customize their cars, add spoilers, grill work, things like that. These usually end up in some structure loss to the vehicle. Avoid if possible, unless the customization has been done superbly well and it has a look that you love, because you have to live with it.
Interior check Sit in the car. Smell it. Your nose will know if the car has been locked up too long and if it had exposure to moisture.
- Seats: Make sure the seat controls work perfectly, seat-belts are in place and the seat-covers are clean. There will be some discoloring with time of course but not too much. It’s a visual thing for you to judge.
- Lights and wiper: Turn on all the lights. See if they are working. Check the wiper on all settings.
- Mirrors: Check all the mirrors are in place and the controls are working.
- Dashboard meters: Check the gauges, warnings and meters are all working.
- Deck: Play the deck. Ensure all the main features are proper.
- Mats and carpet: See if all the mats are in place and the carpet is not stained. These will add to cost later.
- Embellishments: People like to tinker with the interiors, add small LED lights, cushion covers, dashboard gizmos. If they are coming with the car check if they are in working condition. You don’t have to pay for them if you don’t want it.
Under the hood Opening the hood and seeing all those engine parts is actually the tough part in our minds. But it does not need to be if you apply a bit of common sense.
- Service record: Start with the service record of the car. If the owner loved the car, it would be serviced at regular intervals, oil changes would have been done and periodic checks and repairs would have been carried out. This is the simplest yet the most effective way to know if you are making a good choice.
- Fluid check: Oils and coolants are expensive to top-up. It’s good to know in advance if that’s a cost you will have to bear at the time of delivery.
- Rust: Look for rusting parts. Any signs of rusting on critical engine parts are a nono.
- Weldings and repair: If the car was in a smash-up or there have been replacements to original parts you would be able to make out. Make sure the serial number is clearly embossed on the engine metal.
- Rubber parts: You can feel the radiator belt and other small rubber fixtures to know if they are past their prime. Factor those in while doing the price calculation in your head.
Drive long and hard this is where the real test happens. Drive the car for longer than they are letting you, especially in traffic and if possible on slopes. The car and how she feels will tell you if the life is going to be long enough to make the choice value for money.
- Check the car battery: A cold start will give you a sense of the car battery and how well the engine sparks up. The first signs of trouble in a car are usually found while starting the car. If it requires extra cranking and it’s not because the battery is under-charged, it would indicate fuel injection, electrical and engine ageing issues.
- Go from gear to gear: Spend time at each gear level and see how the car performs. You can feel from the pull on the car how the engine is functioning. Look out for clanks, creaks and clangs when you change gears. The car should transit smoothly from gear to gear.
- Speed: Pay careful attention to the amount of pedal you need to give for the vehicle to catch speed. If it feels resistant to the touch it would mean filters are not up to the mark in addition to below-par engine performance.
- Brakes and clutch: See how the brake and clutch pedals feel when you apply them. Brakes can be tightened but if the clutch requires effort it may need changing.
- With and without Air-conditioning: Drive with the A/C turned on and off. That way you would know if the there is a sizeable difference in the way the car behaves under different conditions. If you can feel the speed coming down drastically when the A/C is turned on (which means you need more pedal to maintain speed) then there can be an issue with the fuel efficiency of the car. Of course the above check-list is neither a full one nor a real expert one. But it will give you the right direction to narrow down your choices. Once you have a genuine short-list we would recommend taking your mechanic and letting him check it out. That way you will be doubly sure and minor points which miss your eye will not be missed by him. This is a real good time for buying pre-owned cars in India. We say go for it. But with a bit of care. Share your own experiences of used cars; we are sure it will add power to this check-list.