Buying a car that’s been owned by somebody else can be daunting, especially if you don’t have the mechanical knowledge to assess the condition of the car that you’re looking at.
There are some checks you can make yourself to find out whether you’re buying a liability or a reliable vehicle.
Warning Signs For A Second-Hand Car
Here are a few checks you can make to ensure you aren’t buying a car that’s going to need expensive maintenance.
1. Has it been in an accident?
Asking the owner if a car has been in an accident is the first place to start, but they might not tell the truth. You can get a car history report from CarFacts.com.au for around $30 which will include a history of owners and tell you whether the car has ever been written off.
You can also visually check the car to see if panels are correctly fitted and there’s any sign of repairs or damage to the bodywork.
2. Oil or water leaks
Ideally, your car will have a full-service history. If it doesn’t, you can do some basic checks for ‘red flags’ by checking the oil and water.
You can check the oil level by removing the oil dipstick and wiping it with a rag. Then insert it into the engine oil tank. When you lift it out, the level should be between the two markings on the dipstick, and you should be able to see the dipstick through the oil.
Avoid cars with a low oil level, or with ‘dark oil’ which indicates that it hasn’t been changed regularly.
The coolant tank should be full. Any dampness inside the car is a bad sign. Don’t be afraid to ask the owner if you aren’t sure where to look.
3. Who owns the car?
When buying second hand, you want to make sure that the person selling it is the owner. Check the registration papers against the seller’s drivers license, and make sure the car has current registration.
A PPSR search can confirm who the current owner of the car is and whether there’s finance owing on the car too.
4. Does it have a timing belt or a timing chain?
Cars that have a timing belt will need to have the timing belt replaced whenever it is damaged, has to be removed to perform mechanical repairs behind it, or every 60,000 – 100,000km. This will usually cost between $1000 and $1800 and is considered a major service.
A timing chain will last much longer, and only needs to be replaced if it is damaged. The plastic guides on the chain may need to be replaced, but this isn’t too expensive, and a timing chain will often last the lifetime of the vehicle.
So why would you choose a car with a timing belt? One reason is that it can be quieter, but the cost of replacement and the potentially catastrophic damage that can occur if it breaks make this a negligible benefit.
5. Does this model have known issues?
Checking online owner review sites like Product Review or forums like Whirlpool can give you an idea of what it’s like to own the car you are considering. This way you can avoid models that have had a lot of problems.
This checklist should make you more confident about buying a car. If you do find a car that you’re happy with, you might still get your mechanic to take a look at it before you purchase.