Friday, July 31, 2009

What to Look For When Buying Used

• Walk around the vehicle, looking for signs of body repairs and patches of paint that differ slightly from the original. Run your hand along the panels to check for any rough bodywork that may have been re-sprayed. Minor scratches and chips can be fixed but cracks and impact craters are another story.

• Telltale signs of repair include one headlight that looks newer than the other.
• Rust can be in hidden places, such as the inside of doors.
• Don't forget to look for rust spots underneath the car, and check for signs of oil leaks and other defects at the same time.
• If you can, bring a magnet with you when viewing the car. Run it along the bodywork. It will not stick to filler, telling you if any panels have been crash-repaired.
• Study the condition of the tyre sidewalls, and check the tread for signs of uneven or excessive wear. Check that all tyres are the same size, too.

Under the Bonnet
• Be brave and look under the bonnet. Corroded battery terminals or holding brackets, an oily engine, frayed wiring and cracked hoses are all signs of neglect.
• A coating of oil or sludge on the inside of the radiator cap is cause for alarm. To check this, remove the radiator cap and rub your finger along the inside of the cap to see if there are any substance buildups. There shouldn't be any.
• Remove the radiator cap and start the engine from cold. Look out for air bubbles surfacing in the water, which could indicate a defective cylinder head gasket.
• Check the oil level. To do this, remove the dipstick and clean the oil off with some tissue. Dip the stick back into the oil reservoir and gauge how much oil is in the engine. There will be a level indicator on the dipstick to tell you the required oil level. Low levels of oil indicate poor maintenance or a possible oil leak. This can be extremely expensive to repair and in a worst case scenario cause the engine to seize.
• Brake fluid levels are crucial if there is no brake fluid, the vehicle will be unable to stop. The brake fluid reservoir is located under the bonnet in the back right-hand area of the engine bay. Remove the rubber cap to show the brake fluid level. Low fluid levels could signal a leak.
• To check the shock absorbers, bounce the corner of the vehicle up and down several times when you release it, you should feel the vehicle bounce back twice, any more and you may need new shock absorbers.

On the Inside
• Check the brake and clutch pedals. If they look overly new they may have been replaced for the wrong reasons; if they look old and worn the car may have covered a bigger distance than claimed. They should have average wear for the claimed mileage.
• Ensure that all the controls (including heater, wipers and so on) are working as they should. Examine the windscreen, which is an expensive item to replace.
• Check to see if the oil, brake and battery gauges light up. Problems with any of the three could signify mechanical issues or owners' neglect.
• Check the headlights, brake lights and reverse lights before you take it out for a test drive. Also, test the horn and indicators.
• Observe the steering, clutch and brakes; the steering should not move more than two inches in either direction without turning the wheels; once you put the vehicle in gear, how far does the clutch rise before the vehicle moves? If it doesn't work until it returns to its original location, it may need an adjustment or replacement (replacing a clutch can be expensive).

The Test Drive
• The wheel should be in the correct straight-ahead position. Although correcting any deviations could entail no more than a slight adjustment, it could also indicate suspension damage.
• While the engine is running you should listen to see if it "idles" well. This means that there should be a constant and steady ticking over.
• Loud knocking or whines should be checked out by a mechanic. It may just need to be tuned; however, it could also lead to more difficult mechanical repairs.
• Observe whether or not it is easy to change gear. If you hear a grinding noise there may be transmission or clutch problems. If it is only happening on one gear, it is more likely to be the transmission.
• If the steering wheel shakes when making a turn, there may be a suspension problem. If all appears well, take the vehicle up to motorway speed and up some hills to test its performance. If the steering wheel vibrates at higher speeds, there may be an alignment problem.
• Press the brake pedal down fully and hold for just under a minute- it should hold firm. If it doesn't there could be a leak and you should drive with extreme caution. Check brakes at a slow speed to see if there is any pulling, screeching or sticking. If there is a pull, they may simply have to be readjusted; however, if there is screeching, it could mean the brake shoes are worn and need work. When it is safe to do so, check the brakes at higher speed for the same problems.

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